Gradhiva n°7 - Spring 2008

176 pages with 8 pages in colour - 140 ill.

18 Euros

ISBN : 978-2-915133-86-8

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Machamou is initiated to the tromba cult in Mayotte, 2003. Photo B. Hell.

Daughter of the saint at the feast of Lemanja, 2005. Photo I. Pordeus.

Disintegration (sequence), in Salvavidas © Juan Batalla-Dany Barreto.

The Gnaoua World Music Festival in Essaouira, 24 Junie 2006 © Pierre-Emmanuel Rastoin.

Gradhiva n°7

The spectacle of the possessed Possession, theatricals and globalisation

Is a possessed person an actor or a madman? This is the alternative that Roger Bastide, Michel Leiris and Alfred Métraux attempted to go beyond, in their generation. In fact, these three anthropologists reject the psychiatric approach to possession, whereby the trance is viewed as a psychopathological state or an uncontrolled liberation of impulses; instead, they all concur to different degrees with the mimetic aspect of possession. By 1938, Leiris was anticipating developments concerning the ‘vestiaire de personnalités’ which led to the publication of La possession et ses aspects théâtraux chez les Éthiopiens de Gondar. Bastide for his part, argued for the true nature of possession – which can be authentic without being pathological– in his book Le Candomblé de Bahia. For him, mimetic action pointed to degeneracy rather than religious vitality. as for Métraux, who wrote a great book called Le Vaudou haïtien, in which he vacillates between an empathy that nourished his tendency to credit the reality of possession and an ironic Voltarian approach that considered it mere charlatanism.
This debate can be revived today in new terms, for two reasons at least; the first being of an epistemological nature, since the social sciences of today are no longer what they were in 1950; there is a lot more ethnographic data available today and theories have been revisited, and recently new trends have appeared and developed, especially with regard to cognitive and pragmatic approaches, to gender studies, and performance studies, as well as literary theory. The second reason is linked to transformations within the contemporary world, which the cults of spirit possession have not avoided. The tendency towards showmanship, the marketing of cultures, the acceleration and dissemination of electronic communication are processes that characterise modernity and which have had remarkable effects on endorcism rituals. Consequently, we proposed revisiting the anthropology of spirit possession in different places: Mayotte,  Brazil,  Morocco and Argentina. It will be seen that spirit possession in these places sometimes turns into a global spectacle.
 
FILE: The spectacle of the possessed.  Possession, theatricals and globalisation
Coordinated and presented by Erwan Dianteillant Bertrand Hell
 
Introduction by Erwan Dianteill & Bertrand Hell
 
Bertrand Hell, Négocier avec les esprits tromba à Mayotte (Negotiating with the tromba spirits in Mayotte)
Returning to possession as a ‘lived theatre’
This article takes its cue from an ethnographic account of the rituals at the end of a mahoraise woman’s initiation to the cult of the tromba spirits, and it proposes revisiting the concept of ‘théâtre vécu’ (lived theatre) that Michel Leiris introduced in 1958.  During this time, Roger Bastide and Alfred Metraux were also proposing to look beyond the controversy about the authentic/unauthentic nature of these experiences. However, this approach was not taken up by French ethnologists, and the anthropology of trances was limited simply to the debate between structuralism and functionalism. Recent advances in the neurosciences that relate to hypnosis and to various states of awareness make it possible to revisit this file.  Thus, it is possible, for instance, to understand the experience of the physiological disturbances that are linked the transgression of prohibitions imposed by the spirits, in the light of aversive therapy that has been used for the last 30 years in medical hypnosis.  Generally speaking, we need to establish a link between the initiation procedure and the anchoring process than enable hypnosis to be induced. Within this perspective, the anthropology of possession has been able to look at its subjects in new way and to revisit this territory in a useful way by taking a deeper look at the mechanisms of the stimuli, at the diversity of the states of possession, and at the affective bonding that prevails within the circle of initiates.
 
Erwan Dianteill, Le caboclo surmoderne.
Globalisation, possession and theatricals in a Umbanda temple in Fortalezza (Brazil)
this article documents the process of transition between local, global and special elements with regard to the Umbanda in Brazil, in particular a temple in Fortaleza.  Ubanda arose in southern Brazil from African and spirit sources and was introduced to Ceará during the 1950s, in a kind of double displacement process between the industrial south and the northeast.  When people are displaced, so are the spirits; they come down from the sky to intervene in human affairs, by interacting with an individual or by involving a medium or by telephone. This intrusion can take the form of a transgression: crossing cosmological boundaries is often accompanied by incongruous behaviour, meaning displaces behaviour, by certain spirits. Instant communication, the reduction of time and space are features of sur-modernité according to Marc Augé (1992) ; these features are also constituent parts of a world vision in which the spirits can move instantly from one place to another, or can even be in several places at once.
 

Maïra Muchnik, Une transe dénaturée? (An unnatural trance?)
Afro-Brazilian cults of possession in Buenos Aires
Starting with the case of the export of the African-Brazilian religions Umbanda and Batuque from the south of Brazil (Porto Alegre) to Argentina (Buenos Aires), this article analyses the adaptations and transformations in the practise of trance in this new socio-cultural context, which has no previous collectively shared traditions of African origin and is hostile to the installation of these new religions which are viewed as dangerous foreign sects that are invading the country. Starting with conversations with more or less recently converted members of these cults, the article reflects on the signification that possession assumes in this context and its connection to the spirit world.
 
Déborah Kapchan, The Festive Sacred and the Fetish of Trance.
Performing the Sacred at the Essaouira Gnawa Festival of World Music
What has taken place, when a local sacred practise like a trance is turned into a fetish, and is detached from its original context and is circulated as if it were an autonomous sign on the transnational music markets and the international music festivals? When a ritual practice is displaced in this way, not only is the context of the performance affected – the social context of the exchange – but the practise itself is also changed. This is case with what is called ‘the trance’ when it circulates around the globalised world: it is turned into a fetish, treated like an object that is endowed with effective powers, and it ends by becoming a form of symbolic capital that makes it possible to recreate the category of the ‘sacred’ within an transnational context. This article concentrates on an examples of this kind of fetishisation process:  le Gnawa World Music Festival in Essaouira in Morocco. By stressing the ‘universality’ of the music, international music festivals like the one at Essaouira construct a notion of the sacred for the ‘faithful’ who attend regularly from far off places in order to be ‘transported’ by the musical trance.
 
DOCUMENTS AND MATERIALS
Roger Bastide replies to Michel Leiris (1958)
 
STUDIES AND ESSAYS
 
Fernando Giobellina Brumana, Une ethnographie ratée (A failed ethnography).
Brazillian modernism, the Department of Culture in São Paulo and the Missão de Pesquisas Folclóricas
This article is about the project that was inspired and developed by Brazilian modernism, in order to recuperate their musical heritage, which was basically for religious use, in north and northeastern Brazil.  In practical terms, this refers to the attempt that was conducted from the end of the 1930s to set up an ethnological archive, which was tentatively financed and managed by the Secretariat for culture in the city of Sao Paolo.  Mario de Andrade (the author of Macunaíma ) directed this Secrétariat for about two years, this being the institution where Lévi-Strauss took his first steps as an ethnologist..
 


Mathieu Claveyrolas, The temples of Mother India, museums of the nation
The Bharat Mata temple in Benares in North India is dedicated to ‘Mother India’, and it offers the ‘divine’ image of a relief map of the Indian territory. The study of this modern temple, which was inaugurated in 1936 by Ghandi, allows one to analyse the ambiguity of a place that is unsure whether its status is that of a museum dedicated to the secular Indian nation, or that of a temple to the Hindu nation as a divinity. As temple-museum which pilgrim tourists visit with no real feeling or devotions, the Bhara Mata poses questions about the links between region, history and politics, and the way they have evolved, as well as that of the local practical reactions in these places in the service of different nationalist rhetoric. 
 
Marie Mauzé, Three destinations, one destiny
Biography of a  kwakwaka’wakw headdress
A ceremonial headdress that was part of the collection made by the surrealist poet André Breton have been restored to the Kwakwaka’wakw in British Columbia in September 2003, on the initiative of Aube Elléouët-Breton and her daugher Oona. Beginning with a critical analysis of this headdress’ strange history, the author reveals the transformations to the status and significance of this object, together with the political, cultural and aesthetic stakes in which it was caught up in the course of its existence.  The example of this headdress and, broadly speaking, of the Potlatch Collection, shows that an object that has been removed from its original context will generally not recover its initial status, even within the context of its restitution to the community that produced it.
 
Steven Hooper, Collecting as iconoclasm. The London Missionary Society in Oceania
During the first half of the 19th century, a great many important artefacts were collected in Polynesia by the London Missionary Society and exhibited in their museum in London. Several of these are discussed in this article. The acquisition of these objects, which were often filed as idols, was a more complex process than is often imagined, and one which involved strategic choices by the Polynesians as well as the missionaries.  It is suggested that the preservation of these objects was effected by emulating the Tahitian chief Pomare in 1816, and that different types of iconoclastic practise took place, from iconoclasm through destruction to iconoclasm through neutralisation and preservation. The Polynesians and the missionaries had clear motives and for obvious reasons they preferred iconoclasm through preservation, since the former wanted to secure trophies from their victories over their rivals and to provide material evidence of their conversion, and the latter in order to provide material evidence of their successful evangelisation and to find a way of securing funds by exhibiting them in the LMS museum.  These operations enabled artefacts to survive that are now being re-evaluated as important features of their heritage and as major artworks.