Anthropology: principles of human organization

Table of Content


Kilma’s Funeral Casino is a study of the Thai-Buddhist enthused depiction of death and of the power of the corpse in different contexts, reaching from the local to the global, from an account of Buddhist village funeral rites and the massacre of students on the streets of Bangkok to the mechanical presentations of the images of death in the media. “The Buddhist meditation method known as “asubha kammaṭṭhāna” is a method that is based on the deliberate focus on death, the rotting of the corpse and the revoltingness of single body parts in various states of decay”. (Patrice Ladwig 2003) The year long practice requires the Buddhist Monks and Nuns to visualize gruesome and gory images like that of rotting corpses and body parts from images and photographs taken of mutilated bodies and autopsies which are kept in the temples as tools for meditation.


Bucaeille gives a powerful and moving account of three young friends and their lives and the circumstances around them and how these circumstances shape their personalities, she writes about three young teenagers who are forced into the most enduring conflict in the Middle East, and utilizes their life stories to relate the conditions of the Palestinian people. Laetitia Bucaille for decades lived in the Occupied Territories for months at a time, and spent time talking to the three young Militia Men of Shebab who have been given the aliases of Sami, Najy and Bassam and also other young men involved in the initifida.They were raised during the first initifida and were forced to join the second due to circumstances. The result is a personal yet hard edged portrayal of daily life in the West Bank and Gaza from the mid-1980s to today.

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Bucaeille relates how In times of intense political rivalry and social disturbance the tendency of a society to think in contrasting terms  of “we” with “they” adds to undesirable inclination towards placing blame for hardships and anxieties to others.


Bucaeille has tried to give the account of a whole nation by relating the story of three people, though she spent decades in the occupied territory observing the situation, her text does not give a comprehensive account of the everyday life of the Palestinian people mainly because her text focuses on the social institutions and the Middle East conflict whatever details about everyday life or customs and habits are given are portrayed through the stories of the three protagonist for example in the first chapter as Sami, Najy and Basssam go up to the hill to attack the Israeli soldiers  and Sami gets a call from his girlfriend on the phone or the description of Sami’s room as any other normal teenagers room “where he lived with a bed, a  television, a computer, arm chairs, a coffee table and a few pieces of furniture”. The three friends represent the daily life Palestinians youth lead which often involved imprisonment at a young age, Bucaeille describes how Israeli jails were a place where young men were motivated by the leaders on the intifida to join their cause.


According to Bucaeillie’s account the Palestinian youth due to circumstances around them grow up believing strongly in the Palestinian cause and from very early on join various organizations supporting their cause. As the cause is related to religious beliefs strong passions develop for it. Palestinians don’t believe that the Jewish state has a right to exist and this belief is the root cause for the resistance and the social institutions formed to oppose the Israeli occupation.


No text about a Palestinian society can overlook the occupation of Israelite and it is this occupation that has the most effect on social institutions of the Palestinian people, most obvious reason for the resistance of the Israeli occupation is its disregard for the welfare of the resident Palestinian population. From the year 1967, the Palestinian people of Gaza and other Israeli occupied territories have been ignored when it comes to independence of any sort or human rights, they are not treated as equal citizens, they have been subjugated in every way possible be it economical or social, even their land and property has been confiscated by the Israeli army. They are not given any representation or any help from the Israeli government. The living standards of the Palestinians are a sorry state, neither healthcare nor education is provided for them of the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been deprived of autonomy and the substantial civil rights enjoyed by Israeli citizens. Their economic development has been subdued, their assets placed under Israel’s power and, perhaps worst of all, their land has been gradually taken away. They are taxed without actual representation, and scanty government funds have resulted in poor education and health services. All these atrocities committed by Israel are disguised as lawful which id the reason why Israel gets away with it. Still few Palestinians have chosen for life somewhere else, having a preference to think of their connection to the land in the good quality of sam’ud which means steadfastness. As the rate of taking over the Palestinian lands and settlements by the Israelis increased under the Likud governments, their disputes rose. The Israeli military reacted with force, continuing the speed of captivity and exile of Palestinians, while using fatal means against young demonstrating Palestinians. The conflict in 1981-82 in which over forty Palestinians were killed was a indication to the more widespread protests of the Intifada (1987-1993) when resistance to Israeli occupation was expressed not only by daily protests and throwing stones at the Israeli soldiers, but also by economical means such as, non-payment of taxes, and refusal to buy  Israeli products.


 Buddhism is the major religion in Thailand and from all the different school of thought in Buddhism Theravada is the dominant one. Although it has gone under some transformations such as intermingling of the Chinese religion or the integration of old beliefs and more traditional forms of The Buddhist architecture of Thailand is similar to that in other Southeast Asian countries, particularly Cambodia and Laos, with which Thailand shares cultural and historical heritage.


Kilma relates the story of his father-in-law’s death and the subsequent gathering of people for the casino in the house to describe the customs and habits of the Thai people.

Mauss says “When you give a gift, implicit in the giving of the gift is an expectation of return in time a reciprocal obligation to continue the cycle of exchange”. (Patrice Ladwig 2003).  Kilma writes gift giving is a symbol for exchanging relationships at a given time. He writes about other beliefs regarding gift at the local level In Chapter 3, Kilma writes about the systems in Buddhist state and what exchanges are going on in the family during the funeral in reference to the kind of relation the people had with the deceased, some people who showed up had a positive relationship to the late and there were those who felt they had a debt to him. This custom also applies to the gift relations between the living and the dead if the act of kindness is not returned or recognized, they are at risk for vengeance from the spirit of the deceased. The way that Kilma presents these relations and exchanges between the living and the dead is an objective and substantial way and is reasoned according to what Roseman writes about the socio centric self which says that relationships continue even after death; these relationships need to be handled and discussed because even they will have results.


 Kilma writes “For change to come, it seems, someone must die. Only catastrophe can work the magic of necromancy on history…the revolting history of sacrifice never works out the way people intend it”. (Alan Kilma. 2002: pg231)

He writes about the changes in society in a global, neo liberal period, in terms of how relationships are valued, what is valued in the market, what images are presently in use, even though these changes are taking place, there are still factors which remain constant like the more traditional associations with others and relationships. Kilma also writes about issues of the Western society such as the global economy and the various organizations concerned with it. He centers on these themes and these themes allow the reader to view the text with a broader perspective. He does not give accounts of individual situations instead he focuses on the larger perspectives and makes his point in terms of relationships between various nations and the impact of these relationships on the economy.


Bucaille, author of Growing up Palestinian focuses her ethnographic awareness on three young men from Nablus who grew up throughout the first intifada and became outstanding fighters in the second. Using the experiences of Bassam, Sami, and Najy as a persistent criterion, she aims to “explain the tilt away from the peace process toward the implacable logic of war” that sets a part Palestine’s latest rebellion.  Presenting such an account is no small task, but Bucaille has a fine understanding of the related political, historical, social, and economic issues to describe the situation effectively. The excellence of her thematic study is the reason why she manages to give the reader such a comprehensive account of the Palestinian society through the individual stories of three young men allows her to make the most of the personal stories she writes about. She sets her novel in the time of the first Intifida which is crucial to the plot and the narration. In addition to the high levels of popular recruitment, she argues, that the rebellion was a seething blend of internal cultural class and other social conflicts. These separations put the progressively more powerful Shibab meaning young men in Arabic “who had nothing to lose” on a conflict course with the middle and upper classes, “who needed to survive the devastating consequences of Israeli repression” (Bucaielle 2004. pg25). Early encounters of protests and detention led Bassam, Sami, and Najy to form their own fortified cell in 1991. Almost instantly after forming their organization, they came under attack by Israeli military intelligence and ultimately deported to Jordan in 1992 after surviving a four-day cordon at al-Najah University.

As the intifada died down, the three youths end up in Baghdad, paradoxically enjoying a freedom they never had known under Israeli occupation. The book mainly investigates the above mentioned “tilt” toward aggression in the background of the “new containment” that Israel has slowly forced on Palestinian communities (Bucaielle, 2004 p. 84). As the uneven economic truths created by Israel’s security plan materialized, and with Israel’s policy of “repression-by-anticipation” (Bucaielle, 2004 p. 121) providing an additional thrust, the shibab faced a bleak choice: leave the country or once again be a part of the progressively more brutal struggle against the Israeli occupation. Here Bucaille gives a susceptible discussion of suicide bombings, proposing that such an occurrence can only be made clear by mentioning the social and political surroundings that create them. In this case, she argues that, seemingly illogical violence is still active due to “simple pragmatism” (Bucaielle, 2004 p. 136).But mostly the violence continues due to a deep-rooted anger, and an apparent lack of effectual planned options. The second intifada thus appears as a guide for all the basically unconstructive developments of the 1990s such as the continued structural violence, a failing association between young people and their leaders, the escalation of gangsters and fraud, Bucaille’s auxiliary, journalistic approach avoids many customary markings of scholarly work, merging hard-bitten vignettes and clear-cut but perceptive investigation, the mixed nature of Bucaille’s venture does contain definite problems for example the sequence of events doesn’t always flow as liberally as it should, and the periodic advancement gives up the latent benefits, which would be a  constant look at a certain individual’s life story. In addition, the lack of any discussion of the author’s own position and method often leaves one in doubt about whether Bucaille actually observed the vignettes or whether she is merely relating first or even secondhand information. On the other hand, Growing up Palestinian accomplishes its twofold goal of representing the second intifada and exemplifying the uneven lives of the intifada generation.


Kilma says his method is narrative ethnography, a creation due to meditation, in actual context Kilma has been very strongly involved with the people he writes about. He also lived with Buddhist monks and experienced the type of death meditation that he writes about. Although his book in not an easy read, the author competently moves back and forth between a characteristic and even a poetic style (“that incense burned for only a short time, and chanting sounds passed away as vibrating molecules in the air dissipated their clusters of pulsation into the vast expanse of the atmosphere” (Alan Kilma 2002 pg51) and rather radical prose (“only the flies can get through the circle of people surrounding pieces of skin, blood and bones left behind like road kill.(Patrice Ladwig 2003) One faction has a piece of brain sitting atop a block of ice, with a makeshift incense burner made from a plastic bottle placed beside it” (Alan Kilma 2002 pg135). Copied excerpts of texts of television commercials emphasize the irregular accord of the argued dissimilarities of death. At first the weak and feeble connections between different accounts of death are quite baffling but as the books progresses one comes to know the connections between them which are not obvious at first Although, the connections are either vague or unidentifiable and this makes the book very hard to read, the text does have some interesting point of views to offer. The text does not provide a clearly defined or structured ethnography of peaceful or upsetting rural life and Buddhism’s role in Thai cultural representations of death which can initially be disappointing. But the fact that a different Thailand is portrayed one which has been affected by capitalism and political instability and the continuation of old belief systems makes up for the lack of details about Buddhism in Thai culture. Overall, Kilma echoes not only on the importance of death and basis for political change in the neo-liberal world, but also emphasizes the need for an “ethical” struggle for political independence. One must realize that death has a vital role in these developments and that it is not, a harmful phenomenon. Kilma associates himself within the latest worldwide exchange of anthropology, and he as an author of this text avoids the rather customary methods of the “economy of merit” (Alan Kilma 2002) and presents new approaches into the characteristics of the sharing of values among the living and among the dead. According to Kilma this is the way the story of the deceased should be told and perhaps is the best gift that we can give to the dead


Both these texts are centered on death and violence though both the authors have very different approaches and write about different kind of circumstances the Funeral Casino opens up a new direction for the study of death, not only in Thai contexts, but it is also applicable to political activities as a whole. The speculative structure used by Alan Kilma presents new points in Thai studies if not anthropology as a whole, While French political scientist Laetitia Bucaille competently plots a course between worldwide level political analysis and individual human stories. The result is an enthralling account that takes us well past unoriginal perspectives, taking us to the deep social and political disagreements that have shaped Palestinian society. Both authors have tried to present an insight into two very different societies where death plays a constant part in one way or another. While Kilma succeeds in painting a more detailed picture about the Thai Buddhist Monks with a completely new angle he fails when it comes to making connections about the different fields of death and providing details of cultural influence of the Buddhist monks on the Thai people, Bucaeille gives a passionate account of the youth of Palestine and their part in the Middle East conflict managing to create the right connections between the Middle east conflict on the whole, the people involved it and its various causes and effects.



Bucaeille, Laetitia (2004) Growing Up Palestinian. New Jersey. Published by Princeton University Press

 Kilma, Alan (2002). The Funeral Casino: Meditation Massacre and exchange with the dead in Thailand. New Jersey. Published by Princeton University Press

(Used this book as well so cited it )

Patrice Ladwig (2003) the Funeral Casino: Meditation, Massacre, and Exchange with the Dead in Thailand Journal of Buddhist Ethics V. 10. Copyright 2003 by Journal of Buddhist Ethics

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