Monday, February 25, 2013

Ritual, Performance and Bodily Transformation

In my approach to ritual I emphasize that what takes place within ritual should not be understood as being outside time. It is perhaps a slowing down of the tempo characterizing daily life; less chaotic, more ordered and controllable where certain aspects of lived reality are scrutinized and others not. In this sense, rituals are special forms of social actions which go beyond ordinary form of communication and, with respect to ngoma ya sheitani, include an explicit focus on aesthetics and body language. What takes place inside and outside rituals are equally part of reality – it is equally real. It is in the connectedness of the two dimensions of reality that the dynamics of life worlds could be identified. If a distinction should be brought in it could be, as Bruce Kapferer insists in his more recent work (2004), that between actuality and virtuality where the ritual space produced provides a dynamic that, in Kapferers words, ‘allows for all kinds of potentialities of human experience to take shape and form’ (Ibid :47). Following from this perspective, it is the chaotic dimension of ordinary lived processes that constitutes the reality of actuality, not the virtual reality of ritual. 5Performance theorists often argue that what ritual does is communicate, and it is through this function that ritual indirectly affects social relations and perception of realities. It is, however, more appropriate to say that ritual or, also, ritualized enactment include communication. Rituals do not only express aspects of reality; through performance reality is negotiated. Rituals are not mere reflectors or representations of social life and people’s concerns rather, rituals provide a basis for dialogue as well as reflection, and therefore make possible negotiations about a common understanding of social reality. Performance and per formative acts are part of the ritual context and important in the sense that performance implies an active construction of social life and active communication and interaction between and among performers including audience. Currently, the concept, mimesis in the sense of an active representation based on a knowing subject is applied in the study of possession phenomena (Benjamin 1955; Taussig 1993) and what Judith Butler (1988) calls “performative acts”. Approaching ngoma ya sheitani as a ritual and cultural performance means that, in my view, such events should be studied exactly because these are contexts through which different dimensions of peoples’ lived reality and experience available, both to the anthropologist and to people themselves – although in different ways. Moreover, acts taking place in ritual space may either conform to or contest the expectations which are grounded in perceptions of, in the case of characteristics of humans and spirits, the physical body understood as temporarily transformable and as seat of different persona. From Ritual, Performance and Bodily Transformation Kjersti Larsen

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