Weaving Threads of Life: Khita Healing Infertility Cult, Yaka, by Rene Devisch, Renaat Devisch

Weaving the Threads of Life: The Khita GYN-ECO-Logical Healing Cult among the Yaka

by Rene Devisch, Renaat Devisch

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Format: Paperback, 352pp. 
ISBN: 0226143627
Publisher: University of Chicago Press 
Pub. Date: October 1993

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Book Description 

For the Yaka of Southwestern Zaire, infertility is a tear in the fabric of life, and the Khita fertility ritual is a trusted way of reweaving the damaged strands. In Weaving the Threads of Life Rene Devisch offers an extended analysis of the Khita cult, which leads to an original account of the workings of ritual healing.

Drawing on many years among urban and rural Yaka, Devisch analyzes their understanding of existence as a fabric of firmly but delicately interwoven threads of nature, body, and society. The fertility healing ritual calls forth forces, feelings, and meanings that allow women to rejoin themselves to the complex pattern of social and cosmic life. These elaborate rites--whether simulating mortal agony and rebirth, gestation and delivery, or flowering and decay; using music and dance, steambath or massage, dream messages or scarification--are not based on symbols of traditional beliefs. Rather, Devisch shows, the rites themselves generate forces and meaning, creating and shaping the cosmic, physical, and social world of their participants.

In contrast to current theoretical methods such as postmodern or symbolical interpretation, Devisch's praxiological approach is unique in also using phenomenological insights into the intent and results of anthropological fieldwork. This innovative work will have ramifications beyond African studies, reaching into the anthropology of medicine and the body, comparative religious history, and women's studies. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Table of Contents


Prologue   1

1 Field and Method   11

1.1 The Yaka People   11

1.2 Fieldwork   20

1.3 Bantu Cults of Affliction   23

1.4 Healers in the Town   25

1.5 Healing as a Social and Theatrical Drama: A Critique   33

1.6 Body and Weave: A Semantic-Praxilogical Approach   37

2 The Cosmology of Gender Arrangements and Life Transmission   53

2.1 Horizontal and Vertical Spice   54

2.2 Cosmological Portrayal of Gender   60

2.3 Animals and Plants   74

2.4 Capturing and 'Cooking' Untamed Forces   86

3 The Social Formation of Life Transmission   92

3.1 Life-hearing and Nurturing in the Homestead   93

3.2 Marriage as a Transfer "Along the Path to the Village"   101

3.3 The Reproductive Cell   106

3.4 The Two-forked Tree of Agnatic Descent and Uterine Filiation   115

3.5 Hunting versus Sorcery, and the Fabric of Kin   122

4 Body, Group, and Life-world: Between Maze and Weave   132

4.1 Physical and Sensory Modes of Contact   134

4.2 The Relational Body 139 4.3 The Body and Its Afflictions   146

4.4 Cults of Affliction and Communal Sodalities   147

5 Impediments to Life Transmission   161

5.1 Masculinist Views on Human Agencies in Infertility   164

5.2 Divinatory Etiology and the Work of Cults   169

5.3 Etiology as an indication of Therapy   173

6 The Khita Fertility Cult: Reversing the Evil   179

6.1 Khita and Similar Cults   180

6.2 The First Stage: Reversing the Persecution into Uterine Bonds of Life Transmission   183

6.3 The Second Stage: The Decay and Cooking of Generative Forces   196

7 The Khita Fertility Cult: Reorigination of the Fabric of Body, Kin, and Life-world   213

7.1 The Third Stage: Seclusion in the Uterus of the World   214

7.2 The Fourth Stage: Emancipating Forest Forces into Social Fecundity   224

7.3 Relapse of Illness   244

7.4 Fertility Rituals and Analyses Compared: A Look at Victor Turner   245

8 The Body as the Weaving Loom of Healing and Life   255

8.1 The Role of Music and Dance in Healing   259

8.2 The Source of Healing   264

8.3 Paradox, Transgression, and Homeopathic Healing   267

8.4 A Ternary Logic of Mediation and Effusion in Self-healing   276

Epilogue   282

Appendix A: A Case of Infertility   285

Appendix B: Herbarium   293

Maps   296

Notes   299

References   315

Index 325

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