Reflection 2

In, “Rocks, Walks, and Talks in West Africa, Guertz describes the Anlo-Ewe and how they use their senses. Guertz analyzes traditonal views on the senses and how certain Anlo experiences fall outside of western comprehension. One example is “sesetonume, which is the sensations your mouth feels while talking and anything else your mouth may feel (Guerts 182)

As someone who recently, (within the past 3 months) had all 4 of their “Wisdom” teeth removed, all at once, I can totally relate to feeling funny sensations in my mouth as I tried to adjust and recover from my surgery. Of course I was also stoned out of my mind from all the heavy duty narcotics and pain medications they put me on but that’s another story. It was not fun to be reduced to eating nothing but scrambled eggs, Jello, Ice Cream and Boost shakes for the first couple of days. Then having to rinse my mouth out 3 times a day with a foul mixture of salt and baking soda for the next 2 weeks (my teeth never had been shinier or whiter though!) had me cursing “sesetonume.”And when I finally could enjoy a proper burger, multiple BURGASMS were experienced and that first recovery burger was the best burger I have ever had in my life.

I found it interesting that the Anlo considered rocks to have spiritual qualities, but from what little I know of Islam, I believe that the prophet Mohammad ascended to heaven on a giant rock—and of course the 10 commandments were made of rock tablets, and Jesus Christ was covered with a giant rock after death and yet, according to Christian Legend, still managed to rise up from the dead as if nothing had happened 3 days after being crucified. So clearly, rocks have sacred meaning for many different religions.

The Classen article, “The Breath of God”, describes scents within the Jewish-Christian framework and how scent used to be historically. Christians believed that those individuals that were sanctified would have the scent of God’s breath and their scent would signify the presence of God near them (Claseen 36). Most often the smell of God’s breath would be associated with saints and others close to the church at the time of their death or shortly after (Classen 37).

Smells can have both natural and supernatural qualities, and God’s breath was the smell of ambrosia, so pleasing smells were associated with God (Classen 44). Individuals that wanted to smell holy would often burn incense or perfumes during First Communions, Christening’s, Weddings and Funerals.

Hell and evil is of course associated with the smell of filth and dirt, so Lucifer Satan is usually described as reeking of sulfur, excrement and rotting flesh (Classen 48).

Classen and Howes main thesis in “Museum as a Sense Scape” is that since items are multi-sensory, it is virtually impossible for any individual who is an outsider to another culture to completely understand the significance of an artifact in that culture without first trying to understand how people from that culture use their senses to interact with the object in question (Classen & Howes 217-9).

Museums are often full of artifacts and materials that were literally stolen from peoples grave sites. And in the case of ancient Egyptian’s and “Bog People” even their physical mummified bodies are put on display, evil curses be damned!

Museums like the Royal Ontario Museum perpetuate power and misrepresentation. Even at a reduced $15 per adult (down from $24 per adult), the ROM is priced out of the reach of many Toronto families—as with 2 adults that is $30, then 2 kids is another $24, for a grand total of $54 for a one time visit to a museum. When a Season Pass at Canada’s Wonderland is around $60, and when Wonderland offers a much greater sensory experience, it is no wonder why the only people who frequent museums tend to be rich old white people with too much time on their hands, or students.

When Museums display other people’s historical objects they are pushing their own ideas of why a particular object is important, and most often the cultural group that the museum “borrowed” the objects from usually do not benefit in any way from having their materials put on display.

This is why I prefer to avoid museums and engage more in participatory cultural experiences and one of the greatest experiences of my life was being selected to attend a 5 week long French Language Learning Bursary in Jonquiere Quebec, and as part of the program, I got to live in a very Francophone community, attend classes where everything was conducted in French, and extra-curricular activities such as bowling, mini-golf and Whale Watching on Lake Tadousac were all done in French.

At the end of the 5 weeks I felt like I could actually conduct a semi intelligent basic conversation in French, as literally all of my senses were attuned to French as I heard French daily, and listened to French radio. I watched French TV, French Movies and read French newspapers and magazines. I ate French cuisine, tasted and drank awesome French wines and smelled my fair share of French perfume as lucky for me there were 4 girls for every guy on the exchange that year. All experiences that one does not get to experience in a boring University French class where all one does is nit-pick grammar, and conjugate verbs endlessly.

I think this is where Education has failed miserably in the past and even now, most non-science courses only ever utilize 2 of the 5 senses, sight and hearing. Why in English do we not act out literature? Or why not smell or taste or touch objects from a historical period in our history classes? Why is it that once we get out of Kindergarten it is expected that learners should abandon most of their sensorium to focus on learning with only our eyes and ears? Is that practical? Is that wise? I would argue that such a learning system is completely sensory-challenged.


About mriceanthropologist

Michael Rice is an Anthropology student at York University. He is a heavy metal fan who enjoys rocking out to Black Sabbath, Slayer, Slipknot, and Iron Maiden.

Posted on October 11, 2012, in Senses Course. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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