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4 Feasting with the Dead and the Living

Nir Avieli Indiana University Press ePub

4    Feasting with the Dead and the Living

Though rituals and festivals have always been at the center of anthropological attention, the special food, elaborate preparations, and eating practices characteristic of such events have often been ignored in anthropological writing or, at best, have been treated as anecdotal or trivial.1 Even Shaun Malarney’s (2001) analysis of war-dead commemorations in Vietnam, which includes detailed descriptions of the ritual and its wartime and postwar transformations, has no more than: “… and then [the mourners] share a communal meal …” (ibid. 68). I argue that the culinary aspects of such ceremonies are at least as meaningful and important as the formal ritual. The analysis of foodways in such events actually sheds light on issues that are often overlooked.

Ancestor-worship ceremonies (dam gio, “death anniversary gatherings,” sometimes referred to as cung ong ba, or literally “worship of grandfather and grandmother”) are the most common family rituals held in Hoi An. As every person has two parents and four grandparents (in some cases even more since, prior to 1975, polygamy was legal and there are several polygamous families in town), most Hoianese conduct or participate in several dam gio rituals annually. While some families worship more than two generations of ancestors (see also Jamieson 1995: 22), this is quite rare in Hoi An. In practice, most Hoianese worship only those ancestors whom they personally knew, while long-deceased ancestors are usually remembered only in more general ancestor-worship events, such as Tet, if at all. Since extended family members, friends, and neighbors are routinely invited to join these rituals, most people participate in well over a dozen such events each year. Indeed, most other Hoianese rituals and festivals include some aspects of ancestor worship. As one of my informants pointed out: “… they say that we are Buddhists or Taoists, but for me, I think that we are ancestor worshipers. This is what we mostly do.”

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Medium 9780253006691

9 Documenting the Periphery: The French banlieues in Words and Film

Dominic Thomas Indiana University Press ePub

We’re not given the same chance, we don’t have the same France.


Because this country, our country, has all it needs to become exemplary again, as long as it accepts itself as it is rather than as it was; We, artists, have decided to join forces and to work together against inequality and injustice; We, the children of a plural France, want to promote this diversity which is an asset and an opportunity for tomorrow.


Thus far, the focus has been provided by various incarnations of official discourse pertaining to outsiders, including asylum seekers, illegals, irregulars, and refugees. In this chapter, we turn our attention to another facet of the immigration question, namely to the writings and films made by French ethnic minorities located at the social periphery in the banlieues. This will allow us to assess internal responses to complex debates on immigration and national identity and to obtain important insights on the other France. Most observers of French politics will agree that the early years of the twenty-first-century have been turbulent ones: from the 2002 presidential elections in which the extreme right-wing Front National obtained sufficient votes to advance to the final round to the “no” vote on the new E.U. constitution in 2005, and from the October–November 2005 urban riots to the CPE (Contrat première embauche) student demonstrations in 2006. If examples of ethnic mobilization during the 1980s (S.O.S. Racisme, the Marche pour l’égalité et contre le racisme [Marche des Beurs], and Convergence 84) served to underscore the deficiency of assimilation, insertion, and integration policies, then the riots of 2005 can surely be understood as indicative of the glaring failure of decolonization and the survival of transcolonial structures of inequity in the French métropole.

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Medium 9780253006424

9. The Bronze Age Revisited: The Aesthetics of Sun Tanning

PEG Z BRAND Indiana University Press ePub


In an episode of The Twilight Zone entitled “The Eye of the Beholder,” a woman has plastic surgery to become “beautiful.”1 Yet, when she is unwrapped, her classically symmetrical face appalls the other characters. This society believes that asymmetrical faces are beautiful. When asked which kind of face they prefer, the characters always select the lopsided; they even undergo surgery to achieve unevenness. The television audience finds this evaluation odd, at best. We want to know if there was some utilitarian, religious, or other nonaesthetic basis for these judgments, since the aesthetic preference for symmetry is universal, and is not in the eye of the beholder.2

The preference for women with pale skin is also universal. Anthropologist Peter Frost surveyed over seventy cultures in his book Fair Women, Dark Men: The Forgotten Roots of Color Prejudice, and discovered that in every culture, in every era, in every ethnic group, women’s beauty is linked with the lightest complexion found within the group.3 This is true except for one bizarre culture: European and American Caucasian culture of the past one hundred years, in which there has been a strong preference for women with tanned skin. This is just as unexpected a preference as one for crookedness, so why do these particular people prefer women with browner skin rather than coloring that occurs without sun exposure?

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Medium 9780253356727

5. Sephardi Theater: Project and Practice

Olga Borovaya Indiana University Press ePub

Sephardi Theater is one of the least documented and least studied sociocultural practices in the lives of Ottoman Jews. Since the extant memoirs hardly, if at all, mention it,1 the only available source of information on Sephardi Theater is the Ladino press, which played an exceptional role in its development. Moreover, the conceptualization of Sephardi Theater offered and promoted by Ladino periodicals was an integral element of the whole project, indispensable for its proper realization, if not for its very existence. Outside the framework of the Ladino press, Sephardi Theater cannot be adequately construed, and the data related to it appear as an unstructured assortment of random facts.

It is, perhaps, its chaotic and peculiar makeup that accounts for the fact that, as a cultural phenomenon, Sephardi Theater has attracted the attention of very few scholars; the most important of them is Elena Romero, who dedicated a few years to its comprehensive description. Her doctoral dissertation2 consists of Romanized (more precisely, Hispanicized) editions of fourteen Ladino plays with notes, detailed descriptions, and other bibliographic materials. Romero has also published a number of articles on Sephardi Theater and a valuable collection of the materials found in most extant Ladino periodicals on the shows performed by Sephardim in the Ottoman Empire.3 Finally, a chapter of her monograph on Sephardi print culture4 offers the first and only overview of Ladino theater.5

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Medium 9780253011428

2. Visualizing the Body Politic

Edited by Arijit Sen and Lisa Silverman Indiana University Press ePub


The concept of public space in modern political theory is remarkably impoverished. It largely ignores the material attributes of space—its architectonics and physical-sensorial dimensions that enable habitation—and the process of social production that creates the “publicness” of public space. Such imagination of public space is disembodied in keeping with the disembodied, abstract imagination of the modern state. When it does consider material attributes and the bodies of citizens at work in shaping public space, it assumes a particular delimited imagination of the Greek polis. Both ignore the possibilities of a political vernacular that might enable us to expand the imagination of public space and its attendant materiality.

“To be embodied,” writes James Mensch, “is to be physically situated.” By that logic it is also to “exclude other persons from the position that one occupies in viewing the world.”1 This produces a plurality of viewpoints that we must accommodate, because we are also “dependent” on others to inhabit this world. To be embodied is to be aware of the vulnerability of the flesh. An embodied understanding of politics and public space thus requires attention to the conditions of our physical situatedness in relation to other bodies and objects. It involves an understanding of our position in a given space, our movement and ability to access space, what we can see, hear, feel, and touch: our vulnerability as well as our capacity to manipulate and change the aforementioned conditions. These states of vulnerability and capacity that actualize our political freedom set the parameters of our relation to fellow subjects. These material conditions (and their limits) are the bases of our political subjectivity and enable our political imagination.

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