Gisaro Ceremony Among Kaluli Essay

926 words - 4 pages

Dressed as birds, the young men arrive at the longhouse of a neighboring clan for a highly anticipated event, the Gisaro ceremony. They perform elaborate dances and sing at length in the clan’s territory about dead members of their host’s community and days gone by. This can go on for hours, with the purpose of eliciting an intense emotional response of nostalgia, upset, loneliness, and sorrow from their hosts. Once this has been achieved, their hosts attack them with lighted torches, burning their shoulder in anger and sorrow. The dancers are not allowed to show any emotional reaction, but they continue to dance until the hosts are done attacking the dancers. When the ceremony draws to a close, the dancers retreat back to their hut for the night and bring their hosts food in the morning. While this elaborate and violent ceremony may seem bizarre to the outside world, it is extremely important and valuable in the context of Kaluli society. Far from being a rare or inexplicable incident, the Gisaro ceremony is a highly anticipated and appreciated ritual for the Kaluli people that can only be understood in the context of their beliefs about reciprocity, food, and the afterlife.
The Gisaro ceremony is a prime example of the value of reciprocity to the Kaluli people. Reciprocity defines and shapes of all Kaluli social interactions, particularly the highly formalized ones in the Gisaro ceremony. In this ceremony, the Kaluli people view the reaction of the hosts as righteous and justified due to the role of reciprocity. Because of the strong negative emotional pain that the dancers cause their hosts, the hosts are permitted to punish them with the physical pain of the burning torches. Edward Shiefflen is referring to this practice when he titles his book on the Gisaro ceremony The Sorrow of the Lonely and the Burning of the Dancers. The shared cultural value of reciprocity among the Kaluli people permits actions that, under normal circumstances, would be considered violent and cruel. In this way, the actions involved in the Gisaro ceremony demonstrate the importance of reciprocity to the Kaluli people.
Food is also an important symbol for the Kaluli people, especially within the context of this special ceremony. For this tribe, food is commensurate with love, to be fed by someone indicates that you are loved and cared for by that person. Conversely, if no one is there to feed you, it means that no one loves you or cares about you at all; many Kaluli feel that they might as well be dead anyways if this was the case. Sharing food together creates kinship bonds - with the accompanying rights and responsibilities of other family relationships. In this way, food is also related to reciprocity, because sharing food creates social responsibilities. In the Gisaro ceremony, the food offered by the...

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