Anthropologistsare interested in human cultures, societies and changing social situationswithin the world.
Psychology can be found amongst the varying social situationswhich anthropologists study; furthermore, what is of particular interest tovarious anthropologists is the study of psychoanalysis in relation to a varietyof cultures. Psychoanalysis is one of the major paradigms within psychology,which was founded by Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939) in Vienna. This is of interestto anthropologists worldwide as some question whether Freud’s theories aretruly universal, taking into consideration cultures other than those found inWestern Europe.Anthropologistssuch as Roger M. Keesing, have been particularly interested with thepsychodynamics of personality within an evolutionary perspective.
The questionof whether ‘psychoanalytic theories of the unconscious could illuminate custom,belief, and behaviour in non-Western societies’ is of key interest (Keesing,1997). Moreover, anthropologists have been interested in broadening the theoryof psychoanalysis to the point where it was no longer culture-bound, due tomany anthropologists being sceptical of Freud’s theories due to the limitedexperience he had, taking into account only the Viennese patients he wasexposed to. Some question whether this led him to create an overly simplisticmodel of the unconscious, and whether his theories such as the Oedipus Complex,can really be considered universal.
Anthropologists were particularlyinterested in Freud’s theories of the unconscious drives of sex, aggression andhunger; they analyse this theory further by trying to apply Freud’s referenceto sublimating and repressing these basic urges into symbols, to culturalcreations of art and religion. However, this aspect of his theory is seen asbeing partially wrong due to animals being believed to be social animals, andbeing ‘biologically programmed not simply to satisfy individual urges, but tolive in groups’ (Keesing, 1997). There are various anthropologists who see the consciousand unconscious divisions of Freud’s theory as an ‘extreme over simplificationof a vastly complex system’ (Keesing, 1997). Anthropologists were alsointerested in psychological development and social relationships as seenthrough the Oedipus and Electra Complex being applied to certain tribes in Africa.The Tallensi ofGhana were studied by anthropologists in relation to the Oedipus Complex, asfindings state that these people symbolise the Oedipus Complex in a unique andsocially acceptable way. Amongst the Tallensi there is a ritualization anddramatization of the tension between the parents and their children who willreplace them.
Within this cultural context the birth of the firstborn son, aswell as the firstborn daughter represent the end of ‘the uphill path of aperson’s life and the beginning of the downhill path leading to senility anddeath’ (Keesing, 1997). From the young age of around 5 years old, which is theage at which Freud says the Oedipus Complex begins to form, the firstborn sonis not allowed; to eat from the same dish as his father, wear his father’s capor tunic, carry his quiver, or use his bow, above all this he is also forbiddenfrom looking into his father’s granary. This progresses throughout thedevelopment of the child, eventually reaching a stage where father and soncannot meet in the entrance to the house compound once the son reaches adolescence.A parallelism can be seen between the firstborn daughter and the mother, as thedaughter is not allowed to touch the mother’s storage pot. Once the parentsdie, there is a ritual of the firstborn children to replace their deceasedparents. The children are expected to take the lead in mortuary rites, wherethe son is able to put on his dead father’s cap and tunic.
The firstborn son isalso led inside his late father’s granary by an elder carrying the dead man’sbow. This symbolism that the Tallensi have created could be seen as controllingthe sexual tension Freud describes in the Oedipus and Electra Complexes, thisseems to suggest that rather than repressing the tension, they accept andcontrol it in a culturally acceptable way. The Ndembu ofZambia have many ritual symbols, such as the ‘mudyi’ tree sap which is used ina variety of rituals and symbolises multiple ideas. ‘These multiple levels ofmeaning relate what is abstract and social with the “gut feelings” and emotionsof individuals related to their primary experience’ (Keesing, 1997).
This ideaof symbolism may trace back to Freud’s understanding of the unconscioussuppressing socially unaccepted behaviour and sublimating said behaviour insocially acceptable constructs. This may suggest that the multiple ritualsymbols used by the Ndembu of Zambia, are representative of the earlier people’sunconscious sublimation of certain taboos.