Communitas pp 73-84 | Cite as

The Communitas of Disaster

  • Edith Turner
Part of the Contemporary Anthropology of Religion book series (CAR)


In 1970, Claudette Bethune was on a boat with her family; her uncle was the captain and there were ranked jobs on board for everybody, even the children. A terrible storm developed and grew worse, until at last they realized it was going to go down. At that moment, the whole group became as one, they all hugged each other with great love, young and old. Now each performed their duties with joy, and all idea of rank was gone. This was what Claudette emphasized: the great unity and love aboard the boat, each person distinct and absolutely valuable, even the smallest. The storm lessened a little and came on again, but finally they made it home. The feeling lasted for many months, and Claudette never forgot it.1

The communitas of disaster exists, in a sense, underground, sometimes simply as the tender sympathetic moments between sufferer and comforter. It also develops in full strength in an environment sheltered by the hope and love between the members of a badly shaken community. This chapter consists of two main parts: one is centered on the Dakota floods of 1997, a natural disaster valiantly overcome, along with the truncated tale of Katrina in 2005, a sorry answer at the mouth of the same river system, the Mississippi. The other part is about the communitas that finds its way to the heart of cancer patients—in spite of the cancer, which is caused by the monstrous disturbance of our natural, healthily evolved physical and chemical balance on the planet, due to industrialization and greed.


Grand Fork Sump Pump Peace Corps Volunteer Rubber Boot Lucky Event 
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Copyright information

© Edith Turner 2012

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  • Edith Turner

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