Sunday, April 3, 2011

Table of Contents

(page numbers not set yet)





Gender roles


Culture and Religion




Context of Body Art

Art and Performance

Planting Ritual

I. Identification – will probably take maybe 1-2 pages but since we haven’t thought of our name or anything like that, I will put [name] which we will replace once we get this section done.

i. Setting

In the subtropical valleys of [planet name] live the [name]. Their livelihood is largely dependent on the seasonal changes in day length and weather. Festivals celebrating these changes are a large part of [name] culture, which focuses on longer sowing and shorter harvesting days. Agriculturally, the [name] depend on the abundance of water supplied by the rivers and streams around which their villages are located. The elimination of an intricate irrigation system allows for easy and plentiful harvesting methods.

ii. Society

Social Ties

The [name] live in largely egalitarian societies, keeping the number of families in any given village small to prevent social complication. Villages maintain ties to neighboring peoples through marriage and ritual hosting. In the [ritual name we’re performing], for example, neighboring villages are invited to view the annual sowing rituals of the women, who bundle up seeds in a ceremonial context to represent both their village’s hospitality and openness to alliance as well as its material and cultural wealth.

Gender Roles

Men and women generally share the tasks and responsibilities associated with everyday life and receive wealth and prestige equally. The only time the two sexes are separated is during certain agricultural rituals. The women perform the sowing ritual at the beginning of the planting season and the men perform harvest rituals at the end. Marriages are exogamous from lineage, so adults may marry individuals from other villages, so long as they marry outside their own kinship group. Newly married couples are expected to begin a new household independently of other family, assuring a stable flow of houses and families. Elders are taken care of by their children and to some extent by the entire village and family decisions are discussed with all adult members.


There is no formal leadership within [name] villages. The political structure is somewhat based on familial procedures. Important decisions are made by the adults in the community in meetings presided over by the elder members. All opinions are heard and decisions are made when all present are in agreement. Major conflicts can also be resolved in the above matter. If an agreement cannot be reached and a minor group is dissatisfied, dissenters are free to leave and join another village or form a new one, though they are expected to maintain friendly relations with their original village.

Culture and Religion

The [name] follow an animistic belief system with an emphasis on Sun and Light[1] reverence. They believe the world is filled with spirits working in harmony to maintain order in the world. Light is of central importance because of its role in agriculture. Shiny objects that reflect sunlight are considered most precious and are incorporated into everyday dress as well as ritual practices. It is believed that with age, an individual becomes closer to uniting with the Light. Older people wear more shiny objects to represent their increased knowledge of the Light. The dead are buried with seeds as a way to maintain the life cycle. When the seeds grow into plants, it is the symbolic emergence of life from death. Ancestral spirits are reincarnated in newborn children and continue on the path to enLightenment.


The [name] enjoy and partake and musical performance during ritual practices and often in everyday life. Bells and chimes are considered sacred instruments because they reflect Light using sound and are used exclusively in ritual performance to emphasize actions in a ceremonial context. Other instruments and voice are used as entertainment during work and leisure. Dance is used for ritual and entertainment purposes, often in an educational context. Specific dances are reserved for ritual activities and are used to educate younger members on the ways of the performance. Villagers enjoy dancing to music at celebratory gatherings.


The art of the [name] often incorporates abstract designs, a reflection of the complex ideology they follow in their religion and cultural practices. Art forms include body adornment, ceramics, metalwork, and basketry. Most of these are associated with the major rituals the [name] partake in and will be discussed in more detail later on.

iii. Economy

Agriculture and Trade

Agriculture is the primary means of production for the [name]. Crops are grown in communal fields and are ritually planted by women and harvested by men. Children and young adults tend them on a day – to – day basis. Young adults leave the fields after the birth of their first child. After marriage, they begin to split their time between fieldwork and training under an adult who is a craftsman. The [name] trade surplus crops, ceramics and metal crafts for crops (if needed), regional styles of ceramics, raw metals, and mirrors.

After the birth of an adult’s first grandchild, that person officially becomes and elder and can retire from craftsmanship to perform other duties. Elders watch small children and supervise work in the fields, organizing efforts to make sure the whole field is taken care of. They also oversee the collection of crops and trade goods as well as redistribution. Food and trade goods are distributed evenly among villagers. The only reason older people have more material wealth, such as mirrors and metal ornaments, is because they have accumulated it throughout their lifetimes.

II. Body Art

Bodily adornment is the most prominent and important type of art within [name] culture. It is present in all aspects of life, though most prevalent in ritual contexts. Everyday dress references light in more subtle ways – light clothing, mirrored or metallic accents. Ritualistically, body art is used to emulate the Light that is so venerated by the [name]. The costumes, make-up, and other adornment worn during rituals is meant to emphasize the beauty and importance of the Sun. Since the [name] largely depend on the sun and its light, their shimmering body paint, light linen costumes, and metallic or mirrored accessories are all references to its importance. The goal of body ornamentation in ritual is to make the wearer as ephemeral as the sunlight she imitates. Mirrors reflect the sunlight, and are thus believed to harness the spiritual power of the sun. They are extremely sacred and valuable, and a person with a large collection is considered very rich, both monetarily and spiritually. Mirrors are acquired through time and sometimes inherited by children from grandparents. In this way, they become family heirlooms and therefore even more precious. During rituals, the body is made a vehicle for the spirit of the Light. Golden paint is rubbed on the shoulders in a five-ray pattern and metallic rings or ornaments are worn on the wrists and ankles.

III. Art and Performance

For the [name], art is either functional or wearable. In an agricultural society such as theirs, everything must have a purpose and therefore not much purely decorative art exists. Basketry is an important craft. They are used in the fields when collecting certain crops and are used in rituals to carry seed bombs symbolic of the planting season. Ceramic arts are equally important. Bells used in ceremonial music are made out of ceramics. In a ritual context, bells can be made from clay or metals but the most venerated are the ceramics because they are made from the earth. Ceramic vessels are used for utilitarian purposes as storage and for drinking and eating. Metalwork is used widely for jewelry, which is worn daily but elaborated for performances. Musical instruments and adornments used during ritual performances are made from copper, gold, or silver and greatly valued for their shiny qualities. Mirrors are worn on headdresses by women and sewn into men’s clothing or worn around the neck. It is important to always have some mirrors on one’s person for their spiritual uses and to display sociability and wealth.

Meaning and Symbolism

All aspects of art and performance relate back to the veneration of the Sun and Light. The Sun is valued for its creative power and its ability to reach out to the entire world. The [name] put great emphasis on the idea of “oneness” with nature, other people, the Light, etc. and through their rituals aim at reaching out to others by distributing the seeds they ritually plant. The ringing of bells during ceremonies is said to purify the atmosphere and allow sunlight to flow more freely, increasing its creativity. Bells are rung at planting to allow the sunlight to reach growing seeds. In the Spring, the women perform the planting festival that will be outlined in the following sections. In the Fall, however, the men perform a harvesting festival. This festival includes a competition amongst the young men for an elaborate mirror pendant said to hold a great deal of spiritual power. The winner of the competition is entrusted with its care for the year until the next Fall, when a new competition will yield a new winner.

IV. The Planting Festival

At the beginning of Spring, the women of the [name] villages perform a very sacred ritual honoring the Light and celebrating the beginning of the season. The ceremonies are individual to each village but occur around the same time. They are open to neighboring villages and in fact, are a way of advertising the crops they will later trade for goods. Allowing potential trade partners to see the ritual shows them that the planting was done correctly and the necessary rituals performed to secure good crops. All the women in the village will be involved. The older women will be preoccupied in the center bundling and distributing packages of seeds to the younger women, who will in turn give them to onlookers. The younger women perform dances and sacred songs with bells and chimes. All the women are dressed in light earth tone linen and ornately adorned with mirrors, metallic ornaments, and body paint. The only differentiating aspect of their costume will be their headdresses, made according to their respective ages. An older woman will wear a longer headdress and all the mirrors she has accumulated throughout her life while a younger woman will wear her headdress short and with less mirrors.

On the day of the ritual, women will adorn themselves appropriately and gather seeds in a basket, which will eventually become the centerpiece to the ritual. The women will enter the space, designated for the planting ritual at an earlier date, in order from youngest to oldest. The younger women will be more carefree and light in their movements, seemingly dancing with every breath. Older women will be more subdued and subtle in their movements. They will settle themselves in a circle surrounding the basket while the young women begin their dance. There will be a moment at the beginning of the ceremony where the youngest women will be learning the dances and songs through observation. This ritual is somewhat a learning experience for these younger girls, who will eventually be part of the group of seated women in the center. The women around the basket will begin making small bundles of seeds while rhythmically sounding bells or chimes, which will slowly create a natural beat with the bells and chimes the dancers wear on their bodies. The ceremony is light and calm, creating a nurturing atmosphere for the planting season. Once made, the bundles will be handed off to the surrounding dancers, who will then distribute them among the crowd that has gathered for the occasion. The viewers will be encouraged to plant the seeds contained in the bundles, an act symbolic of the ideas of “oneness” that the [name] so admire.

[1] Sun and Light are both capitalized because the [name] treat these as spirit beings. The [name] believe that one day, they will be reunited with these spirits, becoming one with the light.

So above is the ethnography. I just edited everyone's submissions and changed some things to make sure everything agreed with the other sections. Some notes :

1 - We still need a name and a planet (i think we should stick to earth but maybe pick a country or make up an island or something?).

2 - We should also think about how to end the ritual. I included how we enter, what we're going to be doing, how we differ from each other, etc. but when I got the end, I feel like we need some sort of climax to the event. Any ideas? I'd love to add it.

3 - I'm not sure if this will be long enough. It's about 5 pages single spaced. I guess Aliana will let us know when she does some preliminary stuff.

4- Aliana, would you prefer I e-mail you an attached word document? I'm not sure if this will show up nicely formatted.


  1. oh and of course, let me know if you want me to change something. I kind of elaborated some stuff just to fill out the section better but if you don't like an idea or something, don't hesitate to tell me about it and I'll make some changes.

  2. Also, you should leave a few pages for the Index, which I will do when everything is finished.

  3. To beef the whole thing up a bit, each person could re-edit and submit the portion they are responsible for, and then Olivia can do a final edit.

  4. A word doc would do nicely :)

  5. Hi all,
    Just a heads up, but I will be expanding my section (Body Art) so we have more info. Hopefully I'll have it done before the weekend is over. When it's finished, I'll post it on the blog, and Aliana, I will send you a copy as well, :).