lisa monaghan

Beidelman (1981). The Nuer Concept of Thek and the Meaning of Sin

The purpose of this essay is threefold: (1) at the simplest level to examine a key term in the thought of an African people, the Nuer, a society of interest to anthropologists and others because through it Evans-Pritchard presented seminal ideas about understanding alien societies; (2) to explain an exotic concept while indicating the difficulties inherent in the translation of such notions into terms meaningful to us;(3) to touch upon what is meant by explanation in cultural anthropology. These are difficult tasks, and I doubt that readers will gain a clearer idea of how I advocate going about them by an extensive discussion of methodology per se. Instead, I suggest indirectly what useful anthropological explanation may be by expounding a deeper, implicit meaning to Nuer concepts. Such an exposition suggests principles of belief and feeling which the Nuer hold about a wide range of persons, beings, things, and acts which Evans-Pritchard himself declined to join together by any unifying theme other than the fact that the Nuer avoid all such phenomena. In doing this, I raise issues not explicitly discussed by Nuer themselves. That the Nuer do not do so need not mean that deeper meanings do not exist, but rather that these are so engrained that the Nuer take them for granted as the only way the world would be. Such analysis resembles methods required by linguists and philosophers in determining a metalanguage- methods about, yet beyond, the language analyzed. If I present such an interpretation correctly, it will be to the extent that I perform a two-way translation, opening my mind to a Nuer perspective and finding suitable parallels in Western experience. For anthropologists, translation and explanation are indissolubly linked to ethnographic investigation

Category: Anthropology and History

Sub-category: Socio-Cultural Groups and Practices