The politics of Eros: ritual dialogue and egalitarianism in three Central African hunter-gatherer societies



It has become standard practice within feminist anthropology to repudiate any essential relationship between the biological body and cultural identity. In recent years, the ongoing deconstruction of the body has come to seem the only ‘natural’ fact. By contrast, this article seeks to reconnect sex, power, and culture in a positive sense, by identifying a political system in which power is kept in motion through the body. Literally dancing it out, organized Mbuti or Yaka gender groups perform a recurrent ritual repartee where power is continually churned up and funnelled back and forth between coalitions. The graphic somatic language that emerges through these dances suggests an alternative power-principle: kinetic, erotic, and fundamentally non-coercive. Here, the drawing back of the collective eye to the anatomical nature of power, with the simultaneous ritual de-privatization of ‘biology’, explodes the body out into a collective political force. The cultural visibility of the female procreative body in such contexts is striking. Using the core theme of dialogism, I rethink the creative potential of sexual duality, and work towards a new understanding of gender, power, and the body.