Cultural Analysis, Volume 2, 2001


A Socio-Historical and Contextual Analysis of Popular Musical Performance Among the Swahili of Mombasa, Kenya

Mwenda Ntarangwi
St. Lawrence University, Nairobi, Kenya

This paper discusses a genre of Swahili popular music—taarab—by focusing on its historical development, context of performance, and relation to gender and religion. Using case studies and interviews with musicians and audience members at taarab performances, I analyze the structure and organization of taarab music performance. These performances reveal that the gender divide assumed by many scholars is in fact far from characteristic of Swahili musical performance. By examining the context and meanings of producing and consuming taarab, I demonstrate that, rather than occupying two distinct worlds of men and women, Swahili musical practices engender both competitive and complementary realities, thereby fostering a complexity that would be easily missed if the meanings of gendered interaction and behavior were to be taken at face value. Consequently, I highlight how the analysis of popular musical expression can contribute to an understanding of socio-cultural practices, reproduction and change of cultural norms, and local units of self-assessment among the Swahili in particular and other communities in general.

"Es Sind Zween Weg": Singing Amish Children into the Faith Community

D. R. Elder
Ohio State University, USA

The world's largest Amish settlement straddles Ohio's Wayne and Holmes counties. The Amish prefer an agrarian lifestyle of steady, hard work preserving a community-oriented, Reformation-era theocracy. The Amish are a "plain" people who define themselves by their differences from the dominant culture. Associating in small groups of 25 to 40 families, "districts" or "affiliations," within geographical areas, "settlements," they bi-annually decide by vote of adult members how to modify the rules of behavior (Ordnung) for their district, seeking to be faithful to Biblical directives. Bulk milk tanks, freezers or telephones are accepted or rejected, and the members commit themselves to living simply for another year. People who break the rules are subject to shunning (Meidung), the chief purpose of which is to bring the transgressor to repentance.

An Amish adult's primary function is to prepare children for heaven by shaping an attitude of yieldedness (Gelassenheit) to God. Through vigilant contact, parents teach their children to respect and submit to authority, to work cheerfully, and to help others kindly. Singing is one way parents transmit their cultural values. They sing lullabies, Amish church hymns, and fast songs to children from babyhood. This paper analyzes several Amish nursery songs and investigates their role in Amish childhood socialization.

The Amazonian Ox Dance Festival: An Anthropological Account

Maria-Laura Cavalcanti
Federal University of Rio de Janeiro

The Ox Dance (Boi-Bumbá) festival, held yearly during the last three evenings of June in the town of Parintins, Amazonas, is the most spectacular folk festival staged in Northern Brazil. In recent decades, it has assumed massive proportions, combining traditional cultural themes with spectacular visual qualities, thematic innovations, and many sociological changes.

This paper analyzes the festival from an anthropological perspective, suggesting its interpretation as a contemporary cultural movement that, while enhancing regional indigenous roots, expresses a positive statement of a Brazilian "caboclo," or mestizo, cultural identity.

The festival is a peculiar development of a folk play that has existed in Brazil since the 19th century and is based on the motif of the death and resurrection of a precious ox. An historical examination of the early records and studies of this play is undertaken in order to position the Parintins Ox Dance in this wider context. A brief ethnography focuses on its evolution from a small group of street players to the spectacular arena presentations of today's festival and on the basic structure of the current performances.

Symbols and Images of "Evil" in Student Protests in Sofia, 1997

Iveta Todorova-Pirgova
Down Jersey Folklife Center, USA

This article analyzes Bulgarian student protests in 1990 and 1997 in their political, sociological, and cultural dimensions. Beginning with an overview of the Bulgarian political situation in the 1990s, the article goes on to consider student protests as cultural expressions of a semi-closed community. The focus is primarily on the cultural and ideological aspects of the protests, and seeks to illustrate the peculiar forms of cultural synthesis that such protests represent.

Political protests are more than interesting forms of contemporary culture, showing how new communities are created, how they express themselves in cultural forms, and what their real impact on the social reality might be. Bearing in mind the fact that these are syncretic forms, I present them in their social, ideological, political, and cultural dimensions. Furthermore, having participated in the protests, I present them from the viewpoint of the "insider."