Celebrating rites of passage:
Community members also share rituals celebrating rites of passage: changes in social status and in the life cycle, such as the incorporation of children into the group, weddings, and mortuary rituals. In RVing communities, these rituals may be used to create community as well as express existing relationships.
||In 1990 we had just pulled into an LTVA in the California desert when our neighbours invited us to bring a pot-luck dish and join them in celebrating the wedding of the area's host. When we demurred, because we had time only to prepare a salad before the ceremony, our neighbour replied with some impatience, "That's ok. It doesn't matter what you bring. Just bring something to eat and come." Our attendance at the wedding provided us with an entrance into the community whose members subsequently included us in social events and in the distribution of gleaned surplus vegetables from the nearby large farms.|
When we returned to the LTVA in 1994 we were warmly greeted by the people of that community and once again included in group activities.
More poignant was the social death of Kamilus Kolia, the bigman who danced with our son Bruce and the ancestor spirits during our first research in 1966. By 1981 Kolia, who was probably in his middle 80s, had become frail, forgetful, and incapable of organizing elaborate ceremonies. Beno, his eldest son was ready to assume the responsibilities of a bigman, but Kolia was reluctant to retire. The solution, one that is unique as far as we know, was to hold a mortuary ceremony for Kolia while he was still living. His sons put it this way:
||"You are old and will soon die. When you do, we will give you a magnificent ololo 'mortuary ceremony' but you won't be here to see how we honour you. Let us do it now, while you are still alive, so you will know how much everyone respects you." Kolia agreed and, in this photograph he is dancing with the ancestor spirits who are celebrating and honouring his lifetime success as a bigman.|
Following the ololo Kolia withdrew from his activities as a village leader. He looked after small children, helped to sweep the village, and did other menial tasks. He did not, however, garden, fish, hunt, or behave as a bigman. He did not participate in ceremonies and nobody asked his advice or included him in distributions of wealth and food. Kolia was socially dead. Following his physical death a little over a year later there was no funeral to mark his passing. That had already happened. He was buried quietly by his immediate family.
Kolia's withdrawal from social life is the kind of behaviour that some gerontologists have called "disengagement" and is usually associated with retirement and aging in urban industrial society (Cumming and Henry 1961; Cowgill and Holmes 1972; Marshall 1985). It has no equivalent in the community of aging RVers that we studied. Instead, their focus on travel, volunteer work, and social engagement keeps people actively involved in their community. Among Escapees, even those RVers who are too ill to travel are encouraged to participate in the CARE center, an assisted living and adult day care facility located at the club's headquarters in Livingston, Texas. There people continue to live in their RVs, and spend their days sharing meals, playing games, exercising, doing volunteer work, visiting with other RVers, and participating as much as they are able in the life of the community.End note 5 Some RVers even continue their identification with their RV community after death.
|As his wife Isabelle explained, John Bates loved RVing but was able to do it only a short time. After his death their son engraved a likeness of their RV on his headstone because "He wanted to be in that motor home."|
IV: Who has Bones in Their Noses?
The differences between New Guinea villagers and elderly North Americans who live in recreation vehicles seem to be profound. Kandokans live in ways that North Americans can hardly imagine or understand. To North Americans they are exotic: they are "the other." Anthropologists study New Guineans. In contrast, while it is a little peculiar for grandma and grandpa to sell their house, buy an RV and spend years travelling around the continent, we still understand them. They are familiar. They are us. It might be appropriate for sociologists and gerontologists to study them, but they should have no interest for anthropologists. These are some of the assumptions that we think were embedded in the question Bruce Rogers asked. Why, indeed, would anthropologists study RVers?
Anthropologists study RVers for the same reason they study the people of Papua New Guinea: in order to understand the complexity of the human experience -- the variety of ways in which people perceive the world in which they live and solve the problems that all human beings share. To do that we must learn to see the exotic in the familiar and the understandable in the exotic which is, ultimately, just a way of knowing that we do not yet comprehend. This experience is the ultimate one for anthropologists. Indeed, as McPherson suggests, is probably the experience that creates them. If we can achieve this insight, then the world is open to us, for the exotic may be on a Pacific island or just in front of our bumper. There is much to study. With apologies to Walt Kelly and Pogo, "We have met the other and it is us."
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