Volltext: Anthropos, 79.1984

Anthropos 79.1984: 355-367 
The Demise of Kings and the Meaning of Kingship: 
Royal Funerary Ceremony in the Contemporary 
Southern Sudan and Renaissance France 
W. Arens 
Perhaps there were never any gods 
without kings, or kings without gods 
(Hocart 1927:7) 
The existing commentary on divine kingship 
ranges extensively through history and social 
anthropology to poetry and psychoanalysis. 1 
However, an appreciation of both the institution 
and contemporary interpretations still requires a 
return to the opening passages of Sir James 
Frazer’s classic The Golden Bough. Fiere the 
reader encounters “a strange and recurring fanta 
sy” set in a “sylvan landscape, suffused with a 
golden glow” and “dappled shade,” which finds 
c a grim figure ever on the prowl,” for “surely no 
crowned head can lay uneasier, or was visited by 
rnore evil dreams, than his.” “The least relaxation 
°f his vigilance, the smallest abatement of his 
strength of limb or skill of fence, put him in 
jeopardy; grey hairs might seal his death warrant” 
(Frazer 1963: 1). 
These romantic lines provide a dramatic 
Ridication of the extent to which social anthropol 
ogy and writing style have been transformed over 
the years in the process of academic professiona 
lization. Neither grand questions nor grandiose 
e xposition have survived the test of time. Yet 
Piany of the earlier disturbing uncertainties about 
W. Arens, Ph. D. (University of Virginia) is presently 
Associate Professor of Anthropology at the State University of 
hlew York at Stony Brook. In addition to field experience in 
Tanzania, he conducted preliminary field and archival 
re $earch among the Shilluk of the Southern Sudan during 
19 78. This is the third of a series of articles based upon these 
lnv estigations. 
1 For such unusual interpretations of this institution, 
See T. S. Eliot, The Wasteland and Roheim 1972. 
the nature of the difference between the “savage 
and the civilized” remain unresolved; but neither 
have they disappeared, for today these perplexi 
ties subtly color, rather than explicitly inform, 
perception of ourselves and other cultures. 
1. Divine Kingship 
This situation is nowhere more apparent than 
in the study of kingship. Anthropologists in the 
generation after Frazer and other armchair practi 
tioners, who were expected to spend an extended 
period of time among their subjects and thus, in 
many instances, in the context of viable kingships, 
most often chose to “study down,” and chronic 
led the lives of commoners rather than royalty. 
For some reason, anthropologists assumed that 
the significant human experience in other cultures 
was grounded primarily in the everyday affairs of 
the masses. 2 Thus, except for a historical outline 
and an ethnographic corpus focusing on the 
administrative structure, 3 * presently there is a 
2 See Mair’s (1965: xiii) and Beattie’s (1965: 10) 
discussions of their fieldwork concentrations among peasants 
in the kingdoms Buganda and Bunyoro. This interest in 
commoners was indicative of a contrast at the time between 
anthropologists in Africa as compared to the European 
historians’ concern for royalty. This trend is now being 
reversed by the former’s interest in kingship and the latter’s 
quickening curiosity for social arrangements and lately even 
the more mundane experiences of the general populace, as 
exemplified by Braudel 1981. - A similar lack of inquisitive 
ness by social scientists in contemporary European royalty 
has also been noted by Shils and Young 1953 at the time of 
the last British coronation. They wrote: “It seems that even 
the most eminent scholars lose the sureness of touch when 
they enter the presence of Royalty” (63). 
3 For a recent example of this approach, see Mair 


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