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Term of Maya in Lamb’s Ethnography

  • Updated February 8, 2021
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Lamb’s ethnography is an incredible insight into the lives of Indian women, their personhood, gender, body, kinship and the forces of culture. Lamb uses her insight into old age to highlight the perishability of the body and the cultural artefacts embodied within personhood. The multifaceted lens of aging is used in the book to help readers understand how social ties are tightened and loosened; bodies and gender transformed. “The ways the Bengalis in Mangaldihi used the body in their constructions of gendered social identities particularly illuminates this problem of the relationship between body and gender, partly because gendered bodily identities shifted for them in specific ways during their lives”. (Lamb, 1997:14).

In this case study however I will focus on the term used in Lambs ethnography “may”, “maya is a multivalent concept found in all Indian languages… maya refers to the nature of everyday” (Lamb, 1997:116). Other anthropologists have quoted maya as being “the experience of life itself” (Trawick, 1990:39). Maya not only consists of bodily ties, but also as emotional ties. “Persons see themselves as substantially part of and tied to the people, belongings, land and houses that make up their personhoods and lived-in worlds”. (Lamb, 1997:116).

Maya stuck out to me as a term that encapsulated every aspect of life and the body similar to the view of Synnott and Polhemus, “the body is both an individual creation, physically and phenomenologically, and a cultural product; it is personal, and also state property”. (Synnott, 1993). “The body as a surface upon which marks of culture and social structure are inscribed” (Polhemus, 1978). The body and maya are both unique to oneself but re-created and transformed via cultural transactions and symbols.

Using this key part of Lambs ethnography I will attempt to discuss how consumer practice surrounding the body is interrelated with either the loosening or tightening of ones maya. Understandings of maya and how persons are connected substantially with others result in the term maya. This connection and attachment becomes integral to what makes up each person in Lambs ethnography, this is because substance is what connects one and other in may. “By means of substantial transactions with other persons, such as through sex, childbirth, living together, feeding, touching, and exchanging words, people are thought to absorb and give out parts of themselves” (Lamb, 1997:280).

In the socio-semiotic body as soon as the body gains a discourse it becomes a product of values and exchanges. Maya within the body, is invested with either tightening or loosening ties, because of the abundance and strength of ties, maya can also be described as troubling or difficult “in fact maya creates problems whenever there will be separations or conflicting attachments” (Lamb, 1997:117). This links again with discourse seen within the socio-semiotic body. We use our body to perform, communicate and present idiomaticness to others, much like we see with the representation of maya in the ethnography being used to shore up cultural identities.

However in maya and the presentation of our bodies, others like to judge this as an object through the same activities we partake in such as communication, appearance, to create, cut or tighten this maya. Although maya and our bodies are completely unique to each person, I find like in other internationalist approaches maya can be compared to a body, both used as a subject and an object of action. Precisely this interactionist approach allows the body to convey meaning and communicate with other bodies and persons. Similarly maya is a system of signification just as the body is, “but the constitution of such meaning fully remains a product of human interaction, rather than a mere result of structural relations”.

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Term of Maya in Lamb’s Ethnography. (2021, Jan 17). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/term-of-maya-in-lambs-ethnography/

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