Symbols of Ethnic and Factional Identification

Lab 7

Introduction to Archaeology

Under these headings I am certainly not refering to some sort of biological ethnicity. I dont believe that actually exists, although biological similarities or dissimilarities may periodically be used as an organizing principal. Rather, I am refering to self-identification with an ethnicity or with a factional group.. This emphasizes the fact that people can, and frequently do, exchange one ethnicity for another, one community loyalty for another. Material Culture is often used as a means to convey identification with one or another competing group (ethnic or otherwise). Note the examples given below from relatively contemporary societies. Do these objects suggest identification? Do they in fact provide an expression of belonging? Various anthropologists have suggested these symbols are not simply one dimensional. They are seen as negotiable. Are the symbols below simply statements of ethnic identity or of factional identitity or do they have multiple meanings?

An Example of Factional Identities. The Bloods and Crips

Note the description below. What role does color play in the identification process? Note the graffiti. How does it both depict and organize the factional conflict? Can you think of examples where colors denote identity? Can you think of examples where graphic display creates boundaries?

During the summer of 1972, the Crips from Compton, and the Pirus had a conflict, and an all out rumble ensued. The Pirus were out numbered, and the Crips prevailed. The Pirus wanted to terminate peaceful relations with the Crips so they turned to the Lueders Park Hustlers for back-up. They agreed and a meeting was called on Piru Street. The Crips had murdered an L.A. Brim earlier that year, so the Pirus asked the Brims to attend the meeting too. Others that attended were the Denver Lanes, and the Bishops. How to combat Crip intimidation was discussed along with the creation of a new alliance. At that time the color of bandanas was not important, but since the Crips were known to wear blue bandanas, the Pirus and the other groups decided to discontinue the wearing of blue bandannas. They decided to take on the wearing an opposite color, red, and created a united organization called The Bloods. The Pirus, Brims, Athens Park Boys, and Pueblos decided to unite with the Bloods, and soon after, other groups who had been threatened or attacked by Crips joined the Bloods. (excerpted from )


Gang graffiti

Daily Expressions of Belonging

Note how the owner of an automobile might express his or her identity to a larger world. The hanging of a flag, or a religious symbol, or the placing of a non-local secondary license plate is a statement to a broader world, proclaiming one's adherence to a group or community. Here is a small Brazilian flag which normally hangs in the front window of a car. Do you think this car is in Brazil? What would you guess is the context for the display? What is the individual trying to say with this flag?


A Symbol of Jewish Identity

In Hebrew, mezzuza literally means "doorpost". It is a small parchment on which is insribed the first paragraphs of the Sh'ma (Deut. 6:4-9; 11:13-21). It is rolled and placed into a small case. Sometimes, the case is colloquially called a mezzuza. The mezzuza parchment has on its back the Hebrew word Shadai which usually means "The Almighty". It is also seen as an acronym for the Hebrew expression Shomer Daletot Yisrael - "Guardian of the Doors of Israel". The mezzuza is seen as the sanctification of the Jewish home by the continual reminder of Divine omnipresence. (Taken from Meyda's Online Web Mezzuza)

Mezzuzas are therefore found on the doorways of communities where there is a Jewish presence. In New York tenements, in areas where there was once high levels of Jewish occupancy mezzuza casings can be found en masse on the doorposts, even where those communities are no longer Jewish in make-up.

Clothing and Identification

Clothing has often been used as an expression of group identity. For example, note the article on Amish clothing Go to this site. Look at the section on Amish Dress. Note the degree to which clothing is closely identified with ethnic identity.

An Archaeological Example of Community Identification

Note this frieze from xx. Observe the dress of the various figures. What kind of sense can you make of it?

Persepolis Frieze

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