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Experiencing Ritual

Experiencing Ritual: A New Interpretation of African Healing

Edith Turner
William Blodgett
Singleton Kahona
Fideli Benwa
Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Experiencing Ritual
    Book Description:

    Experiencing Ritual is Edith Turner's account of how she sighted a spirit form while participating in the Ihamba ritual of the Ndembu. Through her analysis, she presents a view not common in anthropological writings-the view of millions of Africans-that ritual is the harnessing of spiritual power.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0398-1
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-17)

    When anthropologists do fieldwork, they try to participate in the life of the people they are studying, but there appear to be limits. Geertz wrote: “We cannot live other people’s lives, and it is a piece of bad faith to try. We can but listen to what, in words . . . they say about their lives. . . . We gain [our sense of other people’s lives] through their expressions. . . . It’s all a matter of scratching surfaces” (1986, 373). This is partly true. Indeed, it would be valuable if we possessed their memories, if we had...

  5. 1. The Field Context of the Ihamba Rituals in 1985
    (pp. 18-30)

    After Vic Turner and I left the field in 1954, a gap of thirty-one years elapsed before I was to see the Ndembu again. Much history on all levels overtook the Ndembu and also myself during the interval. The events altered both sides, gradually and inexorably. Signs of the differences emerged in the new field material and in the way I took the field experience; it is all the more necessary to contextualize the rituals in the milieu created by the personalities involved and, even more importantly, in the historical context. When I was back among the Ndembu in 1985,...

  6. 2. The Medicine Quest for the First Ihamba
    (pp. 31-53)

    At 7 a.m. on the morning of October 21, 1985, Bill and I presented ourselves at Kahona Village. Fideli had warned us not to bring our assistant Morie since he was in no way connected with the Ihamba cult as I was, and as Bill was too by association. I believe that Morie’s alcoholism, his severe manner with the people on the other side of the car track, and the fact that he used to be a member of the local constabulary presented problems for the Kahona people.

    When we arrived at Kahona, the village was damp and chilly from...

  7. 3. The First Ihamba: The Performance for Nyakanjata
    (pp. 54-82)

    The women gathered around Nyakanjata. Along with Singleton they raised their hands in unison and waved them in a circular motion above the suffering woman’s head, saying “Shww—shww—!” Thereupon, Singleton, Fideli, and Luka each in unison with the others made a fist with his left hand, licked his fist, placed a castor oil leaf on it, raised his right hand high, and all together clapped down on the leaf, crying “Paya! Come out!” (Figure 14). I saw this rite, called mpandwila, in former times (Turner 1968, 167). The clapping-down activates the ritual. The singing started, also the sprinkling...

  8. 4. Discussion of the First Ihamba
    (pp. 83-102)

    My mind still revolved around Sakutoha. Why had this old fellow turned into a biting parasitical tooth, a thing of aggression and pain? When I searched in Vic Turner’s writings for references to Sakutoha, I found on pages 190–93, in Schism and Continuity (1957), a passage about Sakutoha which Vic had used to illustrate his explanation of the role of slavery (pawnship) in the Ndembu society of the 1950s. There I saw in print certain facts that never came out at the recent Ihamba—that both Nyakanjata and Sakutoha had been slaves; they had been given as indemnity for...

  9. 5. Background to the Second Ihamba
    (pp. 103-127)

    About a month later Singleton and Fideli announced that they were going to treat another woman for an ihamba tooth. By this time Bill and I were in good training for Ihamba, that is, well primed with facts and interpretations. I was also getting the feel of the ritual.

    For the reader to understand what happened in the second Ihamba, it is necessary to give a wider view of our social surroundings.

    One may term the wider circumstances “social field,” as Vic Turner did, while the inner events themselves, taking place in what might be called a paratheatrical mode with...

  10. 6. The Second Ihamba: The Performance for Meru
    (pp. 128-158)

    The second ritual in the Kahona family was scheduled for Thursday or Friday, November 28 or 29, 1985, but the day was changed at the last minute because of a conflicting and indeed overriding event. On Thursday morning everyone was at the Mwinilunga airstrip, two miles past the school up the dirt road, to watch the arrival of an astonishingly white plane bearing none other than Princess Anne, the daughter of the Queen of England. Anne had decided to visit Mwinilunga in the course of a world survey of needy children on behalf of the Save the Children Fund, having...

  11. 7. Ritual and the Anthropology of Experience
    (pp. 159-169)

    So much for the account. To me the experience was of major importance. I was going to have to research the matter more fully back home. When I did arrive back home I was able to find some parallels in ethnographic literature.

    For instance, although I was not in trance as Maya Deren was in her experience of the Haitian Voudoun dance, yet like her I had the knowledge that I had broken through, we all had, we had gotten our heads above water. Deren’s trance was triggered by the drummer:

    The drummer . . . can “break” to relieve...

  12. 8. Seeing Spirits
    (pp. 170-177)

    Because the seeing of a spirit form is the central episode of this book, I shall discuss what is involved in this kind of seeing and also briefly refer to its incidence in other cultures.

    Seeing as direct perception¹ is the prime faculty of the Ndembu spirit healer. Benwa could see the ihamba tooth moving in the vein, Singleton could see the spirit when he had drunk leaf medicine, and I saw the large thing come out of Meru’s body. This kind of seeing appears to be necessary in spirit or witchcraft diagnoses.

    Consciousness of what the special eye can...

  13. Coda
    (pp. 178-180)

    I have discussed the social context of the events and the difficulty with the spirit experience and the tooth. I have tried to document what the people really said. Concerning the story of Morie, myself, and Kasonda, I have not analyzed the events structurally or politically—taking it that Morie’s dilemma is clear enough, and that the role of Kasonda was one of a reasonably good man trying to save his soul according to his lights. I have shown how I preferred the work with Singleton to working with the churches, and confess that there was little I could do...

  14. Appendix 1. African Spirit Healing and Ihamba
    (pp. 181-184)
  15. Appendix 2. Types of Spirit Healers
    (pp. 185-187)
  16. Appendix 3. Medicines and Hallucinogens
    (pp. 188-190)
  17. Appendix 4. Cupping with Horns
    (pp. 191-192)
  18. Appendix 5. Music and Drumming
    (pp. 193-199)
  19. Appendix 6. The Extraction of Harmful Intrusions
    (pp. 200-203)
  20. Appendix 7. A Composite Ihamba Scenario
    (pp. 204-205)
  21. Appendix 8. Old and New Ihamba Compared
    (pp. 206-208)
  22. Appendix 9. Matriliny, Rituals, and Religions: The 1985 Ndembu
    (pp. 209-210)
  23. Appendix 10. Maps
    (pp. 211-212)
  24. Appendix 11. Abridged Genealogy of the Kahona Family
    (pp. 213-214)
  25. Notes
    (pp. 215-220)
  26. References
    (pp. 221-228)
  27. Index
    (pp. 229-239)
  28. Back Matter
    (pp. 240-242)