Anthropologists Freud (1856 – 1939) in Vienna.

Anthropologists
are interested in human cultures, societies and changing social situations
within the world. Psychology can be found amongst the varying social situations
which anthropologists study; furthermore, what is of particular interest to
various anthropologists is the study of psychoanalysis in relation to a variety
of cultures. Psychoanalysis is one of the major paradigms within psychology,
which was founded by Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939) in Vienna. This is of interest
to anthropologists worldwide as some question whether Freud’s theories are
truly universal, taking into consideration cultures other than those found in
Western Europe.

Anthropologists
such as Roger M. Keesing, have been particularly interested with the
psychodynamics of personality within an evolutionary perspective. The question
of whether ‘psychoanalytic theories of the unconscious could illuminate custom,
belief, and behaviour in non-Western societies’ is of key interest (Keesing,
1997). Moreover, anthropologists have been interested in broadening the theory
of psychoanalysis to the point where it was no longer culture-bound, due to
many anthropologists being sceptical of Freud’s theories due to the limited
experience he had, taking into account only the Viennese patients he was
exposed to. Some question whether this led him to create an overly simplistic
model of the unconscious, and whether his theories such as the Oedipus Complex,
can really be considered universal. Anthropologists were particularly
interested in Freud’s theories of the unconscious drives of sex, aggression and
hunger; they analyse this theory further by trying to apply Freud’s reference
to sublimating and repressing these basic urges into symbols, to cultural
creations of art and religion. However, this aspect of his theory is seen as
being partially wrong due to animals being believed to be social animals, and
being ‘biologically programmed not simply to satisfy individual urges, but to
live in groups’ (Keesing, 1997). There are various anthropologists who see the conscious
and unconscious divisions of Freud’s theory as an ‘extreme over simplification
of a vastly complex system’ (Keesing, 1997). Anthropologists were also
interested in psychological development and social relationships as seen
through the Oedipus and Electra Complex being applied to certain tribes in Africa.

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The Tallensi of
Ghana were studied by anthropologists in relation to the Oedipus Complex, as
findings state that these people symbolise the Oedipus Complex in a unique and
socially acceptable way. Amongst the Tallensi there is a ritualization and
dramatization of the tension between the parents and their children who will
replace them. Within this cultural context the birth of the firstborn son, as
well as the firstborn daughter represent the end of ‘the uphill path of a
person’s life and the beginning of the downhill path leading to senility and
death’ (Keesing, 1997). From the young age of around 5 years old, which is the
age at which Freud says the Oedipus Complex begins to form, the firstborn son
is not allowed; to eat from the same dish as his father, wear his father’s cap
or tunic, carry his quiver, or use his bow, above all this he is also forbidden
from looking into his father’s granary. This progresses throughout the
development of the child, eventually reaching a stage where father and son
cannot meet in the entrance to the house compound once the son reaches adolescence.
A parallelism can be seen between the firstborn daughter and the mother, as the
daughter is not allowed to touch the mother’s storage pot. Once the parents
die, there is a ritual of the firstborn children to replace their deceased
parents. The children are expected to take the lead in mortuary rites, where
the son is able to put on his dead father’s cap and tunic. The firstborn son is
also led inside his late father’s granary by an elder carrying the dead man’s
bow. This symbolism that the Tallensi have created could be seen as controlling
the sexual tension Freud describes in the Oedipus and Electra Complexes, this
seems to suggest that rather than repressing the tension, they accept and
control it in a culturally acceptable way.  

The Ndembu of
Zambia have many ritual symbols, such as the ‘mudyi’ tree sap which is used in
a variety of rituals and symbolises multiple ideas. ‘These multiple levels of
meaning relate what is abstract and social with the “gut feelings” and emotions
of individuals related to their primary experience’ (Keesing, 1997). This idea
of symbolism may trace back to Freud’s understanding of the unconscious
suppressing socially unaccepted behaviour and sublimating said behaviour in
socially acceptable constructs. This may suggest that the multiple ritual
symbols used by the Ndembu of Zambia, are representative of the earlier people’s
unconscious sublimation of certain taboos.