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7 - From Individual Act To Social Agency In San Trance Rituals

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Chapter Summary

This chapter provides a practice-oriented approach to ritual. The author's point of departure is the ethnography of San trance dancing, something that non-Africans have always identified not only as being different – or even strange – but also as being a particularly striking instance of non-agency. The trance or medicine dance of Khoisan-speaking groups in southern Africa – mostly so-called Bushmen or San groups – has attracted considerable attention because European observers found it so strikingly different and thus, in their opinion, worthy of investigation. The perspective suggested here is not one of measuring the history of individual agents interfering with the seemingly static forms of collective trance rituals but a history of trance dances as a succession of events in which cooperative projects unfold. These projects vary to the extent that they involve 'play', 'entertainment', 'healing', 'trance' and increasingly even 'commercial enterprise'.

Keywords: Bushmen; individual act; San trance rituals



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