Anth248: Anthropology of Religion
October 1, 2003
Boyer distinguishes ritual from other human action in that rituals follow a specific rule, and a performed in a specific manner and place, and with a specific instrumentation. (231) Failure to comply with scripts is believed to lead to a vague danger, and so practitioners follow ritual steps with particular zeal. (Boyer 236).
Although Boyer has not specified it, I believe that rituals create a sense of “urgency” precisely because the dangers of otherwise not following them are not specified. Because the danger is not described, and human imagination tends to fill in the details, the hyperreactive propensity of the mind (145) will most likely believe that a nonspecific danger is a risky danger.
Both Boyer (246) and Turner (Hicks 123) argue that a ritual has the effect of bringing on a private affair into the public sphere. Boyer points out that events producing changes in the relationships among people (such as marriage, or initiation) only occur in a gradual and phased manner. For instance, a pair gets to know each other, introduces the family to the other’s family, etc., and then neighbors gradually learn that a couple is in their way to marriage. Same goes for initiation, for boys and girls are already involved with affairs of the family as they grow. But for the rest of society, a phased out change is not suitable for a stable interrelationship among its constituents, and a clear marking line is required. (Boyer 248). Only this way can a boy from the same age-group decide whether or not to keep on soliciting the girl, or can the elders decide whether or not to send their children to the official hunting. This is inevitable given that even though social relationships may be phased, a decision made in society is exclusive of other possible decisions.
One ritual that changes social relations of participants is an initiation ceremony. Non-adults who go through an initiation ceremony are admitted as able members of the society. First, age-group that has been in the same instance of initiation ceremony establish firm bonds with each other for a double sense of complicity and community (Gennep, Hicks 130). The boys participating in the Beti male initiation are told that they will learn the secret of being an adult, but after a whole session of hardships, realize that there is nothing they have learned through the process (Boyer 244). Second, once intiation is over, the relationship among initiated children and other elders changes.
Another ritual is marriage. Marriage modifies an imaginary mating map of other potential maters in eliminating the married couple from the available sexual mates. (Boyer 248). It also means that a new family unit rises constituting both a source of help towards other units as well as receiver of benefits in terms of resources.