Academic journal article Ethnology

Street Tactics: Catholic Ritual and the Senses of the Past in Central Sardinia(1)

Academic journal article Ethnology

Street Tactics: Catholic Ritual and the Senses of the Past in Central Sardinia(1)

Article excerpt

Contesting versions of local history in a small Sardinian town are made to seem real, natural, and legitimate through appeals to the senses. Catholic ritual processions fill the streets of Orgosolo with an ordered and persuasive multisensory vision of the past. Some nonpracticing Catholics collaborate to transform these historical representations, privileging the meaning-laden sensations connected to a past which is not necessarily religious, but emphatically local and unique. Others, particularly young men, offer disruptive sensations to the eye, ear, and nose to make symbolic and social space for their own engagement with history. (Space and place, gender, religion, representation of history)

Near the end of my ethnographic fieldwork in the rural, mountainside town of Orgosolo, Sardinia, some neighbors repeatedly suggested that, before leaving, I witness the traditional local practice of women singing the Roman Catholic rosary. One evening in August 1998, I went with my tape recorder to the circle of matrons and elder women. Although I had heard the Sardinian rosary on many occasions, the ritual was captivating. The voices of the fourteen women entangled in a cultural counterpoint with the dissonant sounds of cars, motorbikes, and even horses going along the main street, as the younger generation of men reveled in the festive passeggiata (leisure drive or walk) of a summer night. What was at stake for these two sets of people making meaningful noises in a central public space? I address this question by telling more about these singing older women and these clamorous younger men, amplifying some of the tensions to be heard, seen, and smelled at play between the religious and the civil, female and male, and state and community in the streets of a small Italian town.

In Orgosolo, the streets are not simply zones of transit, not just interstitial areas between locales. Here the streets are intensely inhabited--an indefinite space of chance meetings and repetitive social interaction where cultural identity is the focus of individual and collective performances. Young people seek out the main street to meet each other in the evenings, women encounter one another on the streets as they perform daily errands and stop to talk, men simply stand on the street in friendship groups to watch all that passes. In the streets of Orgosolo life is communalized, and individual life histories become collaborative works in the public sphere. This article considers the ritual tactics of practicing Catholics to gain power over these spaces as a forum for the representation of Orgosolo identity and the way it is rooted in the past. I frame this as an effort to recuperate local agency vis-a-vis the state, whose efforts to establish control over local spaces are legitimized by reference to negative interpretations of local history and culture. The last section returns to look at the plays of social agency between practicing and nonpracticing Catholics in the communal spaces of the streets.

Given the concerns of nation-states with the representation of the past,(2) it is important to consider how local actors can engage official state discourses about culture and history. In the European context, some important work has been done, looking at the production of local narratives about the past (as in Badone 1991; Mintz 1982; Nadel-Klein 1991). The approach taken here follows their work, but attempts to look at how people manipulate not only discourse, but also embodied perception to affirm their own narrations of history. Historical subjectivity is mediated by practice and experience, so that understandings about the past are constantly made real in the physical world. Events are always being remembered and inscribed in space (Casey 1996); memories are preserved and reified in material sites, and incorporated into bodies (Cole 1998; Seremetakis 1993, 1994; Stoller 1995). Landscapes and architectures provide material reference points for stories, anchoring conceptual categories which organize everyday theories of reality and empowerment (Bahloul 1992; Herzfeld 1991; Moore 1996; Hirsch and O'Hanlon 1995; Taylor 1995). …

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