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Myths Of The Origins Of Fire
Tuesday, April 9, 2019 - 18:45
In this talk, Camilla Power examines myths of the origin of fire from African and Australian hunter-gatherers (including Mbuti, Hadza and Yolngu). These share a logic of women's periodic withdrawal of sex and cooking fire. With control of fire goes control over meat/flesh, but this was ultimately stolen from women by men. Can interpretation of these hunter-gatherer materials help us to decode the Greek story of origins of fire (and death) stolen by Prometheus? In this mythic series, we find the same themes of control over fire, meat and access to sex. Prometheus appears in the guise of a hunter-gatherer trickster. But why does he end up chained to a rock with his liver being eaten and regenerating every day? And why does his encounter with Io, transformed into a heifer and ceaselessly pursued by a gadfly, form the main scene of 'Prometheus Bound'?
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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.