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Emerging Patriarchy In The Mythology Of A Previously Egalitarian Society
Tuesday, February 26, 2019 - 18:45
Ethnographers of Congo Basin hunter-gatherers have emphasised ritual as a levelling mechanism that sustains egalitarianism by strengthening community spirit and mediating power evenly between individuals and subgroups. My talk will discuss how both mythology and ritual are involved in mutual causal interactions with other factors of social life that mark the emergence of inequality among a small community of Baka former hunter-gatherers. An emerging ideology of male predominance in mythology mirrors the same phenomenon in ritual, kinship practices and household economics. I argue that this preoccupation with patriarchal concerns in mythology is one of several strands of evidence pointing to the centrality of gender politics in the emergence of inequality among the Baka.
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In the Batek’s forest, laughter and mockery are often subject to taboo, and inappropriate laughter or mockery can cause storms, madness, ill-health, or even death. However, although these taboos are viewed and described with utmost seriousness, people also find great pleasure in laughing together and making jokes. In fact, this pleasure is often intensified when the laughter or joke is forbidden and risks catastrophe. This sets up a dynamic whereby it is largely up to individuals whether they choose to follow the taboos, or to ignore them and succumb to the pleasure of sharing in subversive laughter. Speaking to debates on power and ethics, this paper therefore both outlines the Batek’s laughter taboos, and asks how managing the conflicting demands of laughter shapes people’s ethical values, particularly in relation to power, authority, and egalitarianism.