Reciprocity in Anthropology

The way every being experiences the world around us is mostly constructed by the culture we are exposed to and brought up in. The world makes sense to us because of the ways culture influences our perception. We experience the world around us in a time, space, and mentality that are built solely by culture. The Kaluli are a tribal clan from Highland New Guinea who experience their lives through reciprocity. The way the Kaluli form relationships amongst one another, communicate, and practice their everyday lives is based through gift-giving and reciprocity.

The Kaluli are socially dependent beings who have constructed a social mechanism in which everyone participates in the art of reciprocity to maintain and build these social relations with one another. The Kaluli reify and bring to life reciprocity through ceremonies such as Gisaro, through food and marriage, emotions, and socialization. Frequently, the Kaluli people will hold a traditional ceremony, called the Gisaro, which demonstrates the importance of reciprocity in their daily lives. Gisaro is a ceremony in which the Kaluli guests perform dance and singing rituals for their hosts. Schieffelin, p. 22) The visitors spend many weeks preparing costumes, songs, and performances for their hosts, while in return the hosts plan feasts at their longhouses for their prospective guests. (Schieffelin, p. 22) During the evening, the Gisaro begins inside the longhouses, and the dancers from the visitors’ side begin performing. (Schieffelin, p. 22) The performing group is made up of roughly 25 men, who begin to dance and sing one by one in the centre of the longhouse, while the audience of hosts’ watch. (Schieffelin, p. 2) The performers will take their turns singing about places and people familiar to one or more of the hosts’ in the audience. Most of the places that are sung about are from the past of a member in the audience and the people that are sung about have died and have emotional ties to audience members. (Schieffelin p. 23) As the singing and recalling of events related to audience members get intense, so does the emotional atmosphere amongst the audience of hosts’. A member from the crowd will likely begin to resurface past memories of loved ones that have died and will begin to get deeply emotional and will begin to cry. Schieffelin, p. 23) However, immediately after, the emotional host will become infuriated due to the fact that the dancer hurt them with past memories, and in anger the host will grab a lit torch and burn the shoulders of the performer continuously. (Schieffelin, p. 23) The performer however, will not show any sight of pain and one-by-one the performers will continue performing and the whole process of emotional-outbreak and burning will continue until the chirping of birds can be heard in the morning. (Schieffelin, p. 3) At the end of the night, before the visitors made their way back, they paid compensation to those whom they made cry. (Schieffelin, p. 23) The Gisaro ritual shows an abundance of reciprocity in social-relations and emotions. The ritual is based on the exchange between the hosts and the visitors; one provides plentiful food and the other performs and entertains. The reciprocal nature of this social gathering displays the dependency both parties place on one-another to perform their obligated role in the gathering. This kind of social giving and exchanging is basic to the Kaluli way of life. ” (Schieffelin, p. 26) Reciprocity of duties aside, there is also an exchange of emotions that can be witnessed in the Gisaro ceremony. The performer hurts the audience member, who then in return inflicts physical pain upon the performer. (Schieffelin, p. 24) In the Kaluli society anger is looked upon as a justification for being hurt or angered, and requires ones to react in an aggressive manner to be compensated for the feelings of anger inflicted upon them. (Schieffelin, p. 34) If the Kaluli men do not react in anger where they are socially required too, they will be looked upon as weak and incapable. (Schieffelin, p. 135) The Kaluli use this is a method to limit how far a person can be bullied and taken advantage of. By compensating oneself through aggressive manners, the Kaluli are able to make sure that no one is pushed further than the other, and that at all times everything is equal. (Schieffelin, p. 136) “Such interventions, which were quiet common, seem aimed more at allowing the interaction to conclude properly than with scolding or punishing the offender. (Schieffelin, p. 137) Thus, in the Gisaro ritual it is appropriate for a host to be angered by the performer and react in an aggressive manner. By performing the Gisaro, both the visitors and the hosts of the occasion share the exchange of emotion and ritual duties. Like the Gisaro, the Kaluli people partake in many other traditional ceremonies that show the reciprocity of food, labour, and duties. In marriage there is an abundance of gift-giving and labour sharing which involves both the groom and the bride’s family.

When a bride is chosen, the groom must compensate the bride’s family with brides-wealth, and both sides begin to part-take in many ceremonies. (Schieffelin, p. 26) One side will bring the other many fruits and meat, and then the other side will return the favour by doing the same, creating an on-going cycle of food-giving. (Schieffelin, pg. 26) Food is continuously exchanged and prepared by both in-laws because it is one of the best methods the Kaluli use to form and maintain social relations with their in-laws and family. Food as gift or hospitality is the main vehicle for expression of friendly relationship to anyone, kinsman or acquaintance. ” (Schieffelin, p. 27) The reason that the Kaluli form such reciprocal customs is to provide the Kaluli people with the “the basis for the provision of hospitality for visiting, support in conflict, invitations to hunt and fish, mutual assistance in garden labor, and occasional ceremonial prestations, which are formal customary gifts of food, especially meat. ” (Schieffelin, p. 6) The Kaluli people distribute their labours and efforts in food-gathering by creating a mutual-dependency on one another. (Dr. Clark, Lecture 3) By creating a gift-based economy, there is a never ending cycle of giving, and thus there will always be support for the Kaluli people. (Dr. Clark, Lecture 3) Though western societies might look at the Kaluli gift-giving economy as an outdated method, it has shown to be the most efficient as there is less labour needed to be done by everyone and there is always certainty of being provided for. (Dr.

Clark, Lecture 3) The Kaluli have found a form of security through these gift-giving rituals and traditions to make sure that they always have food and support. Through reciprocity, the Kaluli try to achieve a balance in their everyday life, and this has become the means in which they experience their world. There is reciprocity to keep balance of food and relationships. Likewise, the Kaluli myths of how nature, their placement in reality, and their after-world presents a different form of reciprocity and balance. The Kaluli believe that at the beginning of time, there were only humans and that there was no nature. Schieffelin, p. 94) However, as time went on there were needs for food, shelter, clothing, and etc. Thus all men were gathered together and were given duties to become trees, animals, water, etc. (Schieffelin, p. 94) The Kaluli recognize that these trees and nature surrounding them are actually people, and that to these people the Kaluli appear to be trees, water, animals, and nature. (Schieffelin, p. 96) This means that the nature-world is a reflection of the Kaluli, and to the world of nature – which are actually people – the Kaluli reflect the world of nature.

The Kaluli do not treat this world as a spiritual or sacred world, it is just an everyday reality for them which they refer to as the mama world. (Schieffelin, p. 96) They believe that every day they live in coexistence with the mama world which is identical to theirs and a wild-pig from the natural world is actually the reflection of the man in the real world. (Schieffelin, p. 97) This means that if something were to happen to the wild pig in the unseen world, it would inflict the same actions upon the corresponding man in the real world.

Through this ideology and cultural reality, the Kaluli create a balance between the natural world and their own world. At all times there is a coexisting world which reflects their own. Even in death the Kaluli find balance and seem to face avoid the means of facing great damage and loss. “When a person dies, his wild pig aspect disappears from the mama world. His personal life virtue…escapes with his last breath and takes on human form in the mama world where it continues a life very much like the one he left.

In the visible world, the person now usually appears in the form of a bird or a fish. ” (Schieffelin, p. 96) As it can be seen, all that happens during the death of a Kaluli is that he becomes a part of nature, and in the mama world the wild pig will become a human. Through this coexisting reality the Kaluli have created for them, the Kaluli reciprocate lives back and forth between the visible and mama world. In such ways, they establish a balance at all time and avoid from feeling a great deal of loss.

Language is a very essential role in the lives of the Kaluli people, for it brings to life the culture of reciprocity in their everyday lives. From a very young age, the Kaluli are taught to talk and socialize in ways which expressed their exchanging and gift-giving behaviours. Songs are song about death which reminds the Kaluli the dangers that death brings, because once an individual dies, the act of reciprocating and exchanging comes to an end. (Schieffelin, p. 136) Daily conversation usually revolves around the lines of who had to compensate whom, and what one got in return for something else. Schieffelin, p. 136) Regardless of the abundance of food the Kaluli have to eat, the Kaluli conversation consists of arguments either refusing or accepting food. There are even specific verbs denoted to the exchanging transaction: Dimina meaning give, and dima meaning take. (Schieffelin, p. 136) These words are used throughout the daily conversations of the Kaluli helping reify their realities of reciprocity. However, the Kaluli have no specific word for sharing, and thus they only see their relationships through give and take. (Schieffelin, p. 36) Through language and socialization the Kaluli continuously bring to life reciprocity and make it a part of their everyday lives. The Kaluli have come to see the world in a way of balance created by reciprocity, and through these cultural views the Kaluli have built their realities. It is a cultural experience in which the Kaluli form social dependencies in order to establish a stable and supportive way for living. “Idea that exchange, as a system of meanings, is involved in the shaping of particular cultural realities…Through the management of meaning exchange becomes a vehicle of social obligation. (Schieffelin, p. 503) The Kaluli create an ongoing cycle of gift-giving in which one is always obligated to give back to the other because of maintain a social circle. Through exchange and the reciprocation of labour and food, the Kaluli recognize them in such a manner where balance must always be achieved. This can be witnessed because when the Kaluli cannot be compensated or find a balance or reciprocate feelings, they become frightened, confused, or even lost. (Schieffelin, p. 45) For example, when the Kaluli hear thunder sounds they become angered because it is invisible and unpredictable, and because they cannot be compensated for their anger they are frightened. (Schieffelin, p. 142) The Kaluli are so used to living in a reciprocal based lifestyle, that if they feel like they cannot establish balance or be compensated, they feel as if they are at a loss and feel hopeless. (Schieffelin, p. 142) The Kaluli through language, food, gift-giving, and ceremonies, always seek to find reciprocity in which they can see themselves compensated and at a balance. Bibliography ———————————————— Clark, Dylan. 2011. Lecture 3, ANT204, Sociocultural Anthropology, University of Toronto, Mississauga, ON, September 14, 2011. Schieffelin, B. B. (1990). The give and take of everyday life: language socialization of Kaluli children. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Schieffelin, E. L. (1980). Reciprocity and the Construction of Reality. Reciprocity and the Construction of RealityReciprocity and the Construction of Reality, 15(3), 502-517. Schieffelin, E. L. (1976). The sorrow of the lonely and the burning of the dancers. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

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