A Study in Ritual Modification: The Work of the Gods in Tikopia in 1929 and 1952

A Study in Ritual Modification: The Work of the Gods in Tikopia in 1929 and 1952

A Study in Ritual Modification: The Work of the Gods in Tikopia in 1929 and 1952

A Study in Ritual Modification: The Work of the Gods in Tikopia in 1929 and 1952

Excerpt

Anthropologists have rarely been able to make a close study of religious ritual over a period of years. This study, while not able to follow a sequence of ritual procedures continuously through a long period, presents a comparison of phenomena of 'the same' physical and social structure and same linguistic form after an interval of twenty-three years. This comparison, after such a wide time interval, poses some very interesting problems.

An initial point of some significance is very simple, but its effects have been rarely examined. Since the time elapsed is approximately a human generation, some changes in personnel among ritual officiants may be expected. Where such change has occurred there is room presumably for idiosyncratic variation in procedures. But how far does this actually take place? An observer can theoretically infer whether this replacement of officiants has led to any alteration in the character of the ritual. But the situation is complicated by the possible continuity in other participants in the ritual, so that the new officiant is not a completely free agent to introduce modifications at his wish..

But twenty odd years, though conventionally spoken of as a generation, does not mean a complete replacement of all persons in the ritual field. Some survive and continue their office. Where no change of personnel has occurred, the observer can note the extent of continuity and change that has taken place in ritual actions and indicate the reasons. In any case, close contact with participants at the two stages enables the observer to form an idea how far any changes in ritual have been accompanied by changes in expression of belief or whether ritual and belief have been to some extent independent variables. He can also see whether change has taken place in the system of religious symbols..

Such has been the situation with regard to the Tikopia ritual cycle known as The Work of the Gods, a very complex religious performance of great significance in Tikopia life. In 1928-29 there were two sets of seasonal performances, one during the monsoon (approximately in November and December) and one during the period of the trade winds (approximately in June and July). In the monsoon season the performances comprised a series of rites relating to the refurbishing and re-dedication of canoes to fishing, then a series of rites in celebration of the yam, parallelled by a series of rites of recarpeting of ancestral temples. After a formal lifting of the taboo which marked this part of the sacred season, and a proclamation enjoining social control, a dance festival began lasting four days and then four nights. In the trade-wind season the first major ritual series was that of the yam rites, which were partly overlapped and partly followed by the rites for the temples. Then came a ritual series integrated with the technical processes of the manufacture of turmeric. These were followed by relatively brief dance rites and concluded by the resacralization of major canoes. All these rites were dedicated to and had meaning in terms of a pantheon of gods and ancestors. Each of the two main sets of performances lasted approximately six weeks. Specifically each ritual series resacralized and refreshed an aspect of Tikopia socio-economic life of major importance, primarily concerned with the provision of food. More generally the objectives of the ritual were to promote the health and welfare of the Tikopia community as a whole. Since the overall significance of the rites was to maintain the society in being as an ongoing concern, one might coin a term and refer to the series as a whole as viability rites..

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.