As human primates, classified into the group of homo sapien, this essay begs a playful discourse on seeing man as classified into the group of, as socio anthropologist Victor Turner coined the term, homo performans. Turner’s Anthropology of Performance posits the concept of “performance” as a legitimate subject of postmodern anthropology. In integrating an anthropological perspective of performance with my collective experience of the Balinese culture through the University of Guam’s Community Development course, it enabled me to delve into the roots of my psychological traumas, which in turn becomes the source of my determination to give back to my community. “Performance” in regards to this essay is that “man is a self-performing animal- his performances are reflexive […] one set of human beings may get to know themselves better through observing and/or participating in performances generated and presented by another set of human beings (Turner 1985:187). My Bali Field school experience led to a myriad of epiphanies pertaining to self-discovery, but in order to stay relevant to Turner’s definition of performance, I will begin with one general shared lesson. Simply stated, I gained insight about myself by observing and interacting with my class community and the Balinese community. What I learned about myself from a community fostered my understanding of community development. To stay true to this paper being a reflection and not research-based, I will not go into the specifics of Turner’s concept of performance, however I will make references to concepts of scholarly discourse such as Willhem Dilthey’s lived experience and Turner’s concept of communitas (Latin for community) in order to engage my anthropological knowledge with community development.
I realized that prior to leaving for Bali, the traumatizing experiences of my past were buried so deep within me that I could have convinced myself they didn’t exist. This was an unconscious, almost instinctual, decision based on having to stay focused on how to provide for and raise my son. I could not risk letting my past experiences break my spirit and the easiest way for me to do that was to apathetically laugh it all off and pretend they didn’t affect me. As discussed in class there was an intention for us students to grow “closer” prior to the trip. We were encouraged to build meaningful relationships. The fact that we had gone to Bali during our spring break added an element of less overall stress in being away from the daily responsibilities of the school and home environment. All of these were factors in a kind of “trap” that led to developing close relationships. It is through observations and interactions (performance) with the conscious goal of creating meaningful relationships that led to the many conversations with my peers. It was through these insightful discussions that helped me realize that it was time for me to accept my past traumas in order to address the psychological effects it had over me. This was my first step to making a contribution to my community at large—- developing myself as a moral human being.
One trauma that I had harbored within me was my experiences with past relationships and general meaningful encounters of the opposite sex, which led me to an altogether nihilistic view on monogamy. I had gotten used to this frame of mind for so long that I preferred to be alone because it was easier. Additionally, two particularly meaningful platonic relationships with individuals of the same sex that both had strong elements of a Catholic-infused spiritual foundation and eventually both ending very badly, had led me to reject the Catholic faith in general. Furthermore, my recent transition into motherhood led to my extreme self-centeredness. I held the thought that I must be productive all of the time to get as many responsibilities done. This was especially important to me because I was the only parent supporting my son so the pressure was on. In turn this led to having one-dimensional relationships in that I only want to have a relationship with you if you are productive for my life or I get something in return.
Through having to hear reflections of others relative to my own I learned to be grateful for the people in my life and although I am not in a position of my favor, I am where I should be in that moment. Others might not be able to pursue their education or even get to meet their children. I realize it is all relative and what matters is how people perceive their struggles— either as a means for growth or the stagnation of it. I had developed empathy towards my classmate’s struggles which made me realize there is an equal amount of vulnerability within each of us and I yearned for the collective growth of our little community of students and teacher. I developed a more positive outlook on relationships with people when I saw it in light of each of my classmate’s struggles. I felt determined to be someone to them that would make their struggles a little easier.
In order to sustain my newfound empathy and affirmative action for the community I had to think of solutions. I needed to take care of myself and pay attention to my needs instead of thinking that I am being unproductive by doing those things. I need to make time for reflection, writing, engaging my body in physical activity, and being outdoors. There needs to be a shift in priorities. First, I need to take good care of my relationships with others, which in turn will make me happy and thus I take care of myself. School used to be my priority but it should be secondary because in order to remain focused in school I need to take care of myself first.
My experience in Seraya was my first time to really engage and interact in performances with another set of people. Various tangible activities such as the plant dye process and cooking with the local men of the village made me realize my love and passion for agriculture. Engaging my body while at the beach has made me realize my passion for holistic growth, namely physical (body), spiritual (cosmic order), environmental (nature) and intellectual (education) growth. Prior to the Bali experience, I had not recognized a need to foster my spiritual growth anymore. It is obvious that the recognition of a cosmic order is necessary in my life. In my renewed relationships with family and friends in Guam, many have sensed that I am less anxious and happier, which leads to healthier interactions with the people I encounter in the future. There is a balance of determination and calmness that pervades my being that gives me hope that I can become a promising citizen that serves my community.
I interpret Dilthey’s view on lived experience as the method that helped me become in tune with my past traumas, in which I begin to address those traumas in a healthy way and thus better myself to be a substantial citizen of the community. His idea of lived experience is structured by thought, feeling, and will; in that thought is the way one perceives the world, feeling is how we perceive the world in relation to our experiences, and will being “the force in the development of the individual, and through [the individual], of society at large” (1985:191). This is a method of acquiring knowledge that is not only gained through “abstract solitary thought, but by participation through performance…” (1985:190).
In applying Dilthey’s model, my “thought” would be that my actual perception of the world was predominantly a negative one. Majority of it consists of deceiving and judgmental people who regarded single mothers with a negative connotation. Complete monogamy was unattainable to me and I did not think it was ever possible to achieve happiness among those who participated in monogamous relationships. During my experience in Bali, however, the feeling after living with 21 other people for ten days was that there are so many people that are worse off than I was and I should be accepting of my struggles and grateful for the things I do have. People in general have their own individual struggles and it is self-centered to think that it is on everyone’s agenda to hurt me. Lastly, my “will” was interpreted through this experience of creating a relationship with a community of students, which made me emphatic to my community at large. Meaningful relationships were the core of my acknowledgement of and addressing my deep psychological problems. Now I wanted to make sure I did my part in giving back to the whole community. The relationships I was forced to have and be vulnerable in were the most real relationships I’ve had in a long time. The lesson I learned of giving back to a community could have never been properly applied if I had acquired that knowledge from a textbook. It had not occurred to me that I should give back to a community of people I generally perceived as deceiving and judgmental, but most of all I couldn’t grasp being so passionate about giving back to a group of people that were strangers and essentially meant nothing to me. If I had read a good textbook or scholarly article about why we should give back to our communities and eventually decided it were something I should do as my responsibility, my only motivation would be to benefit my son’s holistic development. No book could give me the connections in the relationships I’ve developed on the Bali trip that essentially taught me that we need to take care of our earth and of each other.
The definition of community as “with each other” instead of “near each other” is exactly the difference of the kind of relationship dynamic I used to know. Turner defines community, used here as ‘communitas,’ in relation to society. In a society there are two models for human interrelatedness. The first is a hierarchal structure of society which includes leadership roles concerning political and economic status and the like. The second is communitas, which is defined by Turner as “concrete idiosyncratic individuals, who, though differing in physical and mental endowment, are nevertheless equal in terms of shared humanity (Turner 1966: 177). In our class we are seen as future leaders of our community. This field school was our exposure to knowledge in light of the fact that we are already in the process of leading our community. To become a sufficient leader in the sense that we will not abuse our power, we will look to the collective benefit of our decisions instead of the individual benefit, and we will prevent corruption, we MUST recognize society as the structural/hierarchal and communitas parts coexisting.
As future leaders in Tourism, Business, and Agriculture, there is a need to understand the duality of communitas and strive to produce a lived experience of it, which is exactly what the Bali trip did for me. Turner reinforces this idea when he states that “men are released from structure into communitas only to return to structure revitalized by their experience (1966: 129), such that we as students were released from the structure of our lives in Guam into communitas, which was with each other, and also, with a more or less “unstructured” communitas with the Bali community. The knowledge of the mutual relation between structure and communitas, transmitted by our lived experience in Bali, will help us students become powerful leaders who are genuinely concerned about improving our community in a way that will stray from the motivations of materialistic gain towards motivations of moral gain with spiritual awareness and purpose.