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Social Structuring By Means of Ceremony

Another in my 'Non-Western Musical Traditions' series from my sophomore year of college, this paper was written in reaction to two short films, one on Native American pow-wows and one on Ewe drumming.  See the bibiography.  The year is 2001.  This paper is boring.  I'm publishing it because I hate you.




Doug Van Hollen

Anthro 62A  Spinney

October 31, 2001

Social Structuring By Means of Ceremony

Every society requires unifying customs to reinforce the social structure on which the society is built.  Part of the fascination of anthropology is learning about these ceremonies and comparing them to other cultures’.  The video Into the Circle deals with the Native American intertribal powwow, which serves to educate an unfamiliar public as well as entertain.  Kpegisu features a drum and dance ceremony in sub-Saharan Africa that fuctions to recentralize the focus of the members of a small village.  The strengthening of cultural roles and structures is evident in both of these ceremonies, and the videos provide an unique insight into the unfamiliar customs of these oft-overlooked cultures.

Into the Circle emphasizes that non-AmerIndians are welcome at intertribal powwows, no doubt because Native Americans are anxious to share their rich culture with those who might have false preconceptions about its customs.  However, only true AmerIndians may participate in the dancing and music-making (with the exception of the Round Dance).  There exists a firm division between spectator and participant at a powwow, and this separation can serve to elevate the status of the performers.  Men and women each have oppurtunities to dance but they may only compete within their gender.  Only men may drum and sing, or even touch the drum.  A wide range of ages are represented in the audience, but, although some of the music-makers are older, only the young have the strength and stamina to perform the strenuous traditional dances.

Native Americans use the intertribal powwow to promote a sense of cultural community with the larger and more varied society of the United States.  Into the Circle shows AmerIndians withdrawing from their lives in the melting pot and rejoicing in their common heritage to this rich culture.  In order to retain their identity as Native Americans, the ceremonies that separate their culture from the rest of American society must be reinforced and passed down.  The diversity of the United States presents a difficulty when analyzing the customs of a particular culture existing within it.  Customs such as the intertribal powwow serve to bring AmerIndians together, but they also serve to distinguish clearly between the AmerIndian heritage and that of all the other groups residing in the United States.

In Kpegisu, the boundary between audience and performer is blurred, as those villagers of age alternate between watching the ceremony and dancing, either alone or in small groups.  The drummers seem to be specialists; they drum continuously and no one ever joins them, except in supportive clapping and stomping.  The singing is led by a man and a woman, who seem to organize the whole ceremony, but this leadership does not prevent the more exuberant villagers from joining in the songs.  The only outsiders at this event seem to be the camera crew, and from the way the villagers stare at the camera, the presence of non-local outsiders would seem a rare event.  A wide range of ages are represented, and both genders participate, although never together, nor are any of the drummers women.  The procession into town follows a very elderly woman who is treated with much respect.  At the conclusion of the dancing, the village chief makes a good-natured speech, and his audience attends him quietly and respectfully.  He seems happy to have the oppurtunity to address his people in that context.

The main difference between the ceremony of the Ewe and the AmerIndians is the boundary between audience and the performers.  In the Kpegisu ceremony the boundary is more blurred because everyone present is of the same race, religion, village, and origin.  In such a homogenous gathering, the commonalities of the attendees will inevitably engender interaction and participation.  The intercultural flavour of the intertribal powwow, which takes place in one of the most diverse societies in the world, necessarily demands the alienation of some attendees as “outsiders” or “non-Indians.”  Thus, at the powwow some may perform and some may only watch.  The Ewe and the AmerIndians are of equal moral standing, but the context of the powwow simply makes different demands of the attendees than the kpegisu ceremony.  These two very important customs serve to reinforce the social structure of both the culture performing and the surrounding society in which the rituals take place.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Into the Circle: an introduction to Native American powwows.  Prod. Scott Swearingen, Sandy Rhoades.  Videocassette.  Full Circle Communications, 1992.

Kpegisu, a war drum of the Ewe.  Prod. Godwin Agbeli.  Videocassette.

Every society requires unifying customs to reinforce the social structure on which the society is built.  Part of the fascination of anthropology is learning about these ceremonies and comparing them to other cultures’.  The video Into the Circle deals with the Native American intertribal powwow, which serves to educate an unfamiliar public as well as entertain. Kpegisu features a drum and dance ceremony in sub-Saharan Africa that fuctions to recentralize the focus of the members of a small village.  The strengthening of cultural roles and structures is evident in both of these ceremonies, and the videos provide an unique insight into the unfamiliar customs of these oft-overlooked cultures.

Into the Circle emphasizes that non-AmerIndians are welcome at intertribal powwows, no doubt because Native Americans are anxious to share their rich culture with those who might have false preconceptions about its customs.  However, only true AmerIndians may participate in the dancing and music-making (with the exception of the Round Dance).  There exists a firm division between spectator and participant at a powwow, and this separation can serve to elevate the status of the performers.  Men and women each have oppurtunities to dance but they may only compete within their gender.  Only men may drum and sing, or even touch the drum.  A wide range of ages are represented in the audience, but, although some of the music-makers are older, only the young have the strength and stamina to perform the strenuous traditional dances.

Native Americans use the intertribal powwow to promote a sense of cultural community with the larger and more varied society of the United States. Into the Circle shows AmerIndians withdrawing from their lives in the melting pot and rejoicing in their common heritage to this rich culture.  In order to retain their identity as Native Americans, the ceremonies that separate their culture from the rest of American society must be reinforced and passed down.  The diversity of the United States presents a difficulty when analyzing the customs of a particular culture existing within it.  Customs such as the intertribal powwow serve to bring AmerIndians together, but they also serve to distinguish clearly between the AmerIndian heritage and that of all the other groups residing in the United States.

In Kpegisu, the boundary between audience and performer is blurred, as those villagers of age alternate between watching the ceremony and dancing, either alone or in small groups.  The drummers seem to be specialists; they drum continuously and no one ever joins them, except in supportive clapping and stomping.  The singing is led by a man and a woman, who seem to organize the whole ceremony, but this leadership does not prevent the more exuberant villagers from joining in the songs.  The only outsiders at this event seem to be the camera crew, and from the way the villagers stare at the camera, the presence of non-local outsiders would seem a rare event.  A wide range of ages are represented, and both genders participate, although never together, nor are any of the drummers women.  The procession into town follows a very elderly woman who is treated with much respect.  At the conclusion of the dancing, the village chief makes a good-natured speech, and his audience attends him quietly and respectfully.  He seems happy to have the oppurtunity to address his people in that context.

The main difference between the ceremony of the Ewe and the AmerIndians is the boundary between audience and the performers.  In the Kpegisu ceremony the boundary is more blurred because everyone present is of the same race, religion, village, and origin.  In such a homogenous gathering, the commonalities of the attendees will inevitably engender interaction and participation.  The intercultural flavour of the intertribal powwow, which takes place in one of the most diverse societies in the world, necessarily demands the alienation of some attendees as “outsiders” or “non-Indians.”  Thus, at the powwow some may perform and some may only watch.  The Ewe and the AmerIndians are of equal moral standing, but the context of the powwow simply makes different demands of the attendees than the kpegisu ceremony.  These two very important customs serve to reinforce the social structure of both the culture performing and the surrounding society in which the rituals take place.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Into the Circle: an introduction to Native American powwows.  Prod. Scott Swearingen, Sandy Rhoades.  Videocassette.  Full Circle Communications, 1992.




Kpegisu, a war drum of the Ewe.  Prod. Godwin Agbeli.  Videocassette.

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