VisitGeertz - Article 18 The Visit Clifford Geertz A...

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1 Article 18 The Visit Clifford Geertz A Society Without Fathers or Husbands: The Na of China by Cai Hua, translated from the French by Asti Hustvedt. Zone books, 505 pp., $33.00 Love and marriage, love and marriage Go together like a horse and carriage Dad was told by mother You can’t have one without the other —“Love and Marriage,” Sammy Cahn and Jimmy van Heusen Not everywhere. Among the Na, a tribal people hidden away in the Yongning hills of Yunnan province in southern China and the sub- ject of the French-trained Chinese an- thropologist Cai Hua’s provocative new monograph, there is no marriage, in fact or word. Mothers exist, as do children, but there are no dads. Sexual intercourse takes place between casual, opportunis- tic lovers, who develop no broader, more enduring relations to one another. The man “visits,” usually furtively, the woman at her home in the middle of the night as impulse and opportunity appear, which they do with great regularity. Al- most everyone of either sex has multiple partners, serially or simultaneously; si- multaneously usually two or three, seri- ally as many as a hundred or two. There are no nuclear families, no in-laws, no stepchildren. Brothers and sisters, usu- ally several of each, reside together, along with perhaps a half-dozen of their nearer maternal relatives, from birth to death under one roof—making a living, keeping a household, and raising the sis- ters’ children. The incest taboo is of such intensity that not only may one not sleep with op- posite sex members of one’s own house- hold, one cannot even allude to sexual matters in their presence. One may not curse where they can hear, or sit with them in the same row at the movies, lest an emotional scene appear on the screen. As paternity is socially unrecognized, and for the most part uncertain, fathers may happen, now and again, to sleep with daughters. A man is free to sleep with his mother’s brother’s daughter, who is not considered any kind of relative, not even a “cousin.” There is no word for bastard, none for promiscuity, none for infidelity; none, for that matter, for incest, so un- thinkable is it. Jealousy is infra dig: “You know, Luzo [who is nine- teen] has not had a lot of [lovers], but he has made many visits [his friend said]. This is because he only goes to the homes of beauties. In particular, he goes to visit Seno, a pretty girl in our village. Do you want to go [visit her] at her house?” he asked me. “No! If I go there, Luzo will be jealous,” I answered. “How could I be jealous!” [Luzo] responded. “You can ask whomever you want. You will see that… we don’t know how to be jealous.” “He’s right!” his friend inter- jected. And to explain himself he added: “Girls [are available] to ev- eryone. Whoever wants to can visit them. There is nothing to be jeal- ous about.” Obviously, this is an interesting place for an anthropologist—especially for an an- thropologist brought up on that King
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This note was uploaded on 04/28/2011 for the course ANTH 150 taught by Professor Pietrusewsky during the Fall '10 term at University of Hawaii, Manoa.

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VisitGeertz - Article 18 The Visit Clifford Geertz A...

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