Across the Boundaries of Belief: Contemporary Issues in the Anthropology of Religion

By Morton Klass; Maxine Weisgrau | Go to book overview

TABLE 5.1 Van Gennep's Schema
Van Gennep's Stage inOglala
schemalife cyclenames
Preliminal Prereproductivewicincala
(prepubesecnt)
Liminal Reproductivewikoškalaka
(prepubescent female, unmarried)
(prepubescent female, married)winyan
Postliminal Postreproductivewinunh + ̌icala
(postmenopausal)

curing, pick sacred herbs, and instruct young women at puberty and childbirth. The Oglala divide the female life cycle into four stages: wicincala "young girl" (prepubescent); wikoškalaka--"young woman (pubescent); winyan--"woman" (married woman); and winnunh + ̌icala--"old woman" (postmenopausal). 29 Two of the stages are decidedly unambiguous, the first and the last, in which the female is not sexually reproductive. The second and third stages are ambiguous in the sense that a distinction is made between two types of sexually reproductive females, both physiologically mature and hence capable of bearing children, of whom only one is considered "socially" mature (i.e., "the woman," or married woman). These ambiguous stages may be seen together as a dialectic between pre- and postreproductive stages. In Van Gennep's terms the second and third stages may be viewed as liminal.

By substituting a new set of terms for Van Gennep's three stages, we may analyze the female life cycle as shown in Table 5.1. If the liminal stage is sacred, we may conclude that the female's entire reproductive stage is also sacred, because during this time the woman is in a continuous state of ambiguity, that is, if she does not reproduce, she menstruates, if she does not menstruate, she reproduces.

Compared to the pre- and postreproductive stages which are continuous (uninterrupted by the potential of reproduction), the entire reproductive stage, beginning with the puberty ceremony and including each menstrual period, can be viewed in terms of Victor Turner's notion of communitas, or antistructure. This is a time when people are released from cultural constraints "only to return to structure revitalized by their experience of communitas." 30 But Turner tells us that communitas cannot be sustained, that our perceptions of reality must be structured in order for there to be reality. 31 The function of the menstrual taboo then is not to enunciate the pollutive nature of the female but to give structure to what otherwise is a period of antistructure.


Conclusion

I have shown that viewed as part of a dynamic whole rather than isolated events, female puberty ceremonies and menstruation among the Oglala are both aspects of the same phenomenon and serve to emphasize the female's reproductive role.

-93-

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