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Weaving the Threads of Life

The Khita Gyn-Eco-Logical Healing Cult among the Yaka

For the Yaka of Southwestern Zaire, infertility is a tear in the fabric of life, and the Khita fertility ritual is a trusted way of reweaving the damaged strands. In Weaving the Threads of Life Rene Devisch offers an extended analysis of the Khita cult, which leads to an original account of the workings of ritual healing.

Drawing on many years among urban and rural Yaka, Devisch analyzes their understanding of existence as a fabric of firmly but delicately interwoven threads of nature, body, and society. The fertility healing ritual calls forth forces, feelings, and meanings that allow women to rejoin themselves to the complex pattern of social and cosmic life. These elaborate rites—whether simulating mortal agony and rebirth, gestation and delivery, or flowering and decay; using music and dance, steambath or massage, dream messages or scarification—are not based on symbols of traditional beliefs. Rather, Devisch shows, the rites themselves generate forces and meaning, creating and shaping the cosmic, physical, and social world of their participants.

In contrast to current theoretical methods such as postmodern or symbolical interpretation, Devisch’s praxiological approach is unique in also using phenomenological insights into the intent and results of anthropological fieldwork. This innovative work will have ramifications beyond African studies, reaching into the anthropology of medicine and the body, comparative religious history, and women’s studies.

344 pages | 20 halftones, 1 map | 6 x 9 | © 1993

African Studies

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Table of Contents

1. Field and Method
1.1. The Yaka People
1.2. Fieldwork
1.3. Bantu Cults of Affliction
1.4. Healers in the Town
1.5. Healing as a Social and Theatrical Drama: A Critique
1.6. Body and Weave: A Semantic-Praxilogical Approach
2. The Cosmology of Gender Arrangements and Life Transmission
2.1. Horizontal and Vertical Space
2.2. Cosmological Portrayal of Gender
2.3. Animals and Plants
2.4. Capturing and ’Cooking’ Untamed Forces
3. The Social Formation of Life Transmission
3.1. Life-bearing and Nurturing in the Homestead
3.2. Marriage as a Transfer "Along the Path to the Village"
3.3. The Reproductive Cell
3.4. The Two-forked Tree of Agnatic Descent and Uterine Filiation
3.5. Hunting versus Sorcery, and the Fabric of Kin
4. Body, Group, and Life-world: Between Maze and Weave
4.1. Physical and Sensory Modes of Contact
4.2. The Relational Body
4.3. The Body and Its Afflictions
4.4. Cults of Affliction and Communal Sodalities
5. Impediments of Life Transmission
5.1. Masculinist Views on Human Agencies in Infertility
5.2. Divinatory Etiology and the Work of Cults
5.3. Etiology as an Indication of Therapy
6. The Khita Fertility Cult: Reversing the Evil
6.1. Khita and Similar Cults
6.2. The First Stage: Reversing the Persecution into Uterine Bonds of Life Transmission
6.3. The Second Stage: The Decay and Cooking of Generative Forces
7. The Khita Fertility Cult: Reorigination of the Fabric of Body, Kin, and Life-world
7.1. The Third Stage: Seclusion in the Uterus of the World
7.2. The Fourth Stage: Emancipating Forest Forces into Social Fecundity
7.3. Relapse of Illness
7.4. Fertility Rituals and Analyses Compared: A Look at Victor Turner
8. The Body as the Weaving Loom of Healing and Life
8.1. The Role of Music and Dance in Healing
8.2. The Source of Healing
8.3. Paradox, Transgression, and Homeopathic Healing
8.4. A Ternary Logic of Mediation and Effusion in Self-healing
Appendix A: A Case of Infertility
Appendix B: Herbarium

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