Breaking the Ashes
The Culture of Illicit Liquor in Sri Lanka
Publication Year: 2008
"I'm going to break the ashes," yelled one daily drinker to another as their paths crossed early in the morning in the Sri Lankan village Michele Ruth Gamburd calls Naeaegama. The drinker's cryptic comment compared the warming power of alcohol-in the form of his first shot of kasippu, the local moonshine-with the rekindled heat of a kitchen fire. As the adverse effects of globalization have brought poverty to many areas of the world, more people, particularly men, have increased their use and abuse of alcohol. Despite Buddhist prohibitions against the consumption of mind-altering substances, men in Naeaegama are drinking more, at a younger age, and the number of problem drinkers has begun to grow.
In Breaking the Ashes, Gamburd explores the changing role of alcohol. Her account is populated with lively characters, many of whom Gamburd has known since visiting the village for the first time as a child. In wonderfully clear prose Gamburd offers readers an understanding of the cultural context for social and antisocial alcohol consumption, insight into everyday and ceremonial drinking in Naeaegama, and an overview of the production of illicit alcohol. Breaking the Ashes includes a discussion of the key economic aspects that fuel conflicts between husbands and wives, moonshine-makers and police. Addressing Western and indigenous ways to conceptualize and treat alcohol dependence, Gamburd explores the repercussions-at the family as well as the community level-of alcohol's abuse.
Published by: Cornell University Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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Writing is never a solitary activity, and I owe thanks to a number of people for the assistance I received in completing this book. First I want to thank my research associate, R. B. H. “Siri” de Zoysa. Siri is my guide, my mentor, and my protector. I rely continually on his enthusiasm and meticulous eye for detail. On the topic of alcohol, Siri is my local expert, without whom ...
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One afternoon in 2004, a neighbor came by with her son to visit the family I live with in Sri Lanka. I am a cultural anthropologist. When I do my eth-nographic fi eld work, I stay with my research associate Siri and his family in a village I call Naeaegama.1 That afternoon, our neighbor brought Siri’s father Martin a small gift. Siri walked through the spacious house to tell ...
1 Context: Religious, Historical,and Political Frameworks
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In this chapter I discuss the wider context in which I situate Naeaegama area drinking. I fi rst examine issues of religious prohibition on the use of intoxicants. Theravada Buddhism requires people to stay mindful at all times—a state at odds with the consumption of alcohol, marijuana, opi-ates, and other drugs. Despite widespread approval for social alcohol use, ...
2 Without One’s Right Mind:Agency, Intoxication, and Addiction
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...“Alcohol causes a distortion or metamorphosis. The drinker changes into a different person,” Indrani commented. As this dynamic mother of fi ve who had spent over a decade working in the Middle East suggests, observers often feel that ingesting alcohol alters people’s physical responses, cognition, and affective state. Intoxicated people all over the world display similar observ-...
3 We Don’t Say No:Drinking and Identity
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Consuming things serves as a major way to display one’s identity. Because people require daily nourishment, the consumption of food and drink pro-vides a superb vehicle for symbolic action. Eating and drinking with others makes manifest not only individual but also group identity. In many societ-ies, consuming alcohol takes on special meaning. Heath suggests, “In some ...
4 Jolly Drinking: Events and Taverns
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Above and beyond satisfying the body’s need for nutrition, the consump-tion of foods and beverages conveys meaning in society. Commensality, the act of eating and drinking together, creates bonds between people. Shar-ing food both enhances a group’s identity and distinguishes it from other groups. In addition to demarcating groups, comestibles can also indicate sta-...
5 Home Wars: GenderedConsumption Struggles
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Under conditions of poverty, husbands and wives negotiate the use of scarce fi nancial resources. Household economic decisions set the stage for many gendered struggles over consumption, including confrontations about male alcohol use. Given the low salaries and the relatively high cost of li-quor in the village, almost any alcohol expenditure harms family well being ...
6 Kasippu: The Political Economicsof Illicit Liquor
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...“Kasippu affects everyone. For the people who drink it, it’s bad, and it’s also bad for their families. For the manufacturers, it’s good. They can get very rich—much richer than the sawmill owner or a housemaid working in the Middle East. In this area, kasippu is an industry, like garment factories and tourist hotels. There are a few families living quite nicely on this income.” ...
7 Over the Red Line: Social Rulesfor Drunken Comportment
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A consummate storyteller, Siri had a bottomless stock of jokes and yarns. On the breezy veranda after dinner, he related the following tale: “A man owns a coconut tree. He has cut a blossom and set up a toddy pot to col-lect the sap, but for three days he has found it mysteriously empty. The next day he hides to see what is happening to his tree. A man who cuts grass ...
8 Too Much Is Good for Nothing:Alcohol Dependence
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People everywhere strike a balance between pleasure and pathology when discussing alcohol consumption (Keane 2002). Martin Plant and Douglas Cameron write, “We drink alcohol because it is good for us, and study it because it is bad for us” (2000, 237). Small quantities of alcohol are good for the body and facilitate interactions, but excess drinking can cause physical, ...
9 A Goddess of Wrath: Treatments
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...“There’s a shrink on every corner in the USA,” asserted Titus.“There’s a kasippu tavern on every corner in Naeaegama,” Siri replied. He Siri’s claim that kasippu taverns replace mental hospitals in Sri Lanka refl ects simultaneously the dearth of actual facilities supplying psychologi-cal and psychiatric aid, and the rationalizing fi ction that drinking can help ...
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Having read this lengthy discussion of alcohol use in Sri Lanka, the reader may ask what contribution it makes to the literature. I hope this work will illustrate the value of holism in the study of alcohol. In the past, many an-thropologists have focused on the functional, integrative roles that drinking plays in society. Indeed, drinking can solidify group identity, enforce kin-...
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Appendix 2Village and National Statisticson Alcohol Use
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Appendix 3Calculating Infl ation in Sri Lanka
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Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2008