Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

The Purity of Spirit and the Power of Blood: A Comparative Perspective on Nation, Gender and Kinship in Cyprus

Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

The Purity of Spirit and the Power of Blood: A Comparative Perspective on Nation, Gender and Kinship in Cyprus

Article excerpt

Nationalism notoriously naturalizes, most often through taking the 'natural' units of body and kinship as its metaphorical models. In recent years, scholars concerned with the implications for nationalism of the uses of gendered models have begun to suggest that kinship is more than just' a metaphor and that it may actually be essential to the workings of nationalism, especially in the West (e.g. Delaney 1995; D.M. Schneider 1977 [1969]; Williams 1996; Yuval-Davis 1997; on a related subject, Hunt 1992). Michael Herzfeld (1987; 1997) argues that nationalism enlarges the sphere of 'natural' relations, taking as its models the local relations of families and patrilines. In such a way, all members of the nation can consider themselves to be its children.

What many of these writings appear to suggest is that 'natural' kinship relations are transposed onto the nation, and it is in this way that we can understand gendered images such as those of motherland (or fatherland), and the attachment that they produce. In this article, I partially accept such claims while also arguing that kinship relations are significantly transformed in the nation in so far as they must also accommodate a kinship with the land. The national 'family' is never only people, but also always invokes some gendered image of the land as a member of that family. Using comparative research in the Turkish and Greek communities of Cyprus, I argue here that taking account of a kinship with the land entails a transformation of kinship relations that, at least in Cyprus, also partakes of religious imagery. What is centrally important in such images is the common substance that land and people are imagined to share. Moreover, this common substance is regarded as so 'natural' that it forms an importan t axiom that is central to understanding the logic of nationalisms. In the case of Cyprus, understanding the differing ways in which nationalism is naturalized is also, I contend, central to understanding the ethnonationalist conflict that has divided the island.

By making such an argument, I also wish to address what appear to me to be two inadequacies in the feminist focus on gendered images of the nation. The first is the tendency, when making comparisons, to see what is alike rather than what is different. In nationalist imaginations, what is often most prominent are oppositional pairings: father/mother, public/private, outside/inside, and culture/nature distinctions seem to repeat themselves. (1) Thus, as Pettman has observed: 'In a complex play, the state is often gendered male, and the nation gendered female -- the mother country -- and the citizens/children become kin' (1996: 49). In this way, Pettman and others note, women become symbols of the nation and men its agents, while such symbols create a plausible belief in nationalism as a form of kinship. It appears, in such descriptions, that all forms of national gendering bear some resemblance to each other simply because of their capacity to represent the reproduction of the nation. Yet, as we will see, even images that resemble each other can have strikingly different implications. For instance, the Greek Cypriot image of Archbishop Makarios as a national, spiritual father was quite different from the Turkish Cypriot reverence for Mustafa Kemal Ataturk: the former was a presumably celibate priest dedicated to the church, while the latter was a conquering war hero. Both can be seen as father figures, yet of very different sorts.

The second problem is the tendency, when looking at specific cases, to ignore the fact that gendered images themselves are often contradictory: the 'motherland' is also often the 'fatherland', just as the state may be a patriarchal figure or a nurturing mother. Unravelling these various loose and contradictory metaphorical threads leads only to further description, and a vain search for consistency. Instead, I claim that in Cyprus, at least, what is centrally important and generally coherent within these sets of metaphors are descriptions of what land and people share in common. …

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