The ethnographic issues raised in James Clifford and George E Marcus’ ‘Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography’.
In James Clifford and George E. Marcus’ book ‘Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography’ (2010), both authors raise the issue of ethnography as a broad framework of cultural identifications. I have underlined four key areas that examines the complexities of ethnography. First, the definition of ‘Post-modern ethnography. Second, the role of translation, third, the concerns around eurocentrism, Middle-class readership and otherness. Last, the medium of writing as a textual experience of ethnography/fieldwork in contemporary discourse.
Problems with translation
The textual experience of ethnographic writing; the medium and form
Readership and class systems (George Marcus)
Mami Wata is a water deity originating from the Niger Delta and Cross River. She embodies both the serpent iconography and the fish symbol. According to John Drewel: “Mami Wata is widely believed to have “overseas” origins, and depictions of her have been profoundly influenced by representations of ancient, indigenous African water spirits, European mermaids and snake charmers, Hindu gods and goddesses, and Christian and Muslim saints.” (Page 60- Mami Wata by John Drewel). Her image is multiple and transgresses various cultural realms.
]“The snakes that appear coiled on either side of the head are among the most frequent motifs depicted on Sowei/Nowo headdresses. Generally considered to be water creatures, snakes reveal a constellation of ideas about ancient African water spirits and, later, Mami Wata. They are the guardians of the medicines of Sande/Bondo, and shrine sculptures often depict a female-headed coiled snake or a female head and neck encircled by a snake (Phillips 1995:146, Fig. 7.6). Wall paintings of Tingoi/Njaloi sometimes show her as a serpent-fish with a human head adorned by elegantly arranged and luxuriant hair.“ Page 64.
Sometimes, she surfaces the rivers to possess individuals, empower them, and continue the ancestral bloodline. Those possessed are often female. Offerings and sacrifices from locals are left in the river as a way of redirecting her possession – those inflicted can experience convulsions, as she appears in dreams. Some become priestesses of the Mama Wata cult.
Sowei/Nowo headdress, depicting the coiling snake
From: The Fowler Museum, UCLA
Date: Late 19th Century
Materials: Wood and Pigment
Place of Origin: Sierra Leone
'Mami Wata' Shrine Figure
1950s–1960s.Wood, pigment, metal, mixed media; 87.6cm (34½")
Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University 1994.3.9; L2007.63.1
The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche
Karmic traces manifest in dreams and therefore become replicated in the physical world through this transferal of consciousness. As stated by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, the writer of the book The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep (1998):
“Although this example focuses on karma on the psychological level, karma determines every dimension of existence. It shapes the emotional and mental phenomena in an individual’s life as well as the perception and interpretation of existence, the functioning of the body, and the cause and effect dynamism of the external world. Every aspect of experience, however small or large, is governed by karma. The karmic traces left in the mind are like seeds. And like seeds, they require certain conditions in order to manifest. Just as a seed needs the right combination of moisture and light and nutrients and temperature in order to sprout and grow, the karmic trace manifests when the right situation is encountered. The elements of the situation that support the manifestation of the karma are known as the secondary causes and conditions.” Page 28
The importance of dream yoga or dream practice in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition emphasises the dream space as a site for experimentation to test and trail out potential traumas, triggers and karmic seeds. By tackling them in this space, one can build the resilience and stamina to deal with them in the physical world. Karma is, therefore, training, dreams are the training ground, and the dreamer is the student. The body is an archive storing daily patterns, habits and karmic residue from the past and present; sometimes, these are from our ancestors or conditioned by society. Rinpoche calls this the “Kunzhi namshe” (page 32), an archive of this consciousness stored in the body. Some karmic residues or information can become blockages, leading to somatic illness or some kind of resistance. Through dream yoga, the aim is to unlock and let go out of these fragmented programs to become more expansive, so these locks don’t become reactionary in the material world. Dream yoga is essentially a healing practice that aids the disappearance of karmic seeds through discipline and daily/nightly awareness. The final aim of enlightenment would be to have no dreams at all. ~The karmic aim
In the Buddhist tradition, ‘Bardo Yoga’ is the preparation of death (the most famous Tibetan practice) through lucid dreaming. The dream participant can prepare for the in-between state of living and dying. Karmic traces left in dreams form clues, indicating potential fears and traumas for the future. The lucid dream therefore, becomes an experimental site to test out nightmares, understand one's limitations, and to train the dream body/participant to combat these fears.
‘Dream yoga’ is a cultivation technology that is similar to activating the Kundalinī energy (the inner heat in the body).
According to Michele Stephen, in her essay The Yogic Art of Dying, Kundalinī Yoga and the Balinese Pitra Yadnya (2010), Stephen discusses the relationship between Laya Yoga (Kundalinī Yoga) and possession, body and spirit. The dead body is a proxy/vessel to be animated through the dreaming body or in yogic practice.
“Thus it seems evident that in the pitra yadnya, the Brahmana priests, at least, are employing a form of yoga on the behalf of the deceased – and it is similar, or linked, to Kundalinī yoga.“ - Page 431
Releasing Kundalinī back into the world, similar to waking up from a dream or seeking consciousness again.
“When the yogi wishes to return to normal consciousness, the Kundalinī must be directed back through the six cakra in descending order, thus bringing the material world back into being. At the approach of death, the yogi can use the same techniques to leave the body and achieve liberation (Woodroffe 1974:411, 280-1). Essentially, Kundalinī yoga involves a process of dissolution (laya) whereby the embodied soul (jīva/atman) is returned to the original unity from whence it came.” - Page 437
These acts of initiation/turning on and off resemble the process of the lucid dream; Stephen also notes on the elements involved in ritual and death; water, fire and air.
“When Kundalinī moves up through the cakra, a reversing of the process of emanation takes place, so that earth is dissolved back into the tattva from which it emanated, that is earth into water, water into fire, fire into air, and air into ether (Woodroffe 1974:241-2)”. Page 436
The Ruskin School of Art, Creative Writing Dissertation 2020: Oil and Melancholia
Supervised by Jonathan Miles (The Royal College of Art)