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Book Review Schieffelin, E. L. 1976.The Sorrow Of The Lonely And The Burning Of The Dancers. New York: St. Martin's Press.

908 words - 4 pages

The, “Sorrow of the Lonely and the Burning of the Dancers”, is a ethnography written by anthropologist Edward Schieffelin, derived from his fieldwork with the Kaluli people of Papua New Guinea. The main focus of the book of the book is how many of the fundamental notions that are implicit in Kaluli culture are found in the Gisaro ceremony, which Schieffelin uses as, “a lens through which to view some of the fundamental issues of Kaluli life and society” (p1).

The first chapter gives a brief account of the Gisaro ceremony, where a group of singers and dancers from one longhouse community, or aa, perform at another aa. What makes the ceremony so interesting is that the performance of the dancers and singers is tailored to provoke strong emotions of sorrow amongst the host audience, who in response will burn the dancers across the back and shoulders with resin torches. The ceremony clearly fascinated Schieffelin, and translates through his writing, as his his description of the Gisaro paints a vivid picture which allows the reader to share his fascination as well.

The following chapters look at different aspects of Kaluli everyday life. Schieffelin himself asserts that he does not approach the study of Kaluli society and culture from a structural perspective, but is instead is more interested in how social relationships and cultural ideas are expressed and conceived through everyday life. This approach, personally, is much more interesting as it allows Schieffelin to delve into the depths of Kaluli culture and examine the fundamental ideas that permeate it. These chapters not only describe the everyday life of the Kaluli through aspects such as relationships (chap.3), conceptions of the supernatural (chap.5) or perceptions of time (chap.7), but also show how these everyday experiences can be related to the underlying themes of opposition and reciprocation, which Schieffelin argues lie at the heart of Kaluli culture.

For Schieffelin, to understand the Kaluli's world view, it must be understood that for them, “the world is given implicitly in relations of opposition” (pp 106). The Kaluli perceive themselves and the world around them through a paradigm of opposition, between their world and the spirit world, between hosts and guests, between male and female. The opposition is seen as complementary, with each side defining the other and Schieffelin describes this paradigm as the, “opposition scenario” (chap.5).

Reciprocity is also a recurring theme in the book, and it plays a central role in much of Schieffelin's analysis of the Kaluli. The idea of reciprocity is fundamental for the Kaluli, and the notion that every action must have a relatively waited response is the...

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