Re: Words and memes

From: Francesca S. Alcorn (
Date: Sat Feb 23 2002 - 03:06:03 GMT

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    Subject: Re: Words and memes
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    Keith said:
    > "A more seductive example of a social movement set off by a
    >lethal meme comes from South Africa. In the 1850s, a meme (originally
    >derived from a dream) led to a great sacrifice by the Xhoas people
    >during which they killed their cattle, burned their grain, and
    >refrained from planting in the belief that doing so would cause their
    >ancestors to come back from the dead and expel the whites. At least
    >20,000 and perhaps as many as 60,000 starved when the predicted
    >millennia of plenty failed to arrive. Known as the Cattle Killing, it
    >was not a unique response for a primitive society being displaced by a
    >more technically advanced one. The "Ghost Dancers" phenomenon among
    >American Indians was a similar response.
    >Since I did the research for that article a 1989 book came out, J.
    >B. Peires, "The Central Beliefs of the Xhosa Cattle-killing." Some
    >of it is on the net here.
    >Definitely worth reading!

    How tragic. It reminds me of something I read a few years ago that
    said that people who blamed themselves for their misfortunes
    recovered more quickly from traumatic events because it allowed them
    to preserve a sense that they had some control over what happened.
    At least they had the illusion that they had some control over their
    demise. I think the comparison to the Ghost Dance is apt.


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