Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Grief and a Headhunter’s Rage

Grief and a Headhunter’s Rage
- Renato Rosaldo
In Renato Rosaldo’s “Grief and a Headhunter’s Rage” Rosaldo writes about ritual and the connection it has with emotion, more specifically of the emotions associated with death. the ritual mentioned through this essay is the ritual of Ilongot Headhunting. Rosaldo’s argument is “that ritual in general and Ilongot headhunting in particular form the intersection of multiple coexisting social processes,” but it should also be recognized that those in the center of the ritual will have more feelings aroused from the ritual than those on the outer edges. (594) The way sociologists study cultures should change towards attempting to understand, instead of the traditional attempt to explain.

Rosaldo used these words to describe them: “The Ilongots… number about 3,500 and reside in an upland area some ninety miles northeast of Manila, Philippines. For themselves, their neighbors, and their ethnographers, headhunting stands out as the Ilongots’ most salient cultural practice” (588). The Ilongots of this time practiced headhunting as a means to release the rage created from a devastating loss, as he describes: “He (an Ilongot) says that rage, born of grief, impels him to kill his fellow human beings. He claims that he needs a place… ‘to carry his anger.’ The act of… tossing away the victim’s head enables him… (to) throw away the anger of his bereavement” (588). The Ilongot man is saying that this rage must be vented and focused away from those around him. Here, it become evident that those in the center are in the focus. The Ilongot says how the rage is born of grief, and those in grief (the ones who experienced the loss) will be those in the focus of this ritual. Those outside of the focus will not experience the full emotion of headhunting. Later in the essay, Rosaldo mentions how he just did not understand how the grief and rage was connected, but says he now understands, after a tragic loss of his own, that to an Ilongot they went together in the most obvious manner.

Headhunting is a ritual based on the grief resulting from loss. A ritual with familiar causes, a funeral, helps in relating to the issue. While analyzing funerals, it became paramount to pick a single one and expand from there. It is of the last funeral I attended. It becomes obvious that funerals contain several parts, those of focus may be labeled as; memorial, symbolism, and acceptance. Starting with memorial and symbolism, it become understandable how something seen as normal by some can be outright unusual for others. Within the memorial of the mentioned funeral, the funeral of my friend Kris, there were pictures on display. While varying from wrestling, cross country, navy photos, and a picture of him fishing, the pictures show the presence of memories lessening the blow of the loss. Affirming what they did in life was great, but is this logic obvious to all?Rosaldo describes: “Once the raiders kill their victim, they toss away the head rather than keep it as a trophy. In tossing away the head, they claim by analogy to cast away their life burdens, including the rage in their grief.”(598) Throwing the head away, is how the Ilongots reach acceptance; while acceptance isn’t a part of the ritual, the ritual often forms a catalyst with a product being acceptance. The methods of acceptance are countless. some of the more apparent ones can vary from crying, to punching, and even drinking in excess. Looking from the outside what would someone see when they look at someone sobbing uncontrollably, punching a wall, or an all night drinking binge?, They would see not the feeling of acceptance only what an outsider would see, and those in the very thick of it all the methods of acceptance can become all the more abstract. The afore mentioned funeral caused me to have the urge to fish because it was the main thing Kris and I had done together lately. While someone could say that it made perfect sense that I would have the urge to do so, the question remains: what would be seen by an outsider?

Another key part of a funeral is some symbolism; akin to the Ilongot throwing the head of a victim away, the symbolism is used to express some idea; the thought of them (the dead) being buried or cremated, aside from any specific spiritual beliefs, affirms that they are gone from the living world. This along with the memorial forms the catalyst to acceptance in this case then.

Rosaldo goes on to the criticize on the way anthropologists tried to understand cultural aspects objectively, as many aspects of culture require one to be a part of the culture to understand it: “After being repositioned through a devastating loss of my own [I could] better grasp that Ilongot older men mean precisely what they say… [their] anger and my own overlap, rather like two circles, partially overlaid and partially separate. They are not identical” (589-593). Here he notes that he could grasp that they mean what they say; however, he also understands “All interpretations are provisional; they are made by positioned subjects who are prepared to know certain things and not others. Even when knowledgeable, sensitive, fluent in language, and able to move easily in an alien cultural world, good ethnographers still have their limits, and their analyses always are incomplete” (598). This becomes a reoccurring theme throughout the essay: this idea of understanding a culture to be futile, as cultures are subjective, and only those within it will truly understand.
Further into his essay the “devastating loss” that Rosaldo mentions is explained as the loss of his wife after she fell down a cliff into a river:

Immediately on finding her body I became enraged. How could she abandon me? How could she have been so stupid as to fall?... Going down I find a group of men, maybe seven or eight, standing still, silent, and I heave and sob, but no tears (He describes this later to be a form of rage)…’ Such feelings can be aroused by rituals, but more often they emerge from unexpected reminders. (593)
The loss of his wife allowed him to feel the rage associated with death, and he feels actual rage towards his now dead wife. This is where the anger stems from, the anger that a person Rosaldo cared for is lost forever. Going on further, he explains a denial of rage among Anglo-Americans: “… upper-middle-class Anglo-American culture tends to ignore the rage devastating losses can bring. Paradoxically, this culture’s conventional wisdom usually denies the anger in grief at the same time that therapists encourage members of the invisible community of the bereaved to talk in detail about how angry their losses make them feel” (593). this denial is part of the cultural barrier that keeps us from understand other cultures fully, even outright denial as in the beginning of the essay where Rosaldo writes: “My own inability to conceive the force of anger in grief led me to seek out another level of analysis that could provide a deeper explanation for older Men’s desire to headhunt” (598). This shows that there was just a complete inability to understand, and opens up a real idea of subjective thoughts.

The issue of cultures being studied incorrectly has major implications; Prior to this essay, attempts were only made to explain, not understand; With all explanations being hollow and usually missing the point, Rosaldo shows his own ignorance and labels the source. Ritual is a subjective experience and to those within the purpose is apparent, to those outside of the ritual it is like fitting a square peg through a circular hole. Only those on the inside of the ritual will ever fully understand. Those outside are subject to cultural barriers such as the one described by Rosaldo. In denying rage within grief, one cannot understand these actions, like not understanding love in the matter we as members of culture that includes non-arranged marriage do could cause those that support arranged marriage to ask simply, why? Ultimately though, when talking of emotions, it becomes apparent that they are all subjective. From looking at a ritual from another culture or examining an individual’s emotions within the ritual, everything is subjective. It should then be recognized that sociologists should study cultures in an attempt to understand the cultures and not to just explain.

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