Category Archives: Culture

Dancing with the dead

BBC NEWS | Programmes | From Our Own Correspondent | Madagascar’s dance with the dead

To outsiders dancing with the corpse of a dead loved one, years
after their demise, might seem ghoulish. But as Jonny Hogg reports, to
the people of Madagascar, it is a ritual of respect for their departed
ancestors.

Turning of the Bones in Madagascar

Turning of the Bones is a centuries old ritual

The band, a cacophonous near harmony of tattered trumpets and elderly clarinets, has been has been playing for hours now.

The hilltop is crowded. The entire community has come to this spot, some distance from the village of Vatolaivy.

People talk and smile, many are drunk, most are dancing and a
little distance away from the tomb two entrepreneurial women have set
up a stall selling cigarettes and frozen yoghurt.

But it is the tomb itself that is the centre of attention.

Indeed it is for the occupants of the low, flat brick structure that these festivities are taking place.

Masons chip away, unsealing the small stone door.

Finally, the sepulchre is open. I am invited to enter with Roger, whose family are buried here.

Inside the air is dry, with a strong, almost spiced, graveyard scent.

On either side of the room are stone beds, and on them lie the
bodies of Roger’s parents and his grandparents, wrapped in yellowing
cloth.

Turning of the Bones

He stands proudly amongst his ancestors, introducing me to them almost formally, patting each corpse lightly to identify it.

I emerge once more into the harsh sunlight. Behind me, one by
one and with great care, the bodies are carried out of the tomb and
laid upon the ground, cradled gently by their relatives.

The rest of the village crowd around, spectators to this piece of family theatre.

At last even the band comes to a stumbling halt. A sort of silence descends.

One girl is holding her dead mother in her arms. She makes no noise but tears stream down her face.

Map of Madagascar

This is the Malagasy tradition of famadihana, or the Turning of the Bones.

It is unique to the Indian Ocean island, a ritual carried out
for centuries that may have had its roots in the culture and traditions
of South East Asia, some 6,000km (3,728 miles) away, from whence
Madagascar was first colonised.

For many outsiders the practice, which involves exhuming dead
relatives, rewrapping them in fresh grave clothes and dancing with them
around the tomb, can seem almost impossibly strange, ghoulish even.

But for the Malagasy, for whom ancestral worship remains important, it is an essential way of maintaining ties with the dead.

Jean Pierre, a family member, told me why famadihana mattered.

“It’s important because it’s our way of respecting the dead,” he
told me. “It is also a chance for the whole family, from across the
country, to come together.”

‘Act of love’

Anthropologist Professor Maurice Bloch, who has studied the
ritual, says this idea of reunion, between the dead and the living and
also the family land, is key.

Turning of the Bones in Madagascar

The ceremony is also a chance for a family reunion

It is an evocation of being together again, a
transformation of sorts so that the dead can experience once more the
joys of life. But, most importantly he says, at its heart, famadihana
is an act of love.

But some oppose the practice. Certain urbanised Malagasy find the idea outdated and strange in the 21st Century.

There have also been clashes with Christianity. Early
missionaries to the country tried to stop it and today increasing
numbers of evangelical Christians are turning away from famadihana.

Perhaps surprisingly though, the Roman Catholic Church, the largest in the country, no longer opposes it.

For his part Jean Pierre stressed that in any case it is not a religious ceremony, but a tradition.

Tears to laughter

Back outside the tomb the family begins to tenderly rewrap the bodies with fresh cloth, called lambas, bought at great expense.

The mood lightens and the band strikes up once more.

The corpses are lifted onto shoulders, and with much laughing and jostling they are half carried, half danced around the tomb.

Every few steps with a whoop, the bearers lift them even higher.

I notice the girl who had been crying earlier is smiling and joking with the rest.

This is another transformation and another purpose of
famadihana. To convert, almost forcibly, by the requirements of the
ritual, grief into happiness.

To outsiders dancing with the corpse of a dead loved one, years after their demise, might seem ghoulish. But as Jonny Hogg reports, to the people of Madagascar, it is a ritual of respect for their departed ancestors.

Turning of the Bones in Madagascar
Turning of the Bones is a centuries old ritual

The band, a cacophonous near harmony of tattered trumpets and elderly clarinets, has been has been playing for hours now.

The hilltop is crowded. The entire community has come to this spot, some distance from the village of Vatolaivy.

People talk and smile, many are drunk, most are dancing and a little distance away from the tomb two entrepreneurial women have set up a stall selling cigarettes and frozen yoghurt.

But it is the tomb itself that is the centre of attention.

Indeed it is for the occupants of the low, flat brick structure that these festivities are taking place.

Masons chip away, unsealing the small stone door.

Finally, the sepulchre is open. I am invited to enter with Roger, whose family are buried here.

Inside the air is dry, with a strong, almost spiced, graveyard scent.

On either side of the room are stone beds, and on them lie the bodies of Roger’s parents and his grandparents, wrapped in yellowing cloth.

Turning of the Bones

He stands proudly amongst his ancestors, introducing me to them almost formally, patting each corpse lightly to identify it.

I emerge once more into the harsh sunlight. Behind me, one by one and with great care, the bodies are carried out of the tomb and laid upon the ground, cradled gently by their relatives.

The rest of the village crowd around, spectators to this piece of family theatre.

At last even the band comes to a stumbling halt. A sort of silence descends.

One girl is holding her dead mother in her arms. She makes no noise but tears stream down her face.

Map of Madagascar

This is the Malagasy tradition of famadihana, or the Turning of the Bones.

It is unique to the Indian Ocean island, a ritual carried out for centuries that may have had its roots in the culture and traditions of South East Asia, some 6,000km (3,728 miles) away, from whence Madagascar was first colonised.

For many outsiders the practice, which involves exhuming dead relatives, rewrapping them in fresh grave clothes and dancing with them around the tomb, can seem almost impossibly strange, ghoulish even.

But for the Malagasy, for whom ancestral worship remains important, it is an essential way of maintaining ties with the dead.

Jean Pierre, a family member, told me why famadihana mattered.

“It’s important because it’s our way of respecting the dead,” he told me. “It is also a chance for the whole family, from across the country, to come together.”

‘Act of love’

Anthropologist Professor Maurice Bloch, who has studied the ritual, says this idea of reunion, between the dead and the living and also the family land, is key.

Turning of the Bones in Madagascar
The ceremony is also a chance for a family reunion
It is an evocation of being together again, a transformation of sorts so that the dead can experience once more the joys of life. But, most importantly he says, at its heart, famadihana is an act of love.

But some oppose the practice. Certain urbanised Malagasy find the idea outdated and strange in the 21st Century.

There have also been clashes with Christianity. Early missionaries to the country tried to stop it and today increasing numbers of evangelical Christians are turning away from famadihana.

Perhaps surprisingly though, the Roman Catholic Church, the largest in the country, no longer opposes it.

For his part Jean Pierre stressed that in any case it is not a religious ceremony, but a tradition.

Tears to laughter

Back outside the tomb the family begins to tenderly rewrap the bodies with fresh cloth, called lambas, bought at great expense.

The mood lightens and the band strikes up once more.

The corpses are lifted onto shoulders, and with much laughing and jostling they are half carried, half danced around the tomb.

Every few steps with a whoop, the bearers lift them even higher.

I notice the girl who had been crying earlier is smiling and joking with the rest.

This is another transformation and another purpose of famadihana. To convert, almost forcibly, by the requirements of the ritual, grief into happiness.

Insights into black family patterns

Class Looks at the Roots of the Black Family
August 12, 2008 — As people of African descent became dispersed all
over the world — mostly to the Americas and mostly through forced
migration as slaves — the definition of “family” by necessity took on
different meanings.

“Black families have been known to incorporate people and create wider
associations,” said Todné Thomas, a doctoral student in anthropology at
the University of Virginia who taught a summer course called “Kinfolks,
Families and Relating in the African Diaspora.”

Black families, she said, can be seen as resilient and flexible in
their cooperation and continuity. A family “is a socially recognized
unit” that is not only biological but also social.

“‘Kinfolks’ is a vernacular term for expressing relationships,” Thomas said.

In the course, students read anthropology, history, sociology and
public policy to look at how Africans who moved or were moved to South
America and the Caribbean, as well as North America, found ways to
maintain an extended family structure. At the time, Western norms of
family arrangement were foreign to them, Thomas said.

Coincidentally, CNN provided a real-time exercise with its two-part
series, “Black in America,” highlighting some of the issues the class
delved into in more depth and breadth.

The class decided to write a letter to the television network
critiquing the documentary — which, for starters, split the episodes
into “The Black Woman and Family” and “The Black Male.”

Although it presented a large family reunion and told the stories of
some of its members, it still relied on the assumption that the
patriarchal nuclear family with mother and father is the normative
family structure.

Another point they discussed was that the show did not capture the
diversity within the U.S. population of black people. Thomas, for
example, is conducting field work on the West Indian Brethren Church in
Atlanta, which comprises people from Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados and
Guyana.

“The students had great insights,” Thomas said of their reaction to the CNN show.

She had her 10 students study not only how slavery hampered that family
unit centuries ago, but also how later social policies unwittingly
undermined that model.

Jumping to the 1960s, the class read about policymakers who based their
welfare programs on the norm of the heterosexual nuclear family and
immutable gender roles. If there was a male in the household, it was
assumed no assistance would be needed, so only women with dependent
children received aid. The stereotype of “welfare mothers” developed,
and the prevalence of female-headed households still is usually
portrayed in a negative light.

Kendall Nicholson, a rising third-year architecture major, said, “I
wanted to take this class because I think it is important culturally to
understand what, socially, people often tend to misunderstand.”

The small group allowed for lively discussion of several related topics
and group projects, Thomas said. In addition to readings, the students
were also exposed to different perspectives through visual media,
including other documentaries.

Chelsea Green, a fourth-year psychology major in the early education
master’s program in the Curry School, said, “Now that we have delved
into some readings and I have learned more about past West African and
African-American families, this class forces me to look at my present
idea and conception of family.”

Myah Marshall, a student in the Rainey Academic Program for incoming
first-years to get acquainted with the University, decided to “test the
waters” with the class.

“It is very interesting to see the different structures of black
families, along with seeing the different ways in which these
structures are made possible,” she said. “Since the class is smaller,
the discussions are much more intimate.”

The class also looked at the emergence of genetic ancestry testing and what it means for racial heritage and identity.

The students’ final project involved using digital media to compare
traditional genealogical research with the new industry of genetic
ancestry testing.

In the past, science was misused to determine or describe racial
identity, Thomas said. She wanted her students to think about the
compelling personal reasons for researching one’s past and to consider
a wide range of social, cultural

And another neat example

City Times – ‘Dubai will be an example to the world on living together’
6 August 2008 Standup comedian Conrad Koch from South Africa speaks to David Light about his brand of comedy and what he likes best about Dubai SOUTH AFRICAN stand up comedian Conrad Koch, with his unique brand of ventriloquism, stormed the stage in Dubai last week with his hilarious show.

A veteran of comedy since the age of ten Conrad has been performing professionally since 1995.

A psychology and anthropology graduate Koch uses his show to deconstruct burning issues including racism and class bias in order to show that everyone is essentially the same and create a better living environment.

In a rare interview at the Qamardeen Hotel Downtown Burj Dubai City Times caught up with Conrad to chat about his show and his brand of comedy.

“I’ve come to Dubai because there is a large South African community and at the moment they are the audience I attract. I do play other audiences but as I switch between languages some people find it difficult to keep
up with. I speak English, Afrikaans and I taught myself Zulu from a very young age. If you want to do comedy in South Africa you have to switch between languages otherwise only thirty per cent of the audience
will enjoy the show.” Koch believes that Dubai and South Africa have a lot in common.

“As I am a student of anthropology I have a keen interest in the evolution of people and having done a lot of research I’ve come to a conclusion that former European colonies have lots in common. It’s all about the imports from the West and the reaction to it within local culture. Here it is even more prominent than in South Africa but I think both places are trying to balance out their own identity with those coming in from abroad which gives great scope for comedy.

“For example, I study anthropology at the Vitz University in Johannesburg.
Vitz is the Afrikaans word for white yet the majority of the student body is black.

It’s contradictions with tradition like these that can provide some of the best laughs.

“In South Africa there is a lot less political correctness than in the UK for example.

People say things that for European ears are a bit antiquated. That again though is a by-product of the society in which you live and give great scope for laughs.” Conrad is a self-confessed gag man as opposed to the more alternative styles of comedy around. “Being alternative is a luxury only really given to those comics in the UK.

“As a comedian you’re a product of the society you know best. In Africa if I was to do an Eddie Izzard routine I would struggle to say the least because of the audience I would get there.

There are alternative comedians in South Africa but they have very niche shows.

I do a lot of corporate gigs so have to keep coming up with the jokes.”
Koch has worked with international talent including Russell Peters and Ross Noble.

Although initially put off by the idea of corporate backed comedy shows, Conrad tells us they are the future. “That is how everything works these days.  If you don’t want to live on the street you have to take shows that pay. Without them it is really not possible. “The good thing about corporate shows is you do not have to compromise. The people that hire you know your stuff and that is why they bring you out.

“If you go on TV you have to tone yourself down. I have been on TV and would do again but I am not chasing it. I don’t want to work on television as a game show host because that would be boring.

“With these shows I can travel and get my message across that we are all the same at the core and any differences we do have we should let them be a source of fun not anger.” Conrad appeared to be very impressed with Dubai.

“The whole place is incredible. This hotel I’m staying in is amazing and the service industry here is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

“From an academic point of view it blows my mind though. There is a mix between blindness and reality that is fascinating.

“This whole town is built with migrant labour like most other major cities in history. Yet here is the first city where everything is for everyone. Alright, it’s not perfect yet, there are areas where people don’t go, but you have to start somewhere and eventually I think with such a mix of cultures Dubai will be an example to the world on living together.”
Koch gave only one show last week but hopes to be back soon.

“My comedy is the type that hopefully deconstructs complex issues and enlightens people. I think that if more people just laughed about things the world would definitely be a better place.”

david@khaleejtimes.com

Neat application of anthropology

Professor brings life experience into classroom – www.record-bee.com

CLEARLAKE — Students were elevated higher than they expected after
taking an anthropology class taught by Forrest Davis, Ph.D. Students
connected with the real-life experiences and issues Davis brought into
the classroom during a summer session offered at Yuba College Clear
Lake Campus.

“I don’t think any of us knew what the class Cultural Anthropology was
when we signed up. It was just another graduation requirement for the
junior college,” said student Bonnie Vaughn. “But, when we arrived, Dr.
Davis made it clear he was here for us; he was our employee; his job
was to help us understand cultural anthropology and if we fail, he
fails.”

Davis says that it’s all about bringing the material to the students in
a way that they can truly understand. The 65-year-old professor uses
personal experiences to relate lessons in anthropology and cultural
diversity to his students, which Vaughn and others said helped them
make a connection with the material offered through the class.

“He shared his life story with us. He taught us by drawing on his own
life experiences rather than just repeating words out of a book,” said
Vaughn. “We could all relate to it and it made us feel like we could be
something too.”

Dr. Davis said he struggled as a student. In high school, he was a D
student with low self-esteem. “I was just another struggling student
with no possibility of ever doing anything,” the Alabama-born professor
said. “After (high school) I decided I couldn’t do anything but go up.”

Davis began teaching at the community college he had attended, Los
Angeles Valley College. He went on to further his education at UCLA,
where he obtained his bachelor’s, master’s and finally, his Ph.D in
anthropology in 1986. Currently, he teaches at CSU Sacramento in the
Bilingual/Multicultural Education Department, where he’s been
instrumental in developing an education program specifically designed
for failing students. Davis said he was able to incorporate concepts
used at CSU Sacramento into the teaching tactics he used on the Clear
Lake Campus.

Davis said it is vital to identify proximal development among students,
which is the difference between what a student can learn without help
and what he or she can achieve with help. “When you identify the zone
of proximal development you know exactly which way to motivate for
success,” he explained. “It’s about actualizing potential. Most people
don’t know what they can do. They have the potential they just don’t
know it.”

According to his students, Dr. Davis has a way to actualize the
potential in his students. Vaughn said that Davis’s teaching style
helped open communication, which initiated the participation of all of
the students in the class. “We learned by being involved,” Vaughn said,
adding that students who normally slide by got involved in the
classroom discussions as well. “Dr. Davis has the ability to help
students achieve and improve themselves. He told us we could make a
difference in this world with our knowledge. He showed us a world void
of prejudice by never excluding any class member no matter how
different he or she was from us. It was neat because he gave us his
full attention and he cared. He made us believe in ourselves and
everyone participated in class discussions like we were home sitting
around a dinner table talking as one family. There was no tension in
the classroom and we talked about a lot of hot topics”

Kristen Deutsch said Davis’s class helped her achieve in other classes.
“What we were learning in anthropology was tying into other classes,”
she said. “It made subjects clearer in other classrooms.”

Davis said that he learned of monogenesis early on in life. Monogenesis
is the theory that all human life is derived from one, single origin.
“To bring that point forward is the first step,” he said. “We are all
of one species. Culture is a better description of race. Racism and
prejudice are just bi-products of what we’ve experienced.”

Davis teaches by creating a culture within the classroom. From day one,
boundaries were set as to the behavior he expected from his students.
“You have to develop that collective energy. If we pull that collective
energy together, there’s nothing we can’t do,” he explained. “You have
to make the classroom safe; make it a culture. Once you do that,
everyone in there is going to benefit.”

Davis has been a Lake County resident for the past four years and
currently commutes to Sacramento to teach. He is nearing retirement and
said he would like to help foster educational change in the local
community. He said he doesn’t really care about the paycheck as he
doesn’t have to be burdened with personal success. He said a bigger
reward would be realizing a positive change in the community.

Davis, who has a grandchild who will be entering Lower Lake High School
next semester, would like to contribute to the educational
opportunities available to local students. “On the other side of a
problem there is a solution,” he said. “I believe that through the
development of a community-based collaborative model we can make these
schools more affective. That’s what this community needs and it can be
done. We need to work together to bring these schools and these kids to
a certain level. If we put this model into place, we can do some of
these things without money.”

Several of Davis’s students have expressed a desire to see the
professor return to the Clear Lake Campus. Davis said that is an option
he would definitely consider if the opportunity presents itself.

Contact Denise Rockenstein at drockenstein@clearlakeobserver.com.

Don’t rock the boat

Yesterday, while reading in From Shame to Peace, the thought hit me whether it could be that some traditional, strongly group-oriented societies are as abusive as a dysfunctional family.
Let me explain: the problem in a dysfunctional family are different kinds of unhealthy behavior patterns, including:
The family has a delicate balance that depends on everybody playing his/her role, so the topmost rule is – “don’t rock the boat” – meaning that a family member who feels a need to change, including family members who try to get healthy, will be considered the bad guys. Change is seen as a danger and personal growth is denied. [A healthy family can handle change and give its members the freedom to redefine their roles.]
The family “honor” is protected by secrecy. The unspoken rule is – “don’t let anybody know that we have a problem, e.g., alcoholism”, – at the cost of the individual who would need help but can’t talk to anybody. This mechanism is a way to avoid shame at all cost by not talking and sweeping things under the carpet, even to the point where you believe it yourself (self-denial).
Basically the family “welfare” as defined from a dysfunctional perspective is more important than the individual and his/her need to find healing, growth, personal development, etc.
All these behaviors can be quite damaging and hurtful, and make it very difficult to get help and healing for the individual.
Comparing this to group-oriented societies, you may find similar patterns: the group is more important than the individual; traditions are the security of the group and therefore change is seen as something undesirable; shame has to be avoided at all cost, even to the point of “honor killings”; established roles have to be kept and therefore the unspoken rule is “don’t rock the boat”.
Of course, I am coming from a less group-oriented background and therefore I am not completely objective. On the other hand, I am aware that the individualism in Western countries has other disadvantages and isn’t the solution either. Probably this is why I am hesitating to believe my own conclusion. What do you think?

So sad

It’s hard to believe that this kind of thing is still happening.
Read for yourself what is done to many people groups whose life style is different from ours:
http://www.survival-international.org/index.php
Why is it so difficult, to let them keep their ancestral lands?

Dutch election reflects Europe’s anxiety

news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20061125/ap_on_re_eu/europe_voter_anxiety_1

“… This confusion at the ballot box underscores the difficulties Europe faces in adapting to an ever more globalized world. Voters across Europe feel deep anxiety over how to preserve their cultures without closing their doors to immigrants, how to protect their cherished welfare states without becoming an economic dinosaur, and how to channel the energies of the free market without turning into a cold, uncaring continent.”