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07 Mar 2003
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£86.00
|Hardback Out of Print 
  
9781403960672
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DescriptionReviewsContentsAuthors

In The Weight of the Past, Michael Lambek explores the complex ways that history shapes, constrains, and enables daily life. Focusing on ritual performances of spirit mediumship in a multifaceted religious landscape, Lambek's analysis reveals the multiple ways that Sakalava 'bear' history. In Mahajanga, Madagascar, to bear history is at once a weighty obligation, a creative re-birthing, a scrupulous cultivation, and an exuberant performance of the past. To bear history is to serve and to suffer it, but also to be informed, enlightened, and sanctified. Royal ancestors emerge in spirit mediums to comment on the present from multiple voices and generate a refracted, ironic historical consciousness. This book describes the division of labour, creative production (poiesis), and ethical practice (phronesis) entailed in imagining, embodying, and serving the past. It is at once a vivid ethnography of Sakalava life and a significant intervention in anthropological debates on culture and history, structure and practice, advocating a theoretical approach informed by Aristotelian categories of understanding. Ethnographically rich and engagingly written, this book will be essential reading for courses in the anthropology of religion, ritual, or historical consciousness.


Description

In The Weight of the Past, Michael Lambek explores the complex ways that history shapes, constrains, and enables daily life. Focusing on ritual performances of spirit mediumship in a multifaceted religious landscape, Lambek's analysis reveals the multiple ways that Sakalava 'bear' history. In Mahajanga, Madagascar, to bear history is at once a weighty obligation, a creative re-birthing, a scrupulous cultivation, and an exuberant performance of the past. To bear history is to serve and to suffer it, but also to be informed, enlightened, and sanctified. Royal ancestors emerge in spirit mediums to comment on the present from multiple voices and generate a refracted, ironic historical consciousness. This book describes the division of labour, creative production (poiesis), and ethical practice (phronesis) entailed in imagining, embodying, and serving the past. It is at once a vivid ethnography of Sakalava life and a significant intervention in anthropological debates on culture and history, structure and practice, advocating a theoretical approach informed by Aristotelian categories of understanding. Ethnographically rich and engagingly written, this book will be essential reading for courses in the anthropology of religion, ritual, or historical consciousness.


Reviews

'Michael Lambek's inspired analysis draws on classic conceptions from authors such as Aristotle and Mauss to illuminate the making of a social world. This is not an antiquarian study: the cult of Sakalava royalty may contradict the conditions of modern life in theory, but co-exists with them in practice. This major work will reshape the debates between anthropology and history'. - Wendy James, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Oxford University

'Lambek's tour de force needs to be read by every Africanist. Guiding us through a maze of royal wonders, great centers and their peripheries, controversial relics and their devotions, modes of homage, care and respect, Lambek offers the crowning accomplishment in his path-finding studies of mediums and spirit possession'. - Richard Werbner, Professor of African Anthropology, University of Manchester

'In this theoretically innovative, moving and evocative book, Michael Lambek introduces us to the world of Sakalava historicity. This brilliant account of the embodied conscience of history addresses questions of power and practice, ethics and agency, while keeping the reader consistently engaged with the lived reality of contemporary Madagascar'. - Megan Vaughan, Professor of Commonwealth Studies, University of Oxford


Contents

PART I: A POIESIS OF HISTORY
Bearing Sakalava History: A Glossary of Some Key Terms
Into the Maze: Surface and Centre, Place, Person, and Potency
The Sakalava Poiesis of History: Realizing the Past through Spirit Possession
PART II: STRUCTURAL REMAINS: CONTEMPORARY DIVISIONS OF HISTORICAL LABOR
Mechanical Division: Structure and History in the Northwest
The Legacy of Lord Diviner, Ndramisara: Organic Division, Kindedness, and Sakalava Subjects
Personal Particularism, Mediumship, and Distributive Memory
PART III: SERVING THE ANCESTORS
Popular Performances: Paying Homage and Gaining Respect
The Great Service (Fanompoa Be)
PART IV: PRACTICING HISTORY
Kassim's Burden: The Practice of an Exemplary Spirit Medium
Answering to History: Conflict, Conscience, and Change
The Play of the Past: Historicity in Daily Life
Conclusion: Imagined Continuities


Authors

MICHAEL LAMBEK is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Human Spirits: A Cultural Account of Trance in Mayotte.