Ritual Regulation of Environmental Relations essay

In the article titled “Ritual Regulation of Environmental Relations among a New Guinea People” written by Roy Rappaport, a traditional view on the ritual as a total of sacral actions aimed at restoration of the state of things and powers in the whole universe is presented. At the very beginning of the world, in order to make the up-to-date life harmonious and right, considering rituals as tools that have no practical influence on the external world, was rejected. Rappaport tries to justify the opposite without pretending to decline the plausibility of this position from the psychological or sociological point of view. However, the author stresses the importance of the ritual in practical life of a certain community and its impact on the environmental relations.

Rappaport chooses social groups that occupy New Guinea territory as the material for his inquiry

Rappaport tries to examine New Guinea population from the ecological standpoint: he suggests considering these communities with the territory, where they live to be an ecosystem that contains all interactions and relations between people, people and the outer world, people and animals etc. As well as every primitive community, they have specific rituals, ritual circle that, according to Rappaport, “plays an important part in regulating the relationships of these groups with both the nonhuman components of their immediate environments and the human components of their less immediate environments, that is, with other similar territorial groups”. The place of the population of New Guinea in that ecosystem can be defined through the rituals that have a practical influence on the ecosystem’s functioning.

This influence can be observed in various interspecific exchanges: the maintenance of good relationships between different groups, the avoidance of the great number of deaths during fights with the help of specific rituals, cases of redistribution of land, the regulation of the population of cattle, especially pigs. It must be acknowledged that the members of ritual ceremonies do not necessarily possess a precise knowledge of the practical value of their ritual actions. They may even not pay attention to that, because it is not a point in their consideration. They perceive the rituals to be the best way to communicate with the sacral powers in order to rearrange the relationships with the supernatural world. Rappaport examines a few important and interesting rituals of the population of New Guinea, which unite all parts of the ecosystem – people, animals and plants. Pigs that are the foundation of people’s housekeeping play an important role in the rituals and at the same time are those, who the consequences of the rituals are reflected in. Pigs are used not only as food, but also they are the main sacrifices. Rituals with sacrifices have a positive influence on the whole ecosystem and help it to remain stable.

Small number of pigs does not endanger the population, because they have enough resources to feed them and control the situation. Pigs, by-turn, keep the territory clean. Another ritual enables one social group to be attached to the territory and requires some actions with a tree rumbim and pigs during the pig festival kaiko. This ritual is considered to be the culmination in the ritual circle. It deals with the relations of different social groups, so it comes out of the boarders of ecosystem only. According to different connections of the rituals, Rappaport suggests the differentiation of the environment on two subsystems that are the most significant in a certain ritual: local subsystem and regional subsystem. The first one is connected with nonhuman components and the second corresponds to the relations between neighboring local populations.  To sum up, Rappaport stresses the importance of the wider understanding of the religious rituals. According to him, rituals except their supernatural directivity call forth changes in environment and regulate relations of people and nature around them.

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Ritual Regulation of Environmental Relations essay

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