Discussion Of The Rite Of Passage Of Women And Death
My teacher in first grade asked me to choose and describe a Hero. My mother was my choice, as were many others. I presented stories and drew pictures of my mother to my class. In those days, my seven-year-old-self described being the mother of our family as “a beast”. In my student years, I wanted to revisit that speech and ask what it really means to be woman. But more importantly, what rites of entry, also known as Anthropological rituals, did she undergo to earn the title? This rite of entry will be proven or challenged by Victor Turner’s Anthropological beliefs and writings.
The rites of passage are defined as the transition between two social structures. My mother’s example shows my mother as a young child who is now a woman. It was different for my mother’s journey from a child to a woman. She didn’t have a Quinceanera. In fact, she was wearing black to mourn the death of her mentor and mother. Although it is never good to lose someone you love, a girl of sixteen has a particularly hard time dealing with a similar loss. She also lost the person she was supposed to turn to for guidance as a teenager.
Arnold van Gennep’s (1909) three-stage explanation of the rite she underwent is:
Separation marks the beginning of the rite-of-passage and the loss of identity. It also signifies your end in society. Her mother died in a road accident and she was woken in hospital, but not with her. Attending the funeral marked her departure from her childhood and her new life. The funeral helps the family members and close friends to cope with the loss of a loved one and their stage of life. The reading of “Original Venda Hustler”, which is a symbol of the rites of passage (as seen in McNeill, 2016: 197), also played a major role. A candle was lit during the church ceremony to represent her life and her light. It was left burning as her family and friends told stories of her and her life. The candle was blown out at the end when the casket arrived to represent the end of the life. Shoveling dirt on the casket as it was lowered was another important symbol. The family is literally a part of the burial and physically (the symbolism) saying goodbye.
The liminality phase is when you don’t fit into any of the groups in society (Turner 96:94). The liminality stage is when you have to learn about your new role, the rules that go with it and how you will fulfill them. The wake was the next step after she said goodbye to her father at the funeral. In the wake, she became the woman and not just the daughter. At the wake, she learns about her role in the community and what is expected from her. Turner called this ‘communitas.’ It is used to make people look alike and equal (Turner, 1989: 100). This phase I only found communitas with the black funeral attire. It shows that people are in mourning and they share the same experience. This can be used to show you belong to a certain culture or religion, as they all have different funeral attire. This proves that while communitas is a force for good, it also has a negative side as it can create rifts between different groups.
The individual’s reintegration into society is characterized by a state of stability and the assumption of their new roles in society with all their rights and obligations (Turner, 1989: 95). I believe that the reincorporation process began once the family was able to settle into a new routine after the initial grief phase had passed. This rite of passing was marked by sudden and violent loss. I don’t think there is a time when it ended. After her mother died, my mother told me many times how afraid she felt. Because she felt that because she never had a mom, she couldn’t fulfill her own motherly role, she told me over and over how scared she was.
Power: The readings are recurrently concerned with who is in control of a ritual. How is this power enforced during a rite? In certain rituals, all the initiators’ rights and powers are taken away by the Elders. The ritual can also be the one to give the power. This is what happens in some rituals, such as the Ndembu from Zambia. Their chief has to sit with a posture that is shameful while he receives the medicine in the ceremony (Turner, 1970:.100). A’system’ within a society can also be given power. It’s described well in “Waiting at the liminal: Migrants waiting for home affairs in South Africa”. In this article, people who have a good background are able to get a passport faster than those that come from “bad countries” (Sutton and al.,2011: 30). The priests who lead the funeral rituals are supposed to have some sort of power. How could they possibly be able to control the people who attend a funeral in any way? It doesn’t matter what they do, because if someone is dead, then there’s nothing that can be done. I think that Death is the only one who can control the life of a person in this rite.
Death, at a funeral reminds the mourners that the true rite is Life. (This part in the passage is different than Victor Turner’s writings from 1969, he believed the passage strengthens the power the person performing it. However, this isn’t true for all rituals).
I think Turner and van Gennep have it right when they say that a rite-of-passage must include all three stages. There is no universal rite of passage, as every experience, method or outcome will be different. The reason I chose her rite was because it wasn’t the most common way to become woman, but still, she met all of the requirements.