Experiments in Holism







Divination and Ethnography in Cuba

Martin Holbraad



Trobriand Agency and Culture

Mark Mosko



Joking the Cosmos into the Right Shape in North Asia

Rane Willerslev & Morten Axel Pedersen



Holism in Melanesia

Eric Hirsch & Daniele Moretti




Divination and Ethnography in Cuba

Martin Holbraad


p. 74 Table 5.2 number-symbolism in la charada

(This is a list of Chinese symbols taken sequentially from the S^an Hai Jin.)



Trobriand Agency and Culture

Mark Mosko


pp. 164-5 baloma

p. 164

"in old age or elderhood (male toboma, female naboma) ... parents' contributions to adult children emanate chiefly from their minds in the form of magical and other secret knowledge. Elderhood ends with the death of the body and the exit of

a baloma soul or spirit ... .

{cf. Bodish /BLA/ 'soul'}

p. 165

... Released baloma travel initially to Tuma, the world of the dead, eventually to return to the world of the living as waiwaia 'spirit children' ... ."

pp. 165-6 simuli {cf. Old Norse /simul/, the carrying-pole of Hjuki and Bil}

p. 165

"the u>ula ["foundation" (p. 164)] base {in this context, 'purpose'} of a person's action, as distinct from the action itself ..., consists of {or, rather, may result in} simuli, which they gloss ... as a 'plan' or 'scheme'. A simuli in a person's 'mind' (nanola) includes his or her plans for the future action. ... A person's simuli consists of {or, rather, may include} the totality of 'images' {SIMULacra} or elements of 'knowledge' (kaikobu or kaikwabu) in his or her

p. 166

mind that is relevant to a specific course or road of action. It is understood that people acquire their simuli images {in this context, 'ideals' of outlook} mainly

through the medium of 'advice' (guguya) {whereat the recipients are set a-GOG (as though it were proclaimed from the roof-tops)}

{imparted by word-of-mouth in a non-literate society (though largely gleaned from inspirational literature in a literate society)}

given primarily by parents, especially what fathers give to sons and mothers to daughters."

p. 166 kasilam

"people rely on parents, and especially the advice they proffer as kalisam {sic : read /kasilam/}, or 'whispers'. ...


{implying "hope" (Strong's 3689), "confidence" (Strong's 3690)}

is the ... exclusive advice that a parent prototypically whispers ... directly into the chosen child's ear. Magical spells, for example, are usually transmitted as kasilam to one child only, although sometimes they are partitioned among different children. ...

Moreover, ... interlocutors likened parental whispers to ... the personal detachments that parents are supposed to transmit to children only in their dying moments."

p. 166 kepwakari & karewaga

"The tapwala body of action to which a person's simuli gives rise qualifies ... his or her kepwakari. In keda terms, one's kepwakari actions are the actual steps one takes in life, consisting mainly in corporeal labors (paisewa). ... And it is on the evidence of one another's kepwakari that people estimate the character of their respective simuli and those of their parents before them.

The realized ends or outcomes of a person's kepwakari becomes his or her karewaga -- variously defined in the literature thus far as 'authority', 'decision', 'power', 'autonomy', 'responsibility', and so on (Lawton 2002; Munn 1986:68)."

Lawton 2002 = Ralph Lawton : Dictionary : Kiriwina to English. Dept of Linguistics, Research School of Pacific & Asian Studies, Australian Nat Univ.

Munn 1986 = Nancy D. Munn : The Fame of Gawa : a Symbolic Study of Value Transformations in a Massim (Papua New Guinea) Society. Cambridge Univ Pr.

pp. 170-1 Tuma as co-extensive with the material world

p. 170

"At least from the viewpoint of Omarakanans, Northern Kiriwina where ... Tuma, and the invisible world of baloma spirits ... infiltrates everywhere and ... and ... provides the source of human incarnation ... ."

p. 171, n. 7

"Many Trobrianders ... reiterate ... that upon death the released spirits of dead humans enter Tuma, the spirit world, located on the small island of Tuma north of Boyowa. ... To those who are regarded as knowledgeable about such matters,

the nonsubstantial spirit world, Tuma, is conceived as coinciding with or interpenetrating the material world occupied by visible beings and entities.

{The praeternatural Otherworld is co-extensive with the material world in the sense that each of the two worlds can be entred from any location in the other of the two worlds.}

For these Trobrianders, Tuma and the spirits and the dead and invisibly all around them".

{More actually, the former guardian-angels and spirit-guides (of persons who have died) remain invisibly in the close vicinity of the former abodes of their mortal former prote'ge's, and are easily mistaken for them by the living.}



Joking the Cosmos into the Right Shape in North Asia

Rane Willerslev & Morten Axel Pedersen


pp. 264-5 joking-relationships amongst mortals

p. 264

"Radcliffe-Brown's work on "joking-relationships" (1952a, 1952b) ... saw [them] as institutions designated for "establishing and maintaining social equilibrium" (1952a:108)."

p. 265

"Radcliffe-Brown emphasized that the "continual expression of social disjunction" constitutes an "essential part" of life".

[quoted from Radcliffe-Brown 1952b, p. 95 :]

"The show of ... perpetual disrespect,

{scil., toward the butt of a joke}

is a continual expression of the social disjunction

{disjunction from the butt of a joke}

which is an essential part the whole structural situation, but over which ... there is provided the social conjunction of

friendliness and mutual aid."

{scil., betwixt joking-partners}

Radcliffe-Brown 1952a = "A Further Note on Joking Relationships". In- : Alfred Reginald Brown : Structure and Function in Primitive Society. London : Cohen & West.

Radcliffe-Brown 1952b = "On Joking Relationships". In- : Alfred Reginald Brown : Structure and Function in Primitive Society. London : Cohen & West.

{Where the butt of a joke is some behaviour on the part of one of the joking-partners, then some friendly admonition is implied, directed toward the particular joking-partner whose behaviour is being thus lampooned.} https://web.archive.org/web/20120910205344/http://collegenews.org/news/2005/joking-relationships-can-end-serious-conflicts-depauw-political-science-professor-to-tell-international-political-science-colloquium-in-france.html

pp. 265-6 joking-relationships between mortals and divinities

p. 265

"Joking relationships between humans and spirits are holistic practices, which Darhads and Yukaghirs perform for the cosmos to take its right shape. Crucially, the worlds which people are working so hard to retain ... are "proportional whole" :

fragile and fleeting assemblages of humans and nonhumans

{The assemblies, constituted of mortals and of spirits (divinities) together, are indeed brief and ad hoc as for most categories of spirits, whether those spirits be visiting the mortals (as in spirit-mediumsnip), or mortals be visiting the spirits (as in dreaming).}

in a state of measured disorder,

{Negotiations between mortals and spirits may be deliberately kept informal.}

where heterogenous relations {between mortals and spirits} and continually must be reapportioned into fragile balance ... ."

{This redapportionment must be performed by divinities under advisement by supernatural committees of divine specialists.}

"People's joking with the spirits

{Mortals' participation in such joking is largely confined to appretiation for the jokes uttered by, e.g., Dahomean mediumship-deity GEdE.}

keeps the cosmos bifurcated into incongruous realms,

{The awe which mortals feel for GEdE is able to restrain those mortals from imagining that mortals are able to counsel deities.}

and enables them to partake simultaneously in these parallel domains of life."

{As a result, mortals realize that they must performs activities which have been facilitated for them by divinities.}

p. 266

"in Darhad shamanism. Not only do certain shamanic spirits (ongod) joke with the shaman and the audience during [spirit-]possession rituals, but jokes are also sometimes used to invoke the spirits. In both cases, crude sarcasm and racy humor intersect with esoteric intricacies of shamanic cosmology ... . ...

Thus laughter is the very substance of certain spirits ... . These are the so-called gossip spirits, which ... "always act in a funny way" and "just love revealing peoples' most intimate secrets in curing ceremonies.""

pp. 266-7 comedy at zasal

p. 266

"humor and joking were called upon in what looked like a rather desperate attempt to attract the spirits' attention. ... . ... an old woman ... overgenerously splashing ... over her possessed {mistress}, bellowed, "Why are you not arriving? ..." The audience was laughing. A moment later, the Father of Harmai entered (orgoh) ... Udgan's body, as witnessed by her animalistic grunting and eeerie laughter (both well-known signs of [spirit-]possession). ...

Commmunicated through the fragile,

p. 267

yet strangely insisting voice ..., the room now became filled up with the occult message ... -- the actual "words uttered" (heldeg u:g) by the spirit itself. At this point ..., it is usually the interpreter's responsibility to determine who{m} ... a given spirit is calling for ... . On this particular occasion, however, everyone seemed to understand that this person was the interpreter {interpretrix} herself. Yet, ... the interpreter {interpretrix} protested to the ongon in a mock-heroic voice. At last, after a series of ... sarcastic remarks, she reluctantly accepted the ongon's call by kneeling down ... . ... Yet, she did not -- as clients normally would -- bow her head ... . Instead she retorted angrily, ... which in turn made the shaman{ess} hide behind the drum, as if shy. This sparked another roar of laughter [from the audience]."

p. 267 comical exorcism in Simhala

"Bruce Kapferer in his celebrated study of demon exorcism in S[`]ri Lanka (1991) ... . Exorcism is all about bringing back the demons to their proper ... position in the cosmic hierarchy by facilitating their re-encompassment by deities. This happens because the ritual use of comedy makes the demons appear monstrous -- and, therefore, hilarious -- in the eyes of the audience and {therefore, through the daimon's becoming embarrassed by being laughed at, result in} the patient['s] being healed. (1991:315-25)"

Kapferer 1991 = Bruce Kapferer : A Celebration of Demons : Exorcism and the Aesthetics of Healing in Sri Lanka. Oxford : Berg.

p. 268 lightweight spirits & heavy spirits

""gossip spirits" are "light" (hu:ngu:n), whereas ancestral spirits (like Father of Harmai) are "heavy" (hu:nd). Unlike the former, which like to joke and be joked with,

the latter must be treated with the utmost respect; indeed, it is highly dangerous to laugh at "heavy spirits," just as they never joke with humans.

{Such "heavy spirits" are likely actually to be the former guardian-angels and spirit-guides of the defunct mortals; and because of such spirits' weighty regular duties (of advising mortals), they remain at all times seriously intent, and therefore are unwilling to joke.}

Moreover, whereas "light" spirits are generally easy to invoke, the others [i.e., the heavy ones] can be much more difficult."

p. 276, n. 8 sexual intercourse in dreams

"his sexual attention should be directed toward the animal's spirit, which is visited by his soul (Yuk. ayibii) during his nightly dreams in order for the two to have sexual intercourse."

{This is most likely to be a gross misunderstanding of traditional shamanry among tribesfolk all of whose shamans were systematically exterminated by Stalinists. In genuine historical traditional Siberian shamanry, a male shaman must undergo sexual relations during dreaming, not with a female animal's own dream-form, but instead with an anthropoid dream-goddess who (along with her divine sistren and brethren) is in controll of the pertinent animal-species in the waking-world.}



Holism in Melanesia

Eric Hirsch & Daniele Moretti


pp. 283-4 hero's wandering

p. 283

"the Papuan "Hero Tales" described by Wagner (1972:17-37) ... cover ... the "continued adventures of a single wandering hero" traveling from ... one society to another (1970:20). As Wagner (1970:20) describes, ... some ... interaction ... precipitates the hero's journey : "he travel across the sea seeking women and bringing vegetable food, or journeys to the land of the dead, or flees from a pursuing woman with whom he has shamed himself. Landmarks and curious features along his route are often linked to this passage." It is in the course of this journey that "the landscape is created or brought into its present state ..." (1972:35 ...).

p. 284

"More recently, Busse (2005) has considered ... tales ... {where} In the Lake Murray-Middle Fly area, the wandering hero is called Nggiwe".

Wagner 1972 = Roy Wagner : Habu : the Innovation of Meaning in Daribi Religion. Univ of Chicago Pr.

Busse 2005 = M. Busse : "Wandering Hero Stories in the Southern Lowlands of New Guinea". CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY 20:443-73.

p. 286 uncookable prey animal

[myth from the Fuyuge tribe in the Udabe valley] One or "another tidibe ["Tidibe ... commonly called myth" (p. 285)] figure" "caught a "cuscus" [marsupial] but found that no matter how he tried to cook it, the "Cuscus" remained uncooked [and "cried out as if were still alive" (p. 295, n. 4)]; finally, ... The animal floated down the river until it came to the coast."

pp. 290-1 niyantona

p. 290

"Hamtai ancestral tales told of Niyantona (meaning "the metamorphosis") -- a place at the heart of the Anga ["formerly known as Kukukuku" (p. 287)] where all the peoples of the world were said to have originated. The place had once contained a water pool (e>a: pnga) where all ...

people had emerged from the transformed remains of a single murdered ancestor. {This process is likewise well-known also in other Papuan mythologies.}

{Origination of living folk " from the transformed remains of a single murdered ancestor" is so very commonplace in Chinese mythology [e.g., "He ... was killed ... . His corpse turned into a yellow bear and ... His son Yu was miraculously born from the belly of his corpse" (HChM, s.v. "Gun", p. 127).] as to seem peculiarly Chinese to such scholars of Chinese traditions as are not acquainted with the Papuan parallels.}

According to these myths, ... they had stolen a powerful "fire" that belonged to the "culture hero" Akhea:nqa. This "fire" was said to be the source of all the "knowledge," ... and "power" ... that Akhea:nqa had originally intended". ... grandfathers ... used their magic

to transform into spirits

{meaning, "to undertake astral projection"?}

and travel down the river and on to Salamaua, a natural harbor ... .

There the grandfathers saw ... ."

{Seeing realistic vistas during "soul-travel" is characteristic of astral projection.}

p. 291

"the powers ... to ... quickly travel vast distances, are those commonly attributed to shamans, sorcerers, and ancestral or place spirits. The grandfathers' journey to the coast is also depicted in terms analogous to those associated with the disembodied journeys that shamans undertake into the invisible world of spirits to acquire important knowledge, retrieve lost objects, or recapture the stolen souls of people made sick by ... angry spirits. For example, during such journeys shamans were said to use "cooling magic" ... to make a safe passage in the roofs of houses belonging to ancestral or place spirits (see Herdt 1977)."

HChM = Lihui Yang & Deming An : Handbook of Chinese Mythology. ABC-Clio Inc, Santa Barbara (CA), 2005.

Herdt 1977 = G. H. Herdt : "The Shaman's Calling Among the Sambia of New Guinea". J DE LA SOCIE'TE' DES OCE'ANISTES 33:153-67.

[Our impression is that antient Chinese mythology may have largely originated in yet-more-antient Papua; but that parallels of Chinese with Austronesian religions (e.g., the visionarily-observed tree of souls of the as-yet-nonincarnate known to the Iban of Borneo) were much later (mediaeval and modern) transmissions from Chinese colonists in Nusantara, just as the same features of Chinese religion were transmitted to >islam (e.g., the tree on whose leaves are written the fates of mortals) and to Siberian shamanry (e.g., world-tree to be climbed) and to Norse seidr (e.g., Yggdrasil, likely derived from T>an-dynasty colonists in the Ob-river basin).}


Ton Otto & Nils Bubant (edd.) : Experiments in Holism : Theory and Practice in Contemporary Anthropology. Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester (West Sussex), 2010.