Personhood and Gender Essay

  • Length: 6 pages
  • Subject: Mythology - Religion
  • Type: Essay
  • Paper: #20903883
  • Related Topic: Snakes, Nigeria, Symbolism

Excerpt from Essay :

Personhood & Gender

The scope, definition, depth and breadth of gender has evolved greatly over the years and centuries. Rather than get muddled down in the cavalcade of resources and opinions that focus on the definitions of personhood and gender in a more modern context, one instead should focus on the word of anthropologists in scholarly journals as they show and describe some stunning and revealing observations. This report in particular will focus on two such studies and the revelations that are present within them and what they looked at.

The first major study looked at for this research looked at a people called the Igbo. The Igbo-Ukwu were present in modern-day Nigeria circa the 11th century A.D. In other words, they lived in the area almost exactly a millennia ago. The findings that are analyzed in this study were found in four different sites over the last fifty years with the two groups of items found about twenty-five years apart. One of the sites appeared to be a ritual burial complex while the other seemed to be in a fairly standard rectangular building. No major pattern of the works and items were found but it was also conceded by the author of the study's results that finding and defining true meaning of the items in a cultural context requires knowing the applicable cultural and historical context of why the items exist, what they were made for the motivations behind the manufacture and depiction of the items. The author of the study refers to this as "material metaphor" (Ray, 1987).

Ray (1987) notes that some items are not obviously meant to be metaphorical while other items ostensibly are. Ray makes reference to the theory of Giddens when he notes that something as simple as writing can be used to show structure and order in society. To be more precise, it can indicate who the dominant people of a society are and who the less dominant are. Ray notes that burial sites are a great way to interpret such messages as rather than being symbolic of a more expansive time period, they are instead reminiscent of a very limited and specific event. Having such a narrow window makes it much easier, although still not simple, to ascertain the motives behind what led to the burial site or other similar such site to what it became (Ray, 1987).

Some Igbo items in particular that defined the culture and its people include some metal staff heads and staff ornaments. Fabric adhered to some of the items indicated that the items were purposely stored there. At another location, there was clearly broken pots together along with what appeared to be a shrine. The culmination of these items and locations seem to suggest a burial chamber were certain members of the dead were prepared for their final resting place. One particular find suggested that the applicable dead were fixed in an upright position (Ray, 1987).

The seemingly wider burial systems seems to suggest a social order. One part of that social order seemed to be that women bearing twins was viewed as an abomination against one of the deities. Another set of evidence indicates that deity Nri would bring food to the Igbo peoples. Agents of Nri, which were apparently clearly identifiable were deemed to be untouchable and "immune from violence" from any of the villagers and peasants. Priests would officiate rituals and rites related to Nri. Eze Nri had to observe strict safeguards relating to his purity including taking all meals in private (Ray, 1987).

The author would analyze the above by saying that there was clearly a social order whereby people that adhered to Nri were clearly held differently than people that did not and the clergy associated with Nri were held in a different regard and at a higher level than the other people in society. Uncommon but now considered normal events like having a set of twins were viewed with disdain if not outright hostility rather than as the uncommon yet harmless events that they are now considered. In addition, the depiction of animals including snakes, frogs and other such classification of animals shows that their association and symbolism regarding nature is very strong and they use these animals and their depictions to buttress and portray their beliefs. The Ray text seems to indicate that there often was not a certain order or structure to the beliefs and that they were sometimes random but there was a clear sign in the archaeological finds that it was a major driver for the people of the Igbo (Ray, 1987).

Even with the randomness that was often present, there were also some clear patterns. The depiction of the snake in coiled form, as mentioned on page 72 of the Ray text, was a clear example of a pattern that was unmistakable. The reverence and depiction of makes jives with the generally held belief that the killing or other harm of snakes was apparently either forbidden or at least frowned upon at the time. This is yet another example of the Nri or some other applicable social order relative to beliefs and religion beign enforced whereby the beliefs related to Nri were clearly held superior to that of other people and belief structures at the time. A similar sort of pattern and structure can be found when looking at depictions of frogs. The aforementioned snake reverence seems to be specifically link to the social status and power of the eze Nri and the perceived power and status that they held relative to non-Nri people. Indeed, some masks and other pieces as correlated with apparent excising of skin showed that the beliefs relating to Nri were very entrenched and taken very seriously at the expense of scarring and pain (Ray, 1987)

Another powerful medium that is open to analysis and interpretation in an anthropological context are words and verses, like the ones described in Allen text reviewed for this report. Allen starts off a treatise about historical Swahili verses and texts by talking about how a modern writer would often have multiple editions of a work with each edition being tailored to a particular group like teachers, students or others. However, it is noted that Swahili editors of historical times would not and could not do this. They would make a single verse and edition and it would mostly likely be the only edition and version ever of that text. It is noted that this is even done in a modern context to keep costs down even though it was once common to translate the texts into other languages with notes for review by may peoples. Instead, they focus on doing the translation only in Roman with some translation into ordinary Swahili. It makes much sense to keep the translation to a minimum as too much translation and retranslation muddies the proverbial waters. Much the same thing is perceived to be pervasive with translation of the Christian Holy Bible due to the litany of modern and not-so-modern languages that the text is translated into. Indeed, Allen notes that the main motivation behind this method was to keep as close as possible to the original and actual interpretation and verbiage (Allen, 1971).

One surprising feature of the Swahili text in question was that while the verse often got polluted and muddied, it was also rich with influence with women which is something that would not have been common at the time due to the common subjugation and belittling of women as people. The Allen text gives specific examples of how women are treated as heroines or at least the focal point of the story. It is also clear that women have played an integral part in the preservation and continuity of the literature, which would also have been uncommon during the relevant time periods. Even today, many women in Africa are mutilated, denigrated or otherwise held artificially subservient due to traditions, beliefs and practices that clearly are meant to hold women in low regard (Allen, 1971).

The Mwana Kupona poem shows a clear belief in God that minimizes the power and presence in man of favor of an almighty god. The advocacy to act in a well-mannered and moral way clearly has parallels to the belief structures of many Christians or even other major present religions in the modern historical context. One great example would the Beatitudes of the Christian Holy Bible, which hold many parallels with the words mentioned on page 59 of the Allen text. Even habits that are modernly assessed and often condemned like gossip (Allen, 1971).

However, there is a clear social order that puts men above women, as noted on page 61 where it says that when a woman rises again after death, the husband has the discretion to make choices relative to the afterlife. There is a clear message, as well, to avoid people that act in what is perceived to be a "stupid" or "immodest" way. As such, there is…

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