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Formations of Ritual

Formations of Ritual: Colonial and Anthropological Discourses on the Sinhala Yaktovil

David Scott
Copyright Date: 1994
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Formations of Ritual
    Book Description:

    Yaktovil is an elaborate healing ceremony employed by Sinhalas in Sri Lanka to dispel the effects of the eyesight of a pantheon of malevolent supernatural figures known as yakku. Scott’s investigation of yaktovil and yakku within the Sinhala cosmology is also an inquiry into the ways in which anthropology, by ignoring the discursive history of the rituals, religions, and relationships it seeks to describe, tends to reproduce ideological-often, specifically colonial-objects. “A challenging work that is on the one hand a fine descriptive ethnography of a Sri Lankan ritual and on the other hand an examination of the presuppositions that went into the construction of 'demonology' in Sri Lanka. It will, I am sure, provoke a vigorous debate on the nature of ethnographic writing.” --Gananath Obeyesekere, Princeton University

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8508-0
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. On Transliteration and Usage
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xxxii)

    The relation between anthropology and history has, for some time now, been the subject of a good deal of salutary rethinking. It has become clear—or clearer, anyway—not only that it will not do to treat non-Western cultures as though they were historyless, but also that “other” pasts, so to call them, have their own distinctive narrative conventions, forms, and modalities of constituting the past which are irreducible to those of the historical imaginary of the West. Even so, the way in which this relation has been thought has varied considerably from anthropologist to anthropologist, and it may well...

  6. Part I. Ethnographic Topoi

    • Chapter 1 Situating Yakku
      (pp. 3-37)

      There is a story well known to Buddhists of all walks of life in Sri Lanka. It is the story of Ālavaka or Alavyakkha(p.; s.yaksayā, yakā[p1.yaksayō, yakku];sk.yakṣa),a legendary figure in Buddhist literature and folklore. story of Ālavaka is largely the story of the conversion of the man-eating being of that name to the Buddha’sdhamma(s.dharmaya)or doctrine.¹ It is in fact an old Buddhist story with many versions, canonical local, and, in some of its forms at least, it is a story of great beauty, and compelling moral complexity. Although not...

    • Chapter 2 Malign Glances: Diṣṭiya and the Ethics of Composure
      (pp. 38-66)

      By the Buddha’s intervention—according to the local tradition in which I worked—yakkuwere allowed but a curtailed and much-restricted margin within which to pursue their malevolent ends in Lankā: they could make people ill so long as they then accepted the offerings made to them and removed the affliction. The marking out of such a space of delimited efficacy, I have noted earlier in connection with Ālavaka, is in fact characteristic of the way in which the yakā-(yakkha-) figure is positioned in Theravāda narratives. Among Sinhala Buddhists, however, not only was a restriction imposed, but most important perhaps,...

    • Chapter 3 Tovil Nätīma (The Dancing of tovil)
      (pp. 67-108)

      In October 1987 Lila Amma, a Sinhala woman in her mid- to late sixties, had ayaktovilceremony performed—or “danced,”näṭuvā,as is more properly said—for her.¹ In fact, she had not one but three ceremonies: a combined Prēta Pidēniya and Bahīrava Pidēniya (offering ceremonies for prētayō and bahīravayō) on one evening, and, the following day, an Iramudun Samayama or Midday Ceremony, and, some hours following, a Maha Kalu Kumāra Samayama or ceremony for the Great Black Prince.² The ceremonies took place over a period of two days in the yard of her home in the Matara district...

  7. Part II. Colonial Discourses

    • Chapter 4 Exorcisms and Demonic Experience, Anthropology and Yaktovil
      (pp. 111-136)

      This chapter opens a critical inquiry into the way in which contemporary anthropology has analyzed and discussedyaktovil.To do so I will undertake a reading of one recent contribution to this anthropology, that of Bruce Kapferer, and particularly his ethnographic monograph,A Celebration of Demons.¹ In this reading my critical concern is with thetheoreticalandideologicalconstructions of this work’s conceptual object—indeed, my concern is with the conditions in which these intersect. “In order to evaluate the theoretical limitations of contemporary anthropological knowledge, and its political implications,” Talal Asad has suggested, “it is necessary to carry out...

    • Chapter 5 Colonial Christian Discourse, Demonism, and Sinhala Religion
      (pp. 137-170)

      The early formation of Western knowledge about the Sinhalayaktovilwas largely the work of British Protestant missionaries and Christian colonial administrators in Ceylon in the nineteenth century. Knowledge aboutyaktovil(such as it was) was itself part of the larger colonial production of knowledges regarding the religious doctrines and observances of the Sinhalas. This production of knowledges formed an important part of the practice of nineteenth-century British colonialism in Ceylon, One of the things that this chapter will examine is the conditions of the production of these colonial knowledges—the political and ideological conditions, more specifically.

      My general concern...

  8. Part III. Reconstructing Anthropological Objects

    • Chapter 6 Historicizing Tradition: Buddhism and the Discourse of Yakku
      (pp. 173-203)

      With this chapter the thrust of my inquiry again shifts registers somewhat. In chapters 4 and 5, my concern with the relation between power, knowledge, and Sinhala religion centered on those authorizing discourses through which Sinhala religion was inaugurated and reproduced as a visible area of a specificallyWesternknowledge. In general terms, my endeavor was to provide a genealogical investigation into the ideological and conceptualsourcesof an anthropological object. That investigation will have significant effects in this chapter.

      The kind of investigation I undertook in Part II, I would insist, is necessary for a critical anthropology. However, it...

    • Chapter 7 The Ends and Strategy of Yaktovil
      (pp. 204-240)

      The general aim of this final chapter is to suggest an approach to the analysis ofyaktovilthat does not depend on such notions about the fundamental experience of Sinhala Buddhists or the supposed intrinsic qualities of their cultural practices as I have earlier (in chapter 4) shown to be theoretically unsound, and (in chapter 5) to be implicated in an ideological, more specifically a colonial, history.

      It is worth repeating that my critical disquiet is not so much with the analytical interest in symbols as such, as with those kinds of anthropological analysis that traffic in their supposed essential...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 241-244)

    The course of this book’s deliberations has not been the straight and narrow. I have sought to employ a strategy that combines a number of levels of investigation, and it may be as well to say here, by way of some concluding reflections, why I have thought them important, important anyway for the kind of critical anthropological inquiry that has seemed—and seems—to me worthwhile. It is as well in part because this book has attempted to articulate a criticism which is at once de-constructive and reconstructive, at once de-centering and re-positioning.

    Perhaps the argument most central to the...

  10. Appendix
    (pp. 245-248)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 249-278)
  12. Glossary
    (pp. 279-282)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 283-294)
  14. Index
    (pp. 295-300)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 301-301)