I”m back from chilly New Haven, CT with a head full of ideas. The annual Anthropology of Consciousness conference was a blast, providing fascinating ethnographic reports, experiential research and some intriguing new perspectives of the role of consciousness in anthropology. Luckily there was a great Irish pub to help with the consolidation of this information after hours. So over the next week, I will report on my personal highlights of the conference in a series of posts.
Today, let me start with the vampire children.
Anthropologist Ruth Toulson shared her ethnographic work about “spirit loss” of children in Chinese-speaking communities in Singapore. Children described as having loss of vitality, hazy focus, and social isolation are on the increase, paralleling increased joblessness, poverty and fractured families.
The children are considered to be a family curse, pitied openly but also feared. Toulson suggests that these vampire children are an inversion of the cultural role of children as ancestral protectors. Their closeness to the other realm, especially in infancy, imbues children with ritual powers and responsibility. But with this vampiric trend, children are tabooed further, and forced to stay away from the ancestral altars. In essence, this loss of vitality is robbing communities not only of their children’s future but their connection to the past.
Toulson also noted that children mortality rates are low in Singapore, so the increase of vampire children cannot simply be explained away as a cultural justification for children’s ill health. This is the kind of comment that I appreciate at SAC; an unwillingness to automatically reduce psychological and sociological phenomena to material conditions.
Next time: Andean complementary dualism and San Pedro ceremonialism.