Accepted Paper:

Primordial beings and multiple realities: moments of ritual ambiguity in North Vanuatu  


Carlos Mondragon (El Colegio de México)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the evocation of primordial beings - essentially asocial and prehuman entities - during one of the key ceremonial rituals of the Torres Islands (N Vanuatu). In this context, they simultaneously stand apart from the local social world at the same time as they appear to be incorporated into a theoretically incestuous relation. I suggest that the explanation lies both in the multiple nature of reality (local ontologies) as well as recent historical transformations to Torres kinship and morality.

Paper long abstract:

During one of the most important ceremonies of transformation in the Torres Islands (North Vanuatu), a kind of primordial, and therefore prehuman and presocial, entity briefly materialises and seems to take on a role that does not easily fit into the highly controlled system of social relations: it is neither living nor dead, which is the primary condition for all participants within the local relational horizon. I take this as a point of departure for an exploration into the multiple nature of local spirit and human worlds, and suggest that there is a form of multiplicity at play in the manner that people relate to the various entitites that populate their cosmos. This multiplicity accounts for apparent ambiguities, seemingly part of a long-lived set of principles, but I argue that it has to be approached through the backdrop of the historically changing nature of kinship, morality and ritual power in the Islands. The overall intention is to produce an outline for understanding existential principles (local ontologies) as contingent phenomena, both in historical as well as immediate senses, that allow for the coming together of different entities from multiple realities at specific junctures.

Panel W053
Shifting ontologies and contingent agencies