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Harnessing the ancestors: mutuality, uncertainty and ritual practice in the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa

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Ainslie, A. (2014) Harnessing the ancestors: mutuality, uncertainty and ritual practice in the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. Africa, 84 (4). pp. 530-552. ISSN 0001-9720

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1017/S0001972014000448

Abstract/Summary

In the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, chronic economic uncertainty has seen social relations stretched to breaking point. Informants speak of a 'war between men and women'. While grinding poverty, death in the shape of the 'axe' (HIV/AIDS) and suspicion stalk the land, and the project of building the umzi (homestead) falters, hope for the future and with it, trust between people, leaches away. One response to such uncertainty is a turn to ritual. Through a nearly relentless schedule of ritual activity which invokes the ancestors and the Christian deity in various forms, Xhosa people attempt to dam up trust, secure ongoing investment in the rural homestead and sustain ties of reciprocity both among rural people and between them and their urban kin. It is also through the staging of these rituals that women, acting together and in support of each other, are increasingly assertive – often in the face of a violent, rearguard opposition from men - in their efforts to exercise agency over the differentiated, fragmented and fragile social and economic relationships within their homesteads and across their villages.

Item Type:Article
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Faculty of Life Sciences > School of Agriculture, Policy and Development > Economic and Social Sciences Division > Livelihoods Research
ID Code:38340
Publisher:Cambridge Journals

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