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Food, Ritual and Society (A Study of Social Structure and Food Symbolism Among the Newars)

Food, Ritual and Society (A Study of Social Structure and Food Symbolism Among the Newars)
$34.40$43.00  [ 20% off ]
Item Code: NAN669
Author: Per Lowdin
Publisher: Mandala Book Point, Nepal
Language: English
Edition: 1998
Pages: 246
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
weight of the book: 230 gms

In the spring 1979 Mary Douglas visited the department and held some inspiring lectures on her research on food and culture. Shortly thereafter, I wrote a seminar paper on the ritual expression of social boundaries among the Hindus of Nepal. In 1980 the Swedish Council for Planning and Coordination of Research decided to give priority to research concerning the cultural aspects of food, and in the autumn 1980 Professor Anita]acobson-Widding asked me if I wanted to join a project designed to compare the relationship between food and culture in three different cultures. My part would be to explore the complexities of Hindu food culture and its relation to social organization. This resulted in a request for grants for field work from the Swedish Council for Research in the Humanities and the Social Sciences, and in a series of seminars with representatives from the Department of Nutrition and the Department of Economic History, who were also designing similar projects. I am grateful to the Council for Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences for the generous grants for field work, and to Professor Anita Jacobson-Widding for her inspiring guidance as project leader.

I would like to extend my thanks to Mrs. Sarcha Maharjan, the embers of her household, and particularly her son Durga Bahadur Maharjan who was a faithful friend and an invaluable assistant during the field work. I would also like to thank Prem Bahadur Kangsakar for his hospitality and all he taught me about Newari culture. I am also grateful to Siddhartha Man Tuladhar and his wife, Dr. Suman Kamal Tuladhar who helped me translate some Newari works into English, and for their interest and constructive criticism of my work.

I am deeply grateful to His Majesty's Government of Nepal for granting me a research visa. I also wish to extend my thanks to Director Shanta Bahadur Gurung at the Tribhuvan University's Research Division, and to Krishna Man Pradhan, for their assistance, both when I first arrived in Nepal and throughout the field work. I would also like to thank Dr. Pandey for granting me affiliation to the Center of Nepalese and Asian Studies. I am also indebted to Nirmal Man Thuladhar, at CNAS, for many interesting conversations on Newari culture.

In Sweden, Dr. Claes Corlin has provided invaluable support, and given generously of his time in discussing and offering comments and critisms of my manuscript throughout the entire process of writing Dr. Kai Arhem has offered encouragement and constructive and intellectually stimulating criticism. I also like to thank, Dr. Hugh Beach, Jan Ovesen, Professor Peter Schalk, Dr. Sven Cederroth, Erik af Edholm, Leif Asplund, and Juan Carlos Gumucio, who have read earlier drafts and offered valuable comments, though, of course, I alone am responsible for any faults that may mar the discourse. I am also indebted to Marie lark Nelson who has corrected the English. At last I like to thank my wife Elisabeth for her support and interest in my work, and for her devotion to Nepal which has become as a second home for both of us.



The study of food culture has been subject to increasing attention in anthropology. Hindu food culture has received particular attention, as the hierarchical caste system and its compartmentalization of society is reflected in the food habits, in the rules concerning purity and pollution, and with whom, according to custom, one may or may not eat what. Major works have been published by Eichinger Ferro-Luzzi, Dumont, Freed, Harper, Mayer, Marriot and Wiser.? Eichinger Ferro-Luzzi has described and analyzed food in south Indian ritual and found that food offerings constitute a kind of language for addressing the Gods. Mayer and Freed account systematically for who may or may not eat what with whom, in certain Hindu villages. Marriot has studied the transactional aspects of food in Hindu culture, pointing out how certain groups of castes are givers, while others are receivers. Harper has researched ritual pollution as an "integrator" of caste and religion in a Karnataka village and points out the significance of "respect pollution," e.g., how the acceptance of polluting foods marks ritual subordination. Wiser extensively documents the food culture of a north Indian Hindu village. Dumont constructed a matrix table, based on Mayer's data, which graphically showed the relations between caste and acceptance of food and drink. Indeed, presently it appears that every respectable field monograph on Hindu villages will have parts dedicated to the relationship between caste and food. There are also a number of studies n food in ancient India which show that considerable change has taken place over time; for example, the cow, now taboo as food, was once sacrificed and eaten. In the Nepalese field Paul-Ortner has analyzed food as a key-symbol among the Sherpa of Solu; Stone has inquired into food, hierarchy, and illness among Brahmans of the Trisul area; and Czarnecka has also related food to hierarchy in the same area, creating yet another of the by now classic matrixes on who, according to custom, mayor may not eat what with whom. There are also scattered references on food culture in many works dealing with Nepalese tribes and castes, and there are a number of works dealing with Newari food culture. The latter will be examined in chapter III.

The Purpose of the Dissertation

The purpose of this dissertation is to explore certain aspects of the symbolic significance of food in Newari society. I shall analyze the significance of certain foods and certain customs immediately associated with food in relation to the most important elements of Newar social structure. Thus, the purpose of the dissertation is two-fold: i) to distill the meanings (significations) of various foods in interactive contexts, and ii) to analyze the relationships of these foods and customs to the social structure of the Newars in order to understand their significance in the social context.

The word symbol is of Greek origin. Symbolon means contract, token, insignia, and a means of identification. "in its original meaning the symbol represented and communicated a coherent greater whole by means of a part."(Encyclopaedia Britannica 1974, vol. 17, p. 900) In this dissertation I adopt the following operational definition of symbol: a symbol is anything which "serves as a vehicle for a conception - the conception is the symbol's meaning."

Elements of Social Structure

With the term element of social structure I denote one of the categories that together make up the social fabric. The definitions of the elements discussed in this dissertation are emic: i.e., I have followed the Newars own classifications of caste (jati), kin, and other social categories of importance. The following elements of the social structure have been selected for study: caste (jati), house (hold) (chey), patrilineage (Phuki), married daughters (mhayemaca), affines (jilajan), religious associations (guthis), and the village elders (thakali) and headmen (nayemha). The elements may in some instances be divided into sub-categories; for instance, a household may consist of several nuclear families. Such sub- categories have been included in the discourse under the title where they seemed to have most relevance.


The elements of the social structure will provide the focal points for this dissertation. However, I want to point out here that this is largely an editorial issue. In real life the elements of the Newar social organization are not as easily separated. On the contrary, taking a "holistic" view it can be seen that they are distinct but also inseparable parts of a complex social fabric. Castes are made up of phukis; phukis are made up of households; and, all households have affines and are affines themselves in relation to other households -if not in the present, then in a past generation. Furthermore, the members of the guthis are householders. In terms of the significance of food items, this implies that what is relevant on the caste level may also be relevant for phukis and households, although that which is relevant on the household level need not be relevant, or significant, for the phuki or the castes in relation to other castes. In such cases I have treated the food item in question under the heading where it seemed to be most relevant.

Four methods have been used to obtain the data for the dissertation: i) participant observation, ii) interviews, iii) surveys, and iv) studies of the relevant literature. Participant observation and surveys have mainly been conducted in the Jyapu village Sunakothi. Which is located in the Lalitpur District south of Patan. Interviews have been conducted both in Sunakothi and in Kathmandu. The field work was conducted in two periods: February - December 1982 and August - December 1983. The interim was used to write up field notes and to generate questions for the re-entry into the field.



Chapter I Introduction 1
  Prologue 1
  The Purpose of the Dissertation 2
  Elements of social Structure 2
  Method 3
  A note on Transliteration 5
  The Dissertation's Disposition 6
Chapter II The Newars 9
  At the Indo- Tibetan Interface 9
  Religion and Social Organization 19
  The Newari Way of life 23
Chapter III Food in newari Culture 27
  On the importance of Food 27
  On the Classification of Food Culture 28
  Previous Research on Newari Food Culture 34
Chapter IV Caste and Food 45
  The Nawari Caste System 45
  Change in the Newari Caste System 48
  Hierarchy, Exclusion, and Inclusion 59
  Reflections of Caste and Hierarchy in city planning and the Architecture of the Newar House 71
  Summary 72
Chapter V The Household 73
  Daily Food and Cooking 77
  Relations Between Men and Women 80
  Wife, Husband, and mother-in-Law 82
  Seniors and Juniors 85
  Feasts and Guests 88
  Summary 96
Chapter VI Affines, Married Daughters and maternal Uncles 98
  Marriage and Divorce 98
  Exchange of food gifts 109
  The Mhayemaca: the Married Daughters 113
  Paju: the Maternal Uncle 115
  Summary 122
Chapter VII The Patrilineage 124
  Social Control 126
  Rituals of the Phuki 129
  Annual rites 129
  Life Cycle Rituals 135
  Summary 141
Chapter VIII The Guthis, the Thakali and Associations bases on Locality 142
  The Bal- kumari Guthi 149
  The Yathkali 152
  The Nayaemha 154
  The Sri Guthis 162
  Guthis in Bahals and other residential units 163
  Food in the Guthi System 164
  Summary 166
Chapter IX Summary and Conclusions 168
  Hierarchy Among Castes 168
  Food and the sociel order within the Caste 169
  Different Hierarchical Principal 173
  The Inner and the Outher 174
  Food Culture: a Language? 174
  The Meaning of Individual Food Items 175
  Food as Symbol 177
Appandix I Foods of Social and Ritual Significance 179
Appandix II The field Work 205
Appandix III Glossary 214
  Bibliography 220
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