Thursday, September 10, 2009


There is an Italian word that should alert on who is a king.

But, before telling it, I must remind the reader of one of the main contributions of cultural anthropology to social thinking: the rediscovery of the importance of gift giving as a socio-cultural constant, to be found among all people.

We give and receive gifts, and any accepted gift obliges to reciprocate, so to give thanks for the good things we were given. We don't need to give back to the same people from whom we received, but we can pass on the good received to others, who in turn will pass it on, with the hope that eventually what we have given will return to us.

So, the good we receive can be seen as a return for the good we gave, and vice versa, the good we give as a return for that we received.

Now, in Italian the most used word for gift is regalo: from the same root of rex, it makes of any gift something royal.

That's because the king is at the center of a generalized circulation of goods. Ideally, he doesn't retain anything for himself, but lets all goods flow from him; on the other side, all people honor him as king by bringing back to him their gifts in thanks for what they received. So the goods scattered from him are again recollected in him, and so on, again scattered and recollected in an unceasing cycle.

In gift exchange any man is like a king, at the center of the give and take that makes him a pole of attraction and distribution of good – and of life.

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