The re-analysis of Chihamba, the White Spirit
in Anthropology after Gluckman
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Chapter 9 presents a re-analysis of Victor Turner’s masterpiece, Chihamba, the White Spirit. The ritual drama in Turner’s account is tragic; against that, the re-analysis shows another genre of ritual drama: the comedy, teasing and making fun of the subjected, while revelling in Bacchanalian moments and playful sexuality, and while allowing, somewhat muted, alternative fun backstage, gendered for women only. The expressed intent in performance is to bring well-being, personal and communal, for people drawn from many Ndembu villages. Ancestrality is eroticized and conciliated, for the sake of fertility and other mystic benefits, with mysteries of masculinity and femininity under male dominance. Turner relates specific cultural expressions to universals of the human condition, most importantly to the figure he calls ‘the ritual man’; and as the theologian/literary critic, he seeks to convince us of profound truths of the religious imagination. One outcome of the re-analysis is a question: How useful is Turner’s notion of ‘the ritual man’? His appearance may be transfigured, with very different preoccupations in unlike places and ages. The re-analysis undoes Turner’s comparison between the ‘slain god’ in Chihamba and the resurrection in Christianity; instead the argument illuminates the play of magic, tricks and lustful fantasy, as in ancient mystery cults.

Anthropology after Gluckman

The Manchester School, colonial and postcolonial transformations

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