Comparing ritual worlds: Sacrifice and reciprocity in Melanesia and Mesoamerica

Here it is folks. For all of those who have been waiting to finally see some substance behind the grandiloquent hints at grand comparativism between both culture regions. Upcoming seminar talk for tomorrow (Thursday 5 March, Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas, UNAM):

Rituals of transformation and shifting ontologies:

Rethinking sacrifice and reciprocity in Mesoamerica and Melanesia

Carlos Mondragón (ColMex) & Johannes Neurath (INAH)


This paper offers a discussion about the plurality of ontological principles as manifested in key rituals of reciprocity and sacrifice in two different societies – namely, the Huichol of North West Mexico and the people of the Torres Islands in Maritime Melanesia. Our aim is to problematise the assumption that while ritual practices and regimes of value have been considered processual, fluid and diverse, they ultimately rely on stable value systems. Ontologies, by any other name. By analysing new ethnographic data regarding rituals of existential transformation – specifically, the vision quest of the Huichol and the tamate ceremony – in Mesoamerica and Melanesia, we arrive at the conclusion that the problem is not a diversity of ritual forms, but of principles of existence. Throughout the ritual sequence, the participants in these events generate contrasting, and indeed incompatible, models of sacrifice (asymmetrical exchange) and idealised reciprocity (symmetrical exchange) that point to the open-ended and creative potential of the ontologies on which ritual action is grounded. The principle aim of the paper is to compare how two societies that draw on seemingly coherent “wholes” (Mesoamerican cosmologies, Melanesian principles of exchange) actually deploy multiple templates for ritual action which make manifest the contradiction of taking “ontology” for granted.



One Response to “Comparing ritual worlds: Sacrifice and reciprocity in Melanesia and Mesoamerica”

  1. Niku T'arhechu T'arhesï Says:

    Greetings Professor,

    Will it be possible to read the paper in its entirety? I’ve been bitten by the bug and know my sole remedy is to further explore the conceptual framework that you have outlined thus far, aside as an aspiring anthropologist I would like to examine how the professionals handle their duties.

    Niku T’arhechu

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