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Feast as a Mirror of Social and Cultural Changes

Feast as a Mirror of Social and Cultural Changes

Bożena Gierek, Wojciech Kosior (eds.), Feast as a Mirror of Social and Cultural Changes, Æ Academic Publishing, San Diego 2020.

“Feasting seems to be an inseparable element of peoples’—especially their collective—lives.
Moreover, it is “a primary, indestructible ingredient of human civilization; it may become sterile and even degenerate, but it cannot vanish” (Bakhtin 1984: 276).[…]
The phenomenon of the feast and its analysis provides exceptionally precious material for researching social and cultural changes, including the influence of urbanization on rural feasts. Therefore, it can be perceived as a mirror that reflects those changes.[…]
The proposed volume consists of original previously unpublished texts in which their Authors search for the answers to the following questions: How far have we gone astray from the primeval idea of celebrating the feast, from understanding tradition in terms of the Romanian historian of religion, Mircea Eliade, or the French sociologist, Émile Durkheim? Are there still any traditional—in the very meaning of the term—feasts? And if not—if they are invented (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1992)—why are they called “traditional”? What elements have changed and why? What has had the greatest impact on celebrating feasts? What are the new factors influencing the course of a feast’s celebration?[…]
The proposed volume meets the growing interest in intercultural comparison of social changes, especially in festivities. It enriches the empirical basis of accounts on festivities in general because it contains detailed case studies—mostly based on the authors’ own field research—from European, Asian, and African countries.[…]
The book is divided into three sections, i.e.: (1) Culture and Identity, (2) Ritual and Cultural Values, and (3) Culture and Policy. The first section contains four chapters. In the first one, as a mirror of social and cultural changes, Ewa Nowicka presents three Buryat ethnofestivals that are used by the Buryat elite “to build a modern, culturally unified Buryat nation” in order to oppose Russian infiltration and Western globalization. It is a process of reconstruction of Buryat ethnicity in which rediscovered fragments of old tradition are adopted to the Buryat’s “contemporary living conditions” taking a new form. The role of rediscovered tradition in strengthening identity is also the subject of the third chapter, in which László Mód traces the process of constructing local identities in agricultural communities in Hungary. Here, the social and political changes are mirrored in grape harvest feasts. In the second chapter, on the examples of the Swiss carnivals of Payerne and Lausanne, Monika Salzbrunn demonstrates how social structure and political issues, in these cases related to foreign residents, are mirrored in the feasts. She builds her analysis around performing self or the other(s). In the last chapter, Alīna Romanovska tackles the problem of cultural identity of young people in the multicultural crossborder environment of the city of Daugavpils (Latvia) in the context of diaspora festivals. Despite the endeavors of diasporas to preserve their own cultural traditions, the influence of globalization and the interests of consumer society have led to the creolization and hybridization of cultures. Young people prefer to participate in public rather than in diaspora events. Cultural purity is not important for them. As members of the future society, they welcome elements of other traditions in their lives. It is not hard to detect in such an attitude the influence of Latvia’s political past.
The second section of the book, in which ritual and cultural values are highlighted, contains four chapters. In the first one Kiyoshi Umeya shows the impact of modernization and globalization on the society of Jopadhola in Eastern Uganda, which is reflected in their feast of sending off the dead. As the author noticed, for financial reasons the feast has been shortened, condensed, and simplified. On the other hand, the funeral business has developed. The simplification of funeral rituals impinges on the relationship between the dead and the living, which has become a cosmological issue. All these changes have led to the undermining of the indigenous value system. Changes in the value system are also traced by Tatiana Minniyakhmetova, whose subject of research are two traditional Udmurt feasts that involve sacrificing domestic animals. As in the case of the African feast, also here the changes in the feasts reflect social and cultural changes, to which belong: a decrease in the number of family members followed by a smaller number of guests participating in the feasts; shifting the days of the celebration to the weekends, as well as shortening the duration of the feasts due to dispersed places of living of the family members and guests; alteration in the domestic food economy, e.g., in breeding animals and dishes served during the feasts. The latter influences rituals conducted during the ceremonies. Bożena Gierek, the author of the third chapter in this section, indicates a range of changes in the celebration of the local feast of Lajkonik (Hobby Horse) in Kraków (Poland), which are the result of social and cultural changes. She analyzes and compares the performances at different times, paying attention to such elements as: general display, the day of the feast, the attire of the performers, the requisites used during the celebration, the place of the feast (the route and the place of banqueting), the activities accompanying the feast, and the number of spectators and their behavior. In fact, none of them have withstood the test of the time. The author of the last chapter, Frédéric Armao, elaborates on the Irish feast of Bealtaine, in ancient times marking the beginning of summer, at the hill of Uisneach. One of the major events was a great assembly, hence it is the pivot of the chapter. A very thorough description and then comparison of the ancient and contemporary festivals enable us to see the differences in the celebrations and changes that Irish society has undergone.
The last section of the book, on policy interfering in culture, contains two chapters. In the first one, Marek Moroń presents the Muslim feast of Eid ul-Adha, which involves animal (cow) sacrifice, as a political instrument of manipulation and the promotion of hate and violence between the communities of Hindus and Muslims in Bengal. The author shows how political priorities that target religious feelings lead to the destruction of the peaceful cohabitation of different ethnic groups. The feast also mirrors changes in the issues that ignite conflict. Next to emotional and religious, economic issues have also emerged as triggers. In the second chapter of this section, Tigran Simyan and Ilze Kačāne present transformations of the New Year celebration in Armenia and Latvia. Celebration of New Year in Armenia and Latvia in the Soviet and then post-Soviet (after 1990) periods shows great influence of geo-political factors in two layers: Soviet inheritance—still quite strong in Armenia; and the re-establishment of national culture infused with Christian and old pagan elements. As a result, the feasting in Latvia has a hybrid character, whereas in Armenia it exhibits similarities with the modern Russian pattern. However, in both countries the celebration of the New Year has a family-social character; it is linked with the Christmas tree, parties, and presents, which was the groundwork of political and ideological feasts and festivals in the Soviet period.
The contributors are scholars who represent various international institutions and fields of research, and use different approaches and methodologies to study the subject of the feast. This publication is an opportunity to bring the results of their research together in one book. The volume contains chapters in which are presented various aspects of feasts, festivals, and festivities perceived as a mirror of social and cultural changes in the 20th and 21st centuries. It provides a unique and rich resource in the fields of culture, folklore, religion, anthropology, sociology, as well as politics and other cultural and social sciences.

“Introduction: Feast as a Mirror of Social and Cultural Changes” [Bożena Gierek]



“In the widest sense all of the essays deal with questions of identity in one way or another. Most of the papers are based on ethnographic research, with a keen awareness of historical processes of change, deriving no doubt in several cases from the long period of time during which the ethnography was carried out – Minniyakhmetova from 1980 to 2017, Nowicka from 1993 to 2014, Umeya from 1997 to 2017. Gierek’s introductory essay gives a lucid and wide-ranging overview of approaches to the study of festival.”

Prof. Diarmuid Ó Giolláin, University of Notre Dame, IN


“The thematic monograph devoted to feasts celebrated in various cultural circles and ethnic groups of the modern world is a very valuable proposal of a publication covering the global phenomenon of cultural changes. One of the advantages of the work under review is that authors of individual chapters take into account  both historical determinants of the cultural tradition and modern forms of celebration that can be captured in empirical research conducted by ethnologists and anthropologists of culture. […] The aim of the thematic monograph is to capture these changes that occur more or less spontaneously due to actions taken by people taking part in celebrations. The capturing of processes during their progress allows us to carry out comparative analyses. Thus, the contents of individual part and chapters of the work allow us to reach more general conclusions, which helps to establish the theory of cultural changes based on solid empirical grounds.”

Dr. hab. Halina Mielicka-Pawłowska, Jan Kochanowski University, Kielce, Poland

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