Tribal Rituals of Carson City

I recently made it through the harrowing selection process called “campaigning,” earning me the opportunity to research an understudied people: the Nevada Legislature.

In this society, time is categorized in two ways: The first is “ecological time,” whose cycle is two of our years. Its rhythm is distinguished by the backward and forward movement from their respective villages to the temporary camp established in the north of our state. Their “year” has two main seasons: “In Session,” which starts with a Great Migration and consists of four months of intense activity in the northern camp; and “Out of Session,” a period of approximately 18 months during which members are dispersed across the state, gathering provisions (“Campaign Funds”) for their next migration.

The second type of time, “structural time,” occurs during In Session. A rigid schedule governs the interaction between these peoples. This period of time is marked by the ritual accumulation of a very tall mountain of documents. Structural time dictates when these documents are read, when they pass from one tribal group to another and when they are finally delivered to an adjacent camp, which appears to be more prestigious and permanently inhabited. This place is called “the Governor’s Office.”

Having become a member of this society just prior to the Great Migration, I observed and participated in the In Session rituals. In late January, I took part in the Great Migration to the temporary northern camp, far from our major population center. Upon arriving in the village of Carson “City,” I examined the migrants’ organizational structure and use of space.

This society is split into groups: The two primary groups—“Assembly” and “Senate”—are further split into two secondary groups. These two secondary groups—called “Democrats” and “Republicans”—cut across the two primary groups. While membership in the secondary groups coheres through shared principles and philosophies, everyday interactions take place mainly within primary groups. The result is the formation of four clans, known as “caucuses.”

In the Assembly, the Democratic caucus is larger. This dictates much of the hierarchy and use of space in the northern camp. This majority status can be seen in various aspects of this community, such as seating assignments during primary group meetings (“Floor Sessions”) and allocation of spaces in which to work and meet.

The majority caucus is given the larger communal meeting space on the more prestigious Ground Floor, while the minority caucus is left with a smaller space on the Third Floor. Remarkably, the majority’s gathering space is often shared with the minority: It is home to the daily, shared feast and the shared observance of members’ days of birth. Each member of the primary group contributes monetarily to the food stores for the In Session season, thereby furthering an atmosphere of mutual assistance, common consumption and cohesion.

The celebrations of birth, during which members don ritual headgear and eyewear, reinforce this cohesion and mutual respect. By allowing the minority caucus into their communal space, the majority caucus simultaneously shows benevolence and dominance: It holds the right to expel, at a moment’s notice, the minority from the communal space. This is often the result of the competitive ritual known as “partisan bickering.”

Sadly, this short essay is only able to scratch the surface of the complexities of this society called the Nevada Legislature. In addition to the customs discussed here, there are many other interesting practices, including gender relations relating to ritual elevator usage, the frenzy brought about by the practice of “Conference Committees,” the ceremonial consumption of beverages in nearby public meeting places and—most worthy of future inquiry—the interactions with an ever-present subsociety called “Lobbyists.”