FARAVID 30/2006


Niina Timosaari,
Jibaro-women in Rafael Karsten’s Anthropological Studies

Rafael Karsten (1879–1956) was a professor of practical philosophy in Helsinki University and an anthropologist, whose field-studies concentrated on South-American Indians. He was one of the first anthropologists, who used not only men, but also women as informants in his studies. While conducting extensive fieldwork he realised that women have power to reshape and uphold cultural structures as well. The early 20th century anthropology has been blamed of being male-biased, and it was not until than from the 1970´s onwards with the influence of women’s movement that the anthropologists started to pay more attention on women. It has to be taken for further examination why Rafael Karsten, who was advised by one of the leading ethnologist in England to ignore women in his anthropological studies, refused to accept this advice. From Karsten´s point of view, women were not only as good informants as men, but sometimes even better.

Rafael Karsten was far and foremost an anthropologist, who was interested in religion and magic. It can be argued that one of the main reasons why he studied and interviewed jibaro-women was the fact that they had a key role in the religious ceremonies of jibaro-culture. Ilona Salomaa came to this conclusion in her dissertation and I studied the matter further in my master’s thesis “Rafael Karsten jibaro-naisten kuvaajana”.

What other factors, besides the role that jibaro-women had in the religious ceremonies, affected Karsten’s decision to use women as informants and study women? Karsten was a cultural radical and a keen critic of Christianity as was his tutor and mentor Edvard Westermarck, the vice-president of Prometheus-society that promoted freedom of religion. This article discusses the relationship between Karsten´s anthropological studies on women and the criticism towards religion that he was able to conduct with his studies. He altered the existing view of indigenous women as oppressed slaves of their husbands, which was a popular belief among missionaries, and even among early ethnographers. Karsten proved with his research the influence and status that jibaro-women had. Karsten’s studies on jibaro-women made it possible for him to criticize some theories of his mentor, Edvard Westermarck. With his studies on jibaro-women Karsten got valuable ethnographic material that made it possible for him to criticize western values, Christianity and existing anthropological views.

Faravid 30/2006