Reciprocity in Anthropology

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The way every being experiences the world around us is mostly constructed by the culture we are exposed to and brought up in. The world makes sense to us because of the ways culture influences our perception. We experience the world around us in a time, space, and mentality that are built solely by culture. The Kaluli are a tribal clan from Highland New Guinea who experience their lives through reciprocity. The way the Kaluli form relationships amongst one another, communicate, and practice their everyday lives is based through gift-giving and reciprocity. The Kaluli are socially dependent beings who have constructed a social mechanism in which everyone participates in the art of reciprocity to maintain and build these social relations with one another. The Kaluli reify and bring to life reciprocity through ceremonies such as Gisaro, through food and marriage, emotions, and socialization.

Frequently, the Kaluli people will hold a traditional ceremony, called the Gisaro, which demonstrates the importance of reciprocity in their daily lives. Gisaro is a ceremony in which the Kaluli guests perform dance and singing rituals for their hosts. (Schieffelin, p.22) The visitors spend many weeks preparing costumes, songs, and performances for their hosts, while in return the hosts plan feasts at their longhouses for their prospective guests. (Schieffelin, p.22) During the evening, the Gisaro begins inside the longhouses, and the dancers from the visitors’ side begin performing. (Schieffelin, p.22) The performing group is made up of roughly 25 men, who begin to dance and sing one by one in the centre of the longhouse, while the audience of hosts’ watch. (Schieffelin, p.22) The performers will take their turns singing about places and people familiar to one or more of the hosts’ in the audience. Most of the places that are sung about are from the past of a member in the audience and the people that are sung about have died and have emotional ties to audience members. (Schieffelin p.23) As the singing and recalling of events related to audience members get intense, so does the emotional atmosphere amongst the audience of hosts’. A member from the crowd will likely begin to resurface past memories of loved ones that have died and will begin to get deeply emotional and will begin to cry. (Schieffelin, p.23) However, immediately after, the emotional host will become infuriated due to the fact that the dancer hurt them with past memories, and in anger the host will grab a lit torch and burn the shoulders of the performer continuously. (Schieffelin, p.23) The performer however, will not show any sight of pain and one-by-one the performers will continue performing and the whole process of emotional-outbreak and burning will continue until the chirping of birds can be heard in the morning. (Schieffelin, p.23) At the end of the night, before the visitors made their way back, they paid compensation to those whom they made cry. (Schieffelin, p.23)

The Gisaro ritual shows an abundance of reciprocity in social-relations and emotions. The ritual is based on the exchange between the hosts and the visitors; one provides plentiful food and the other performs and entertains. The reciprocal nature of this social gathering displays the dependency both parties place on one-another to perform their obligated role in the gathering. “This kind of social giving and exchanging is basic to the Kaluli way of life.” (Schieffelin, p.26) Reciprocity of duties aside, there is also an exchange of emotions that can be witnessed in the Gisaro ceremony. The performer hurts the audience member, who then in return inflicts physical pain upon the performer. (Schieffelin, p.24) In the Kaluli society anger is looked upon as a justification for being hurt or angered, and requires ones to react in an aggressive manner to be compensated for the feelings of anger inflicted upon them. (Schieffelin, p.134) If the Kaluli men do not react in anger where they are socially...
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