Van Gennep's "Rites of Passage", Durkheim and Turner's Theory of Commu

Only available on StudyMode
  • Download(s) : 637
  • Published : October 8, 1999
Open Document
Text Preview
Van Gennep's "Rites of Passage", Durkheim and Turner's Theory of Communitas

I. Classify using Van Gennep's categories and point out aspects which would be of particular interest to Turner and to Chapple and Coons.

The Mescalero girls' puberty ceremony is an example of a "Rite of Passage," a ceremony that marks the transition of an individual from one stage of life to another (Chapple and Coons, p. 484). The ceremony marks the transition from girl to "mother of a nation" (p.252). The ritual serves as a means of establishing equilibrium after the crisis of puberty (Chapple and Coons, p. 484). It is a method of making this transition from girl to woman easier. I classified this ceremony as a Rite of Passage, rather than a Rite of Intensification, because it is held in response to a non-periodic change (puberty) and it affects the participants individually. The community plays an important role in supporting the girls-by building the tepee, for instance. At times, as when the boys join the Singers, the community actively participates in the ritual. However, the community is involved only because of its members' relations to the girls.

Van Gennep divides Rites of Passage into three parts: separation, transition and incorporation. In the Mescalero puberty ceremony, separation is achieved when the girls move in to their camp homes. During this stage, the Godmothers and Singers take the role of the parents. This may be described as a "cessation of interaction between the individual and the group in which he or she has been interacting" (Chapple and Coons, p. 485). However, there is not a complete separation from the girls and the community. There are instances (such as the time when the participants sleep while the community holds contests) when the two are physically separated, but they are near their families and friends during most of the ceremony.

The stage of transition, or liminality, is a period in which the participants lie "betwixt and between" two poles (Turner, p.95). For the puberty ceremony, this period lasts for four days. In these days, the girls receive instruction from their elders-especially from Godmothers and the Singers. For example, the Singer teaches the tribe's history through his chants and the Godmother teaches about sex. Gender differences seem to be exaggerated rather than abolished during this phase, however. The category "female" is related to fire, the color yellow, and the idea of being protected. "Male" is related to the poles, the color red, and the idea of being the protector. Yellow pollen, symbolizing women, is applied to the girls early in the ceremony. Furthermore, rather than being stripped bare, the girls are ornately decorated. However, one may argue that they have been stripped of the attire they wore before the ceremony. According to Turner, the liminal period is one of humility, obedience, and danger. The girls do exhibit these qualities during the period of transition, particularly during the all-night dancing ordeal. I still would not interpret this as a "low" because of the blessings the girls bestow upon the community and because of the massages they receive from the Godmothers.

The period of incorporation has been described as phase in which ". . . the individual begins once again his interaction with the members of his community . . ." (Chapple and Coons, p. 485). As noted earlier, the girls' interaction with the community is maintained at different points in the ritual. However, the girls do undergo a radical change during the ceremony, culminating in their reincorporation into their communities as new individuals. The ceremony began with the males constructing a lodge and ended with the girls destroying the lodge. In the beginning, the girls gave blessings and in the end, they received blessings. Through participating in the ordeal of the dance, the girls gain power. This change is expressed in the following chant: "Now you are...
tracking img