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Formations of Ritual

Colonial and Anthropological Discourses on the Sinhala Yaktovil

1994
Author:

David Scott

Formations of Ritual

Yaktovil is an elaborate healing ceremony employed by Sinhalas in Sri Lanka to dispel the effects of the eyesight of a pantheon of malevolent supernatural figures known as yakku. Scott’s investigation of yaktovil and yakku within the Sinhala cosmology is also an inquiry into the ways in which anthropology, by ignoring the discursive history of the rituals, religions, and relationships it seeks to describe, tends to reproduce ideological-often, specifically colonial-objects. “A challenging work that is on the one hand a fine descriptive ethnography of a Sri Lankan ritual and on the other hand an examination of the presuppositions that went into the construction of 'demonology' in Sri Lanka. It will, I am sure, provoke a vigorous debate on the nature of ethnographic writing.” --Gananath Obeyesekere, Princeton University

Yaktovil is an elaborate healing ceremony employed by Sinhalas in Sri Lanka to dispel the effects of the eyesight of a pantheon of malevolent supernatural figures known as yakku. Scott’s investigation of yaktovil and yakku within the Sinhala cosmology is also an inquiry into the ways in which anthropology, by ignoring the discursive history of the rituals, religions, and relationships it seeks to describe, tends to reproduce ideological-often, specifically colonial-objects. “A challenging work that is on the one hand a fine descriptive ethnography of a Sri Lankan ritual and on the other hand an examination of the presuppositions that went into the construction of 'demonology' in Sri Lanka. It will, I am sure, provoke a vigorous debate on the nature of ethnographic writing.” --Gananath Obeyesekere, Princeton University

A notable contribution to the already distinguished field of the anthropology of Sinhala Buddhism. Simultaneously, it vigorously engages the currently approved assumptions of anthropological theory. A serious exploration of the possibility of a self-reflective ethnography.

Partha Chatterjee

Yaktovil is an elaborate healing ceremony employed by Sinhalas in Sri Lanka to dispel the effects of the eyesight of a pantheon of malevolent supernatural figures known as yakku. Anthropology, traditionally, has articulated this ceremony with the concept metaphor of "demonism." Yet, as David Scott demonstrates in this provocative book, this use of "demonism" reveals more about the discourse of anthropology than it does about the ritual itself. His investigation of yaktovil and yakku within the Sinhala cosmology is also an inquiry into the ways in which anthropology, by ignoring the discursive history of the rituals, religions, and relationships it seeks to describe, tends to reproduce ideological-often, specifically colonial-objects.
To do this, Scott describes the discursive apparatus through which yakku are positioned in the moral universe of Sinhala, traces the appearance of yakku and yaktovil in Western discourse, evaluates the contribution of these figures and this ceremony in anthropology, and attempts to show how the larger anthropology of Buddhism, in which the anthropology of yaktovil is embedded, might be reconfigured. Finally, he offers a rereading of the ritual in terms of the historically self-conscious approach he proposes.
The result points to a major rethinking of the historical nature not only of the objects, but also of the concepts through which they are constructed in anthropological discourse.

David Scott teaches in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago.

Formations of Ritual

David Scott teaches in the department of anthropology at Columbia University.

Formations of Ritual

A notable contribution to the already distinguished field of the anthropology of Sinhala Buddhism. Simultaneously, it vigorously engages the currently approved assumptions of anthropological theory. A serious exploration of the possibility of a self-reflective ethnography.

Partha Chatterjee

A challenging work that is on the one hand a fine descriptive ethnography of a Sri Lankan ritual and on the other hand an examination of the presuppositions that went into the construction of 'demonology' in Sri Lanka. It will, I am sure, provoke a vigorous debate on the nature of ethnographic writing.

Gananath Obeyesekere Princeton University

“Scott’s critiques of colonial demonology and cultural essentialism are devastating, sensitively observed, skillful in its use of sources, and theoretically engaged.” The Journal of Asian Studies