|Swaziland research earns national recognition for Fulbright fellow
By Tony Staley
|Casey Golomski ’06, in a sigetja made of cattle tails, participates in Swaziland’s Great Incwala kingship ceremony. He walked some 12 miles with young men to cut ceremonial branches of the sacred lusekwane shrub.
Nearly 9,000 miles and enormous cultural differences separate De Pere and southern Africa’s Kingdom of Swaziland.
Yet there are similarities, says Casey Golomski ’06, who is in Swaziland until June doing dissertation research as a Fulbright fellow. It is work that recently earned him the American Anthropological Association’s prestigious Carrie Hunter-Tate Award for excellence in academic and professional achievement.
“Wisconsin, as we know, is the quintessential dairy state, and Swaziland has a veritable culture of cattle, where cattle are customarily the source of wealth, prestige and exchange. Both places also champion and excel in growing corn,” says Golomski, a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at Brandeis University.
Then there’s football: the Green Bay Packers in Wisconsin and soccer in Swaziland, says Golomski, who has studied annually in Swaziland since 2008.
“One often sees here that, while women go to church on Sundays, men go to the soccer fields to watch and play the game. In both places, though, stakes are high, with egos, sponsorships and a sense of accomplishment on the line. And, afterwards, there are both real material and imagined consequences for the players, fans and all actors involved in a spectacular drama.”
As for differences, Golomski says many Swazis see vegetarianism as foolishly unhealthy, antisocial and immoral, and to treat pets like children is a sign of psychosocial defect.
Golomski lives in Swazi homes in the city and country while researching how the HIV pandemic affects death rituals for family, friends and coworkers.
After learning Zulu in a three-member class that sang the South African national anthem for Archbishop Desmond Tutu when he lectured at Harvard, Golomski now is learning siSwati, an official language of Swaziland. While the languages are related, there are differences in vocabulary and sound. Zulu, for example, has three clicks and siSwati has one.
“My proficiency improves daily, but sometimes it is still a struggle,” Golomski says.
Nonetheless, he helps around the house, makes and eats meals with families and goes to churches to see how their theologies help Swazis understand life and death.
Many Swazis are troubled, he says, by criticisms, leveled by evangelical and Pentecostal-charismatic Christian churches and global human rights groups, of customs such as widows wearing mourning gowns, placing the deceased’s clothes in graves and paying last respects out loud (practices that may be confused with ancestor worship).
He’s convinced that what human rights groups might see as a bad custom can be empowering, and that understanding the nuances of cultural differences can lead to more productive dialogue and cooperation.
He’s also following brokers in the emerging life and funeral insurance industry to see if people understand the policies and to investigate their effects on families and ideas of risk.
“For example, there is a regular sort of informal adoption of nieces and nephews if one’s brother or sister passes on, but now in order to take out policy coverage, these children have to be formally adopted and registered with the government, making the children legal heirs to one’s estate.”
Golomski says he’s learned many things: We are not alone; others play a large role in shaping us; and rituals – both our own small daily ones and large ones that define our culture and society – give our lives meaning.
He says he’s also learned that “one becomes a minority or a stranger when going away from home to someplace foreign, whether it takes a 20-minute drive or a 20-hour flight.”
Golomski, the son of Ken (Athletics) and Monica Golomski (College Advancement), plans to complete his dissertation in 2013 and use his findings to publish journal articles and possibly a book. He has taught at both Brandeis and Northeastern University and would like to teach in college and serve as a consultant.