Issue 12.3, August 1997


Essay Excerpt

From "Northwestern Tanazania on a Single Shilling: Sociality, Embodiment, Valuation" by Brad Weiss

The body of this female child is, I would therefore suggest, "without flaws," as well as undivided and singular, at a number of levels. Such a young girl has clearly been withheld from human interchange and circulation (just like the single-shilling coin that goes in the beer) and would never be considered eligible for such interaction. More fundamentally, her bodily mode of being-in-the-world does not yet manifest the characteristic Haya forms of relationality—unity conjoined with differentiation, integrity with alterity—that make such human interchange possible. As a pristine body, then, the young girl remains a form of pure potential in terms of sexuality, reproductivity, and sociality itself. And just as the relatively "worthless" single shilling is nonetheless the unit that allows all monetary increments to have a specific value, the presexual, premenarchal female body is also the grounds of generative social relations, a "flawless" form that contains within it the potential for sexuality and reproductivity, affinity, and descent. As a daughter, brother's child, or possible spouse, a woman's body and conduct will have transformative effects on others. It is therefore important to recognize that the young girl's possibilities as a body are as yet unrealized and are not yet even oriented to sexual, affinal, maternal, or agnatic connections. But she retains her singular value as a body that "has no flaws," a value that derives not from its relation to others but that embodies a form of value in itself, much as the single coin becomes a "priceless," singular object.