Anthropologists way. Amongst the Tallensi there is a ritualization

Anthropologists
are interested in human cultures, societies and changing social situations
within the world. Psychology can be found amongst the varying social situations
which anthropologists study; furthermore, what is of particular interest to
various anthropologists is the study of psychoanalysis in relation to a variety
of cultures. Psychoanalysis is one of the major paradigms within psychology,
which was founded by Sigmund Freud in Vienna. This is of interest to
anthropologists worldwide, as some question whether Freud’s theories are truly
universal, taking into consideration cultures other than those found in Western
Europe.

Anthropologists
such as Roger Keesing, have been particularly interested with the
psychodynamics of personality within an evolutionary perspective. The question
of whether ‘psychoanalytic theories of the unconscious could illuminate custom,
belief, and behaviour in non-Western societies’ is of key interest (Keesing,
1997). Moreover, anthropologists have been interested in broadening the theory
of psychoanalysis to the point where it was no longer culture-bound, as many
anthropologists are sceptical of Freud’s theories due to the limited experience
he had with Viennese patients. Some question whether this led him to create an
overly simplistic model of the unconscious, and whether his theories such as
the Oedipus Complex, can really be considered universal. Anthropologists were
particularly interested in Freud’s theories of the unconscious drives of sex
and aggression; they analyse this theory further by trying to apply Freud’s
reference of sublimating these basic urges into symbols and cultural creations.
However, this aspect of his theory is seen as being partially wrong due to
animals being ‘biologically programmed not simply to satisfy individual urges,
but to live in groups’ (Keesing, 1997). There are various anthropologists who
see the conscious and unconscious divisions of Freud’s theory as an ‘extreme
oversimplification of a vastly complex system’ (Keesing, 1997). Anthropologists
were also intrigued by applying psychological development and social
relationships, as seen through the Oedipus and Electra Complex, to certain
tribes in Africa.

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The Tallensi of
Ghana were studied by anthropologists in relation to the Oedipus Complex, as
findings state that these people symbolise this complex in a unique and
socially acceptable way. Amongst the Tallensi there is a ritualization and
dramatization of the tension between the parents and their children who will
replace them. Within this cultural context the birth of the firstborn son, as
well as the firstborn daughter represent the end of ‘the uphill path of a
person’s life and the beginning of the downhill path leading to senility and
death’ (Keesing, 1997). From the young age of around 5 years old, which is the
age at which Freud says the Oedipus Complex begins to form, the firstborn son
is not allowed; to eat from the same dish as his father, wear his father’s cap
or tunic, carry his quiver, or use his bow, in addition, he is also forbidden
from looking into his father’s granary. This progresses throughout the
development of the child, eventually reaching a stage where father and son
cannot meet in the entrance to the compound once the son reaches adolescence. A
parallelism can be seen between the firstborn daughter and the mother, as the
daughter is not allowed to touch the mother’s storage pot. Once the parents
die, there is a ritual of the firstborn children to replace their deceased
parents. The children take the lead in mortuary rites, where the son is able to
put on his dead father’s cap and tunic. The firstborn son is also led inside
his late father’s granary by an elder carrying the dead man’s bow. This
symbolism that the Tallensi have created could be seen as controlling the
sexual tension Freud describes in the Oedipus and Electra Complexes, this seems
to suggest that rather than repressing the tension, they accept and control it in
a culturally acceptable way.

The Ndembu of
Zambia have many ritual symbols, such as the ‘mudyi’ tree sap which is used in
a variety of rituals and symbolises multiple ideas. ‘These multiple levels of
meaning relate what is abstract and social with the “gut feelings” and emotions
of individuals related to their primary experience’ (Keesing, 1997). This idea
of symbolism may trace back to Freud’s understanding of the unconscious
suppressing socially unaccepted behaviour and sublimating said behaviour in
socially acceptable constructs. This may suggest that the multiple ritual symbols
used by the Ndembu are representative of the earlier people’s unconscious sublimation
of certain taboos.

Cultural Ontology
refers to a society’s system of notions about what kinds of things and people
exist in the world. As cultural ontology refers to a society’s particular set
of ideas, then it is understandable that with different societies one might find
different ontologies. This idea of variation amongst societies is essential,
especially when dealing with the systems of sexuality and gender, which fall
under the spectrum of a society’s cultural ontology. This helps to explain why
there are an array of genders and sexualities, as these differ from one society
to another, depending on their general philosophies which developed from their
set of experiences and culture. Sexual dimorphism, which is the existence of
two distinct body forms based on sex, is seen to be a natural and universal
feature of human existence, this notion is particularly enforced in Western
Culture. However, there are exceptions to this theory, as has been found by
anthropologists who studied other cultures. It was found that not all cultures
believe in two kinds of humans, or that sex is determined at birth, moreover,
not all cultures apply the ‘same tasks or values amongst the same sex-line
divisions’ (Eller, 2016). This is where the idea of ontology comes into play,
where one begins to see the various notions of sex and gender amongst a
multitude of cultures. Eller lists an array of different societies with
different practices, such as the Navajo with their fluid gender cosmos, where
men may wear women’s clothing and participate in activities usually associated
with women, including having sexual relations with other men. Other examples
are listed, but particularly Eller has found that ‘a society may identify two
sexes or genders based on physical traits, identify two sexes or genders based
on other than physical traits, or identify three or more sexes or genders based
on physical or other than physical traits’ (Eller, 2016). This means that
individuals are born with distinct physical features, but how a society chooses
to interpret and value those physical traits is relative.

Freud’s idea that
sexual desire is the basic meaning of symbols and symbolic behaviour does seem
to be supported by Eller’s idea of cultural ontology to some degree. I see the
theory of cultural ontology as supporting the idea that most symbolic behaviour
is based on sexual desire; however, I would not go as far as Freud in saying
that all symbolic behaviour is based on sexual desire. Whilst a large number of
symbols and symbolic behaviour can be seen as revolving around the notion of
sexuality and sexual desire, as seen in the various examples Eller gives within
his research, I do not believe that all symbolism, seen in all cultures of the
world, revolve around this one notion of sex.