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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Bob Speaks...

The Anthropology of Weddings

Social anthropologists lump weddings into the category of "rites of passage." Like baptisms, funerals, graduations, and - alas - circumcisions.

All these varied rituals, they say, are designed to "signal both to the individual and the community that a member has undergone a 'change in status' and he/she is supposed to feel different, and be treated differently, after the ritual is observed.

Claude Levi Strauss, the great French anthropologist, said that all rites of passage have one thing in common: they produce in the subject "sweat and wonder." It probably sounded better in French.

So the little Aborigine boy sweats over being eaten by the big monster hiding in the forest, while the bride sweats about "will I fit into this gown?" or "will it rain?"

And at the funeral, the grieving widow wonders if she will ever be able to cook for just one from now on, while the bride' s father wonders "will I ever pay off the bill?"

Are all these thoughts bad? Not at all! If it weren't for that residual dose of "sweat and wonder", weddings just wouldn't do their job as rituals.

Years ago we had a wedding where the couple and most of the attendees spoke nothing but Korean. A local priest conducted the ceremony in complete English. I went to him afterwards and said "Well?"

His reply: "I think they feel married."

So it wasn't the words said. I'm sure, in essence, it was the sweat and wonder.

More later. Stay tuned.

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