Ruth Landes: A Life in Anthropology

By Sally Cole | Go to book overview

Prologue

WAR AND AGGRESSION, incest taboos and infanticide, female circumcision and menstrual taboos: conventional topics of anthropological study. But when Ruth Landes turned the anthropological "spy glass” (Hurston 1935) to "matriarchy” and homosexuality in urban black Brazil, she placed herself permanently on the margins of the discipline.

Matriarchy, the dominance of women as a class over men and a system by which rights and duties descend through the mother's line, was the term used by 19th-century social evolutionists such as Johann Bachofen and Lewis Henry Morgan, who argued that the earliest forms of human social life had been organized around the rule and authority of the mother. Matriarchy was superseded by patriarchy in their universal models of the evolution of civil society. Landes used matriarchy to describe the public recognition of women's power and authority in the ritual centers (terreiros) of the Afro-Brazilian spirit possession religion, candomblé. The terreiros were, as she described them, women-centered mutual aid associations providing social, emotional, and economic support to women who lived in the poorest black neighborhoods of Bahia. Within the terreiros, rights and knowledge were inherited matrilineally, and junior women were apprenticed to female elders in an elaborate and lengthy initiation to the rites of candomblé. Landes's contemporaries simply could not acknowledge these as norms in a modern urban context, especially in the marginalized shantytowns whose residents were disinherited former slaves, migrants from rural plantations. They implicitly accepted the 20th-century idea —that was at that very moment being launched as a theory in the discipline—that the original and natural form of human society was the patrilineal, patrilocal band. Carrying with it notions of "in

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Ruth Landes: A Life in Anthropology
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Ruth Landes - A Life in Anthropology *
  • Contents vii
  • List of Illustrations *
  • Series Editors' Introduction *
  • Acknowledgments *
  • Introduction *
  • Part One - Beginnings *
  • Chapter One - Immigrant Daughter *
  • Chapter Two - New Woman *
  • Chapter Three - Student at Columbia *
  • Part Two - Apprenticeship in Native American Worlds *
  • Prologue *
  • Chapter Four - Maggie Wilson and Ojibwa Women's Stories *
  • Chapter Five - Lusty Shamans in the Midwest *
  • Part Three - She-Bull in Brazil's China Closet *
  • Prologue *
  • Chapter Six - Fieldwork in Brazil *
  • Chapter Seven - Writing Afro-Brazilian Culture in New York *
  • Chapter Eight - The Early Ethnography of Race and Gender *
  • Conclusion - Life and Career *
  • Notes *
  • Bibliography *
  • Index *
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