I. Classify using Van Gennep's categories and point out aspects which would be of
particular interest to Turner and to Chapple and Coons.
The Mescalero girls' puberty ceremony is an example of a "Rite of Passage," a ceremony
that marks the transition of an individual from one stage of life to another (Chapple and Coons,
p. 484). The ceremony marks the transition from girl to "mother of a nation" (p.252). The ritual
serves as a means of establishing equilibrium after the crisis of puberty (Chapple and Coons, p.
484). It is a method of making this transition from girl to woman easier. I classified this
ceremony as a Rite of Passage, rather than a Rite of Intensification, because it is held in
response to a non-periodic change (puberty) and it affects the participants individually. The
community plays an important role in supporting the girls-by building the tepee, for instance. At
times, as when the boys join the Singers, the community actively participates in the ritual.
However, the community is involved only because of its members' relations to the girls.
Van Gennep divides Rites of Passage into three parts: separation, transition and
incorporation. In the Mescalero puberty ceremony, separation is achieved when the girls move in
to their camp homes. During this stage, the Godmothers and Singers take the role of the parents.
This may be described as a "cessation of interaction between the individual and the group in
which he or she has been interacting" (Chapple and Coons, p. 485). However, there is not a
complete separation from the girls and the community. There are instances (such as the time
when the participants sleep while the community holds contests) when the two are physically
separated, but they are near their families and friends during most of the ceremony.
The stage of transition, or liminality, is a period in which the participants lie "betwixt
and between" two poles (Turner, p.95). For the puberty ceremony, this period lasts for four
days. In these days, the girls receive instruction from their elders-especially from Godmothers
and the Singers. For example, the Singer teaches the tribe's history through his chants and the
Godmother teaches about sex. Gender differences seem to be exaggerated rather than abolished
during this phase, however. The category "female" is related to fire, the color yellow, and the
idea of being protected. "Male" is related to the poles, the color red, and the idea of being the
protector. Yellow pollen, symbolizing women, is applied to the girls early in the ceremony.
Furthermore, rather than being stripped bare, the girls are ornately decorated. However, one may
argue that they have been stripped of the attire they wore before the ceremony. According to
Turner, the liminal period is one of humility, obedience, and danger. The girls do exhibit these
qualities during the period of transition, particularly during the all-night dancing ordeal. I still
would not interpret this as a "low" because of the blessings the girls bestow upon the community
and because of the massages they receive from the Godmothers.
The period of incorporation has been described as phase in which ". . . the individual
begins once again his interaction with the members of his community . . ." (Chapple and Coons,
p. 485). As noted earlier, the girls' interaction with the community is maintained at different
points in the ritual. However, the girls do undergo a radical change during the ceremony,
culminating in their reincorporation into their communities as new individuals. The ceremony
began with the males constructing a lodge and ended with the girls destroying the lodge. In the
beginning, the girls gave blessings and in the end, they received blessings. Through participating
in the ordeal of the dance, the girls gain power. This change is expressed in the following chant:
"Now you are entering the world. You become an adult with responsibilities" (p. 252).
Symbolically, the passage to womanhood is represented by painting the girls' faces white-the
color of purity and Mother Earth.
II. Where do Durkheim and Turner find communitas? What creates feelings of solidarity
in each? Would they find it in this ritual? If so, where and why?
Turner believes that communitas arises out of an ordeal shared by individuals. In the
case of the Mescalero puberty ceremony, the primary ordeal is the overnight dancing session.
Although not explicitly stated in the article, I can imagine strong feelings of solidarity would
arise among the girls participating in the ritual.
Durkheim's theory of communitas (or "collective consciousness") begins with his
analysis of Australian Aborigine culture (Durkheim, p. 34). A totem is used to represent the
community, then rituals are performed which make the totem sacred. There is a circular motion
inherent in such religious traditions: the totem, as a reflection of the group, indicates that the
group is worshiping itself. The rituals performed elicit feelings of effervescence, integration
and revitalization. It is this process that promotes group solidarity, providing a connection to a
larger community and that community's history. I believe that the Mescalero puberty
ceremony is better suited to analysis through the Durkheim model. First of all, the sacred space
is a symbol of the Grandfathers. The fourth Grandfather represents humanity: ". . .(O)n the
fourth day came man, the Apaches" (p. 243). The Grandfathers and the history of the tribe are
integral elements of the ceremony. The ceremony functions to keep the tribe together,
functioning as a cohesive unit. The girls discover what roles they must play in this society and
what is expected of them as women. For example, it is made clear that they are expected to bear
children and to allow themselves to be protected by men.
III. Discuss elements which would be of greatest interest to Rosaldo/Atkinson, Ornter, and Gossen.
The Rosaldo/Atkinson article places symbols into categories of binary opposition. The
dominant binary opposition is that of man the life-taker and woman the life-giver (Rosaldo and
Atkinson, p. 130). Elaborating on this idea, I have divided symbols used in the Mescalero
ceremony into the following categories: "Female" is associated with motherhood, fire, the color
yellow, the protected, and the center. "Male" is associated with warriorship, poles (or structure,
such as a frame), the color red, the protector, and the shield. The Mountain God dancers, for
example, use weapons in their dance. It is hoped that the girls participating in the ceremony will
give birth to warrior sons. If the girls give birth to girls, it is hoped that these offspring will
become mothers of warrior sons. The song tally sticks that are placed outside the fire provide a
framework. These sticks are described as a "pathway replicating the form of the holy lodge and
its runway" (p. 251). There is a balance inherent in these divisions. For instance, the colors red
and yellow are the basic colors of the universe. However, asymmetry is also evident. A basket-
which represents the center and therefore the female-is placed in the center of a circle formed by
poles. The girls wait inside the sacred lodge, awaiting direction from the male Singers. Such
incidents suggest the necessity of being restrained by and subservient to the males.
Furthermore, there are many digressions from the binary categories. At one point in the ritual,
the females dance around the males. Here, the men are the center and the women are the shield,
or framework ( p. 248). We see that the basket represents the center and the heart. The heart is
also associated with the "left." But at another point in the ceremony, the males are painted on
the left side of their faces and the women on the right. Women have been described as mothers
(creators) and men as warriors. Yet it is the men who build the sacred structure and the women
who destroy it!
Sherry Ortner uses the term "key symbol" to describe the symbols that are most
important to a culture. In order to find key symbols, it is necessary to understand their
underlying principles. There are five indicators used to locate key symbols: These symbols are
culturally important; arouse positive or negative feelings; come up in different contexts, are
elaborated by a culture; and have cultural restrictions placed upon them (Ortner, p. 93-94). This
is the criteria I use to examine the key symbols of the Mescalero puberty ceremony. The author
of The Mescalero Girls' Puberty Ceremony locates 5 key symbols. These are: balance,
circularity,directionality, the number 4, and sound/silence ( p. 242). In my analysis, I will
examine the key symbol of sound/silence.
Singing, chanting, playing musical instruments, making "noise" and observing silence
are important elements of the ceremony. The cultural significance of the sound made by the
girls when dancing on the hides is explained by one of the Singers: "This is the sound that a
people will make on this earth . . . Abide by it" (p. 249).
One of the most profound examples of emotional arousal through sound occurs at the
beginning of the ceremony. Before sunrise, the lead Singer begins a song while slowly raising
his left hand. His song is timed so perfectly that when he sings the last line of the song, the sun
rises, striking his raised palm. The writer of the article describes this as "a moment of breath-
taking Beauty" (p. 244).
Musical instruments include not only items such as sticks, but also articles of clothing.
"Jingles" cut from tin cans are sewn onto clothing, providing music when the person dances.
This is an example of a symbol appearing in different contexts. Here we see "musical
instrument" crossing over into the domain of "fashion."
The song tally sticks represent an instance of cultural elaboration. Each stick represents
a song that has been sung. All the sticks together comprise a replica of the holy lodge and its
runway. Whether it is the "high-pitched ululation" of the women (p. 243); the "hooting sound
resembling that of an owl or a turkey" (p. 247); or the chants used to recount history (p. 249),
the symbol of sound is significant in almost every aspect of the ritual.
At one point in the ritual, females who are not participants in the puberty ceremony are
forbidden from wearing clothing or jewelry that might make a noise. Only the participants, the
Mountain God dancers and the clowns may wear such articles. This is an example of a cultural
restriction surrounding a symbol.
The meaning of the symbols used by the Chamulas and Mescaleros differs greatly.
According to Gossen, the Chamula place a variety of meanings upon the cardinal directions.
East is the primary direction, associated with God the Father and Creator (Gossen, p. 116). This
is the domain of the sun, and therefore, the east is also associated with "up." The sun emits light
and heat, through its penetrating rays. Other associations with the east include: male, goodness,
day, fire, and mountains. To the Chamula, the north is also good because it is to the right of God
in the east. Negative qualities are ascribed to the south. The south is associated with killing
frosts and death. The west is "down." Three different levels constitute the Chamula's sky. The
bottom level is what people on earth can see. The second level (in ascending order) is where the
Virgin Mary and the moon reside. The sun and the guardian of animal souls are at the top level.
The Mescaleros associate each cardinal direction with their Grandfathers (p. 243). While
the Mescaleros also consider the east to be the primary direction, they associate the east with the First Grandfather, the moon and stars. The west is associated with animals. The sky-as well as
wind, rain and mountains-lies in the south. Man is in the north, held up by the other three
directions. This can be viewed as a difference or similarity between the Chamulas and the
Mescaleros, depending on which of Gossen's informants you listen to. One person described the
earth as being supported by man while another described the earth as being supported by bearers
at all cardinal points. One of the main differences between the Chamulas and Mescaleros is the
value they place on the right or left sides. Mescaleros give preference to the left, and their
rituals are primarily clockwise in nature. Left is also connected to the heart, to God and the sun.
The Chamulas give preference to the right and to the counterclockwise direction. The Chamulas
connect women to the ground and to coldness. The Mescalero connects women to the ground
and to heat. "Fire" is the primary symbol for the Mescalero women, particularly the pit fire.
Many parts of the puberty ceremony involve the girls' sitting or lying on the ground, symbolizing
a connection with Mother Earth. The Chamula's association between women and the ground,
however, holds the negative connotation of "lowness."