Writing Assignment by Christina O’Shea
In the early twentieth century, Arnold van Gennep, a French ethnographer, wrote “The Rites of Passage” in which he describes the process of changing social states of being. This one theory has certainly made a deep impact on anthropological thought due to the fact that it can be applied to a number of situations, both past and present, in which transitions are made. It can also be used as an educational tool for people to use so that they can have a better understanding of the practices of many different cultures. In fact, many examples of the theory of Gennep can be found in ethnographic autobiographies, such as “Sun Chief: The Autobiography of a Hopi” by Don C. Talayesva. “Sun Chief: The Autobiography of a Hopi” is the story of Don C. Talayesva, a man raised as a Hopi Indian and then trained as a white man. Written from his point of view, the autobiography allows the reader to have a better understanding of Hopi culture as Don shares the story of his life. At one point in the work, Don mentions a particular moment in his life when he decided to join his father on a salt expedition to Little Grand Canyon.
I can honestly say that when I first read of the salt expedition of Don, I did not really think much of it. I believed that the reason that this event was even mentioned was to describe to the reader the method that the Hopi Indians used to acquire salt. However, after learning the rights of passage theory of Arnold van Gennep, I began to realize that this journey became more to do with initiation rather than nutrition.
In “The Rites of Passage”, Van Gennep explains that a rite of passage has three phases that are handled through ritual and a symbolic code by which we understand meaning. The first phase is called the “separation” phase in which you remove yourself from a former social status. In “Sun Chief”, one example of how Don used this phase while on the...