|About the Book|
In The Cool Knife, T. O. Beidelman analyzes in rich detail the ritual, imagery, and symbolism of Kaguru initiations, relating them to other Kaguru ceremonies as well as to more routine daily activities. He argues that initiation educates boys and girls in their gender roles and constructs an ethnic identity that is assuming greater importance to the Kaguru as outside pressures threaten to undermine their culture. The first ethnography that examines both male and female initiations in an African society in equal detail, the book describes how Kaguru elders teach novices to value ambiguity and wordplay, to understand the body and its appetites, and to practice a complex etiquette that regulates daily behavior. Built up from the the manifold experiences and cues of everyday Kaguru routine, the ritual provides initiates with a unifying ethnic vision that allows for multiple perspectives and interpretations. The companion to an earlier study that charted the scope and character of Kaguru moral imagination, The Cool Knife explores the broader implications of rituals that transfer sexual and cultural knowledge from one generation to the next. Linking Kaguru concepts of gender and culture to the writings of such Western philosophers as Rousseau, Montaigne, Durkheim, Mauss, de Beauvoir, and van Gennep, it provides penetrating insights into the role of education and initiation in any society.