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    Compare and Contrast of “Of Mules and Men” and “Balinese Cockfight”

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    The two ethnographies I chose to compare and contrast are Zora Neale Hurston excerpt from Of Mules and Men, it is an autoethnographic collection of African American folktales that anthropologist, Zora Neale Hurston collected herself that shares stories she gathered in two trips, one in Eatonville and Polk County, Florida and one in New Orleans. The second ethnography is by Clifford Geertz, Balinese Cockfight which displays his interpretation of cultures as an anthropologist addressing the meaning of the Balinease cockfights to the people of Bali. I will take a deeper look at the similarities and differences in the ethnographic approach: the customs, habits and beliefs identified by the authors in each particular culture, the focus of their observations in each environment and assumptions and value judgements I have made.

    Balinese people deeply detest animals and more specifically expressions of animal-like behavior like eating, they do it quickly and in private whereas in the excerpt from Zora Neale Hurston in Of Mules and Men, we see people come together and eat like they did with the gingerbread and chicken at the toe-party (Geertz, 1972;420) (Hurston, 1935;2). Another difference between the two would be that Of Mules and Men is written by a black woman whereas Balinese Cockfight is written by a white male which portrays different perspectives for the reader. An example of this we can see by the way Hurston interacts with others and her position in society as she is a well off anthropological writer coming back to her hometown where we see how people admire and look up to her, and her achievements (Hurston, 1935;1). A similarity between the two would be that in both ethnographies the writer starts out as outsider but later gets accepted and positionality then changes to an insider approach (Geertz, 1972;416).

    People are also more focused on cockfights in Bali compared to the socializing seen in the excerpt from Zora Neale Hurston in Of Mules and Men. From an outsider’s perspective the cockfights seem very violent, cruel and out of the ordinary (Geertz, 1972;414). It brings out brutality, narcissism, gambling, hierarchy rivalry, abundance of excitement and blood sacrifice. (Geertz, 1972;449). However it holds a deeper meaning for the men of Bali, to Balinese men, social tensions are represented through the cockfights, they identify with their cocks not only by seeing it as their ideal self, but by sharing their fears, hates and feelings towards other people (Geertz, 1972;420). People can never bet against a cock from their own kin, close kins and even villages, this shows their loyalties lie deeper than their immense passions (Geertz, 1972;437). Although looking in from the outside, the whole concept of cockfighting could seem bizarre, just like it did for the anthropologists that came to study Bali, however after they ran away with the local man and hid from the police when they could have just stayed and showed their papers, they became accepted and eventually saw the unity that cockfighting brings between the people of Bali (Geertz, 1972;416). Cockfighting channels aggression and rivalry into an indirect symbolic sphere of engagement. They display and take part in forming the social and cultural structure of the people of Bali which is exaggerated through the cockfights. Rituals such as the Balinese cockfight, are seen to be a form of text which can then be read. It is a society’s manner of speaking to itself about itself, and it is therefore of prime interest for anthropologists (Geertz, 1972;449).

    In Zora Neale Hurston excerpt from Of Mules and Men, chapter 1, we see Hurston is writing the narrative from her own point of view, therefore the reader is able to read Hurston’s thoughts as if she were the narrator of the fictional work. Geertz uses thick description, he pays attention to contextual detail in observing and explaining social meaning when conducting qualitative research. Exoticism of African American folk culture, Zora Neale Hurston carefully arranges her folktales and meticulously describes the contexts in which they were narrated to reveal complex relationships between race and gender amongst African Americans. We see the ethnography by the use of slang within the community and the way the neighbours come together to greet Hurston upon her return and later by all gathering at her house showing the unity amongst them (Hurston, 1935;1). However we do see the exploitation of women where they sell the women off at the toe-party even if the women are not that keen on it and how other men would ridicule others if they did not not find their choice of women attractive enough. Some men would even run away before treating their chosen woman. This shows the status and hierarchy of men and women in this particular culture and society (Hurston, 1935;15). It was at the same time that women of America had a lot less rights and were seen as inferior to men. While there was discrimminaion to women, black women were doubly disadvantaged. They mainly worked in low paying jobs like caring or cooking, as the economic depression reinforced the idea that well paying jobs were predominately for men and the correct place for women was seen to be at home. It’s for this reason that women could be taken advantage of and belittled by being sold at the toe-party.

    Of Mules of Men by Zora Neale Hurston and Balinease Cockfight by Clifford Geertz have a few differences like being written by different gendered and race writers, having different views on certain topics like eating in public, different priorities like socializing and sharing stories compared to taking part in the praised cockfights, different ethnographies identified in each and different writing narratives. However they do share a few similarities such as the positionality changing from an outsider to an insider approach, the unity amongst the community and the different reasoning for each and that in both ethnographies men are seen as more superior by the way they conduct themselves around women. We see the similarities and differences identified in our everyday lives thus making both Hurston and Geertz relevant in our modern day society.

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