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Nov 8, 2017 in Analysis

Analysis of Ritual in Religion from Ruth Benedict and Roy Rapport’s Approach

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Religious ritual may be defined as the approved routine practice directed towards the involvement of non-empirical or supernatural being especially with the participation of the actors (Rappaport 18).The two articles by Roy Rappaport and Ruth Benedict try to bring about the most appraised religious rituals of two different societies. Rappaport, on the one hand, vividly describes the religious rituals of a community in the New Guinea region. On the other hand, Benedict tries to explain the culture of a community living in North West coast of America. There are different themes that stem from the discussions of the authors regarding the two communities; some of these issues are related while others are diverse. This paper seeks to analyze the religious rituals of these two communities while bringing out their differences. To a larger extent, it argues that although the focus of both ritual practices is to maintain social integration and cohesion, there exist a lot of differences in the two cultures.

Religious Rituals among the Tsembaga People of New Guinea

Rituals in the religion of the Tsembaga of New Guinea play a critical part in regulation of the relationship between the Tsembaga people and their environment. This fact is also true for other communities sharing the same territory with this community (Rappaport 17). Rappaport mentions that the Tsembaga is, “one of about twenty local groups of Maring speakers living in the Simbai and Jimi Valleys of the Bismarck Range in the Territory of New Guinea” (21). For these peoples, rituals help maintain different biotic communities that exist on the same territory. Moreover, they are used in redistributing land among certain tribes and tribes over land; consequently, the number and frequency of fighting are limited.

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The act of the Tsembaga working for their pigs and supplying them with food fit for human consumption also portrays a great influence of rituals on their daily life. Another element of religious ritual among the Tsembaga is the issue of slaughtering pigs when they are under stress. They believe that pork is an anti-stress food (Rappaport 19). The consumption of pork is limited to individuals who are undergoing stress. According to Roy Rappaport, the opponents in war both perform rituals that place the opposing side on the formal position of an enemy. Before proceeding with the war, the warriors eat heavily salted pig, which is believed to shorten the fighting day. When hostilities are over, the group that retains their territory performs a ritual called ‘planting the rumbim’. The ritual is accompanied by wholesale slaughter of pigs and only juveniles are left alive.

This ritual is performed in honor of the ancestors (24). A group may not attack another group while its ritual plant remains in the ground, as the ancestors have not been fully rewarded for their assistance in the last war. Community members believe that, until all the debt is paid, any further assistance to them is impossible. A kind of “truce of gods” prevails until all the rumbim is uprooted (Rappaport 23). When a pig offends another farmer and the farmer shoots it, the pig owner will revenge by shooting or attempting to shoot the owner of the garden, his family member (usually a wife) or his pig. The pig festival (kaiko) is triggered “by either the additional work attendant upon feeding pigs or the destructive capacity of the pigs themselves” (Rappaport 25).

Another ritualistic activity observed here is the burdening of women with the responsibility of tending the pigs. There also exist the rule of land redistribution in terms of the ritual cycle; it says, “If one of a pair of antagonistic groups is able to uproot its rumbim before its opponents can plant their rumbim, it may occupy the latter's territory. Land of enemy is regarded as vacant, since no rumbim was planted on it after the last fight (Rappaport 27).

Roy Rappaport also notes that the rule of population redistribution among the Tsembaga may be studied in terms of ritual cycles. It states that an individual is considered a member of certain territorial community after having participated in the ritual of rumbim planting with this group. There are rituals of presenting young women with samples of eligible local males, with whom they could have never got a chance to familiarize themselves. Dance and fight are considered similar; this similarity is clearly visible in different pre-dance and pre-fight rituals. “The size of a visiting dancing contingent is consequently taken as a measure of the size of the contingent of warriors whose assistance may be expected in the next round of warfare” (Rappaport 28). The tradition also states, “If a pair of antagonistic groups proceeds through two ritual cycles without resumption of hostilities, their enmity may be terminated.” In his study, Rappaport underlines the exceptional role of the religious rituals in life and daily activities of this tribe,

The timing of the ritual cycle is largely dependent upon changes in the states of the components of the local subsystem. But the kaiko, which is the culmination of the ritual cycle, does more than reverse changes which have taken place within the local subsystem. Its occurrence also affects relations among the components of the regional subsystem. During the performance of the ritual, obligations to other local populations are fulfilled, support for future military enterprises is rallied, and land from which enemies have earlier been driven is occupied (29).

All these scenarios can help us make some analogies between the Tsembaga and other communities, with which they share territory, as they form an ecosystem that is ritually regulated (Rappaport 27). We are not also wrong to refer to the Tsembaga and their human neighbors as a population that is ritually regulated.

Religious Rituals among Indians of Northwest Coast of America

Ruth Benedict in her article describes an unusual culture of the Indians, who resided in the Northwest coast of America. Like her counterpart, Roy Rappaport, she also outlines the relationship between the community and the environment. The culture of this people is very different from the other tribes who settled in the nearby territories; consequently, the values of the community are difficult to comprehend (Benedict 176).

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The community largely depends on fish as their main source of food, unlike the community in New Guinea, which appraises pork. The native community of America has also created the calendar of the fish. They use it for distinguishing the seasons and choosing time for placing their seeds in soil (Benedict 181). In addition, water plays a vital role in the life of the community as it is the main mean of transportation that they know. The main occupations of men are hunting, fishing, and woodworking.

Within the context of this culture, dance is a major practice, as well as in the life of the Tsembaga people. The Americans have a very weird practice where the person who makes mistakes during the dance falls down as if he is dead. During the dances, the individuals are believed to be initiated by the supernatural patrons of that society. The meeting with the supernatural spirit is related to the concept of a vision. The Kwakiutl youth, who is about to become a member of a religious society, is snatched away by a spirit and remains there for a certain period. During this time, he is said to be held by the spirits (Benedict 197).

All these rituals are believed to be important practices that tame the initiates and assist them in remaining in common existence with other people in the society. The process of initiation is believed to destroy the human reasoning that can make the future life difficult. There used to be another distinguishing factor of cannibalism, passion for human flesh. There are certain types of exorcism that are performed in the culture. The first is the fire exorcism, and the second is the menstrual blood exorcism. Menstrual blood is regarded as a highly polluting substance; therefore, women are secluded during the period they experience the menstrual period (Benedict 186). They cannot step on any brook or go near the sea because this is believed to offend salmon.

In this society, possession of property is strictly categorized; there are those who own the land and the sea. The members who own land and the sea pass on the same status to their future generations. The value of property is over any other materials things. Marriage among the Kwakiutl plays a major role in the status gaining (Benedict 193). A chief of the community uses two methods to gain his interest. One is by giving his rival more property with interests that can be hard to return; the other one is by destroying these properties.


The articles by Roy Rappaport and Ruth Benedict have certain issues that can be compared and contrasted, for example, the religious rituals of the societies under research. First is the reverence to the supernatural powers of the two peoples. Both communities seem to have given a lot of consideration to the supernatural agents; however, the mode of invocation is different for the two groups. Secondly, both aim at creating social order in the society. For instance, the community in New Guinea allocates roles among the gender lines to minimize the role confusion, which is likely to bring about conflict among the population. The work of engaging in battles with the enemies is given to the men.

On the other side, Benedict notes that the work of hunting, fighting for the community, as well as woodworking, belongs to men. Thirdly, there are certain types of food that every community is meant to consume. For example, community in the New Guinea region appraises pork as the greatest source of protein; on the other end, the society in the North West of America consumes fish mainly. The two communities are extremely different; nevertheless, their religious rituals and traditions can be described according to certain list of issues.

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