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In the first millennium AD when international trade brought silver coins to Madagascar, they were melted down for jewelry or cut into pieces to meet the needs of…
In the first millennium AD when international trade brought silver coins to Madagascar, they were melted down for jewelry or cut into pieces to meet the needs of small-scale local trade. The Merina culture of the highland interior saw in the original uncut silver coin an image of completeness and perfection. Such coins became obligatory ritual offerings acknowledging the sanctity of the sovereign. “Ritual economy” is brought into fine grain relief when pieces of “all-purpose money” are used in ritual prestation and when markets become a symbol of morality indexing political legitimacy. Today traditions of the highlands have co-opted the royal offering of “uncut coins” for local ritual purposes and local ritual specialists engage in symbolic assaults on “all-purpose money.” This chapter draws upon Merina royal oral traditions, ethnohistoric accounts, and contemporary ethnographic work with Betsileo ritual specialists to argue that the poetic and the syncretic necessarily enter into discussions of the economic.
Ritual economy is a theoretical approach for understanding and explaining the ways in which worldview, economy, power, and human agency interlink in society and social…
Ritual economy is a theoretical approach for understanding and explaining the ways in which worldview, economy, power, and human agency interlink in society and social change. Defined as the “process of provisioning and consuming that materializes and substantiates worldview for managing meaning and shaping interpretation,” this approach forefronts the study of human engagement with social, material, and cognitive realms of human experience. This chapter explores the theoretical roots of ritual economy and how they are expressed in this volume's contributions, which ground the discussion in actual case studies applied to both capitalistic and noncapitalistic settings across a number of different cultural contexts. By knitting together two realms of inquiry that often are sequestered into separate domains of knowledge, ritual economy exposes for analysis how the process of materializing worldview through ritual practice structures economic behavior without determining it.
This chapter summarizes and discusses the volume's contributions toward developing a theory of ritual economy. To move ahead, an appropriate analytical vocabulary must be developed and tested. Useful concepts explored in this volume's chapters include “materialization,” “provisioning,” “consumption,” and “transaction,” as well as more specialized terms, such as “ritual mode of production,” “meta-power,” and “liturgical economic allocations.” Future work should consider breaking down analyses into those that deal with ritual economy as it reinforces existing socio-political structures versus those that deal with the transformative qualities of ritual economy. Additionally, future work should examine the “ritualization of materiality,” by drawing sharper distinctions between political economy and ritual economy, and by linking the ritual economy approach to material engagement theories.
Nahua ritual specialists of northern Veracruz, Mexico, portray spirit entities by cutting their images from paper. Paper cutting is an ancient craft in Mesoamerica that…
Nahua ritual specialists of northern Veracruz, Mexico, portray spirit entities by cutting their images from paper. Paper cutting is an ancient craft in Mesoamerica that traces back to the pre-Hispanic era. The impetus to materialize the spirits in this way is the result of the highly abstract and pantheistic nature of the Nahua religious system. In pantheistic thought, the cosmos itself is the deity and all apparent diversity can be seen as different aspects or manifestations of a seamless sacred unity. The Nahua ritual specialist places the paper figures on elaborate altars where he or she dedicates special offerings to them. The fundamentally economic nature of Nahua ritual exchange is revealed – with the aid of ritual economy – through examination of multiple factors: the symbolic meanings of sacred chanting and altar construction, the role of religion in constituting Nahua ethnic identity in the face of domination by mestizo elites, and the ecological context that renders life precarious for indigenous horticulturalists of this region of Mexico.