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Anthropology: The Gift by Marcel Mauss

The Gift

Accompanied by a brazilian coffee, I decided this morning to revisit Marcel Mauss anthropological/sociological classical work “The Gift- The form and reason for exchange in archaic societies”. The essay was first published in 1925 in french, but translated into english in 1954. This is my interpretation of Mauss.

“The Gift” is the foundation of theories of reciprocity, and is frequently sited by social scientists. By reading of others works from all over the world, Mauss examine the function of the gift. The exchange of objects or services creates relationships, he argue. In other words, Mauss try to show us that the practice of giving creates social bonds. In society there is an obligation to give, to receive and to reciprocate- to give back. To not receive a gift is a declaration of war. To receive a gift put you in a kind of dept and the giver has an ascendancy on the receiver until the gift is reciprocated. And in this way an invicible bond is tied between groups (see book cover), and I would say the same function apply between individuals. Even that this study was of archaic societies, it is widely used even today to explain dynamics of social life.

Just think about how the practice of giving works in your life. For example how do you feel at christmas if one of your friends giving you this nice expencive gift and you haven´t given anything back? Or if a person borrowing money from you and never pay it back? Or if your colleague helps you move, you would feel obligated to help him/her to paint the house. It can even manifest as something simple as you are smiling to a person and that person doesn´t smile back (or smile back). Or if someone give you a payment, they will expect that you do the job and you will also feel obligated to carry out those tasks.

It is a story about that which is in between human beings. The dynamic of giving, getting and giving back is striking in our everyday lives. Even if the reciprocal function of the gift can be used with good or bad intentions, the baseline in Mauss is that here is no such a thing as a free gift.

Learn more about Marcel Mauss at AnthroBase.

Thailand: Meeting Kruba Sitthi

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Four hours driving from Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand, we finally reach the small places Fang and Thaton. A small curly road lead us to the legendary buddhist monk´s temple on the mountain top. The monk Kruba Sitthi is abbot of the temple Wat Pang Ton Dua, and today we are here to be present to a blessing cermony. The materials of a new batch of magical amulets are going to be sacralized. Alot of prominent monks from Thailand are gathered at this remote temple, but where is Kruba Sitthi?

Suddenly an ambulance comes to the temple. All the attention draws toward the old monk who is carefully put in a wheelchair. All the people are bowing with greatest respect for the venerable Kruba Sitthi. His physician places him in the center of the cermony and white strings goes from the monk´s hands to the amulet material. In Thailand there is a belief that some monks have “saksit”, or holy power that can be transferred to objects like amulets. And by keeping and worship these magical objects, they can protect its wearer.

I buy a couple of them from the temple´s shop before I leave. They have an image of the charismatic Kruba Sitthi and will always remind me of this special meeting and moment of time. For me that´s a kind of power too.

See more of my pictures from Kruba Sitthi`s blessing cermony.Click here.

India: Wet, wetter, Cherrapunji

Cherrapunji, India, shillong

That´s right, Cherrapunji in northeast India is the most rainiest place on planet earth. Well, at least it have been so several years. Ironically the same place is really scarce of water in winter time. Like when I was there in january 2015- Cherrapunji was dry as a cookie (I was almost disappointed). However, the monsoon with its seasonal wind brings serious amount of water to the area and the sky opens up for six month long wet t-shirt party. With its deep rocky valleys Cherrapunji gives the impression of being on a different planet. This include “Nohkalikai”, which with its colossal 340 meters is Indias tallest waterfall. In other words, Cherrapunji is holding two natural records and this kind of feauters make the place famous. Cherrapunji is hard to get to, but if you are in the northeast of India, it´s certainly worth a visit.

Want to see more photos from my trip to Cherrapunji? Click here.

India: The guest is a god in Tripura

Tripura, India

My friend Bijoy kindly ask me to sit down. “In Tripura we have a saying that the guest is a god” he explains, “even if people are poor and food are limited, tripuri people will share as much as they can in order to take care of their guests”.

Tripura is one of the “seven sisters” states in north east India. We are in Jampuijala, the home village of Bijoy´s wife, Mina. Most of the houses are made of mud, and are surrounded by greenery, fruit trees and vast plains of ricefields.

It is still early in the morning. The small remote village is covered by fog, the cock crows and we are wrapping shawls around our bodies to keep warm. The fresh ray of sun hits the steam twirling from the cups. Mina serves hot chai tea with a humble smile.

I am absolutely not a god, but I certainly feel like one in Tripura.

Want to see more of my photos from the village Jampuijala in India? Click here.

South-Korea: The Mermaids of Jeju

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“I have been diving since I was 15″ Kim says, “and now I am 70.” She is one of the five thousand diving women on the small South Korean Island Jeju.The divers go under the name “haenyeo” or “mermaids” and that for good reasons. Some of them can reach 30 meters under the water surface and hold their breath up to 3 minutes.

Jeju is a vulcanic island and farming is limited. The nutrition from the sea have become crucial for the people and the art of diving has been tranfered from mother to daughter for hundreds of years. There is a saying that girls learn to swim before the can walk. Furthermore, the diving has given women economical and political power in a south Korean society which originally is confucian. The old saying at Jeju Island shows a different picture:

“Have a baby girl, and we will throw a pork barbecue party; have a baby boy, and we will kick his ass.”

But despite of this Kim emphasize that “I dont want my grandchildren to become a heanyeo. The work is both hard and dangerous. It is better to be born a cow, than a women”. She laughs while pulling of her rubber hood. The wetsuit smells like tractor tyres. “We are living in a another time now. The youngsters have different choices. We actually use the money we earn from diving to sponsor education for our children.” In 1970´s there was about 30 000 female divers, now there is only 5000 left. The recruitment is low and the cultural practice is most probably only seen at museums and touristshows in the future.

At first I thought it was sad to hear that the traditional practice may be discountinued in the modern context. But the most important after all is the well being of the local people. By adapting to the flux of life, the divers daughters find better ways to keep their heads over the water.

Want to see more of my photos of Jeju´s diving women? Click here.

Haenyeo on youtube.