How does ritual affect relationships between groups and entities external to them?
According to traditional cultural anthropology, aggregates of individuals who
regard their collective well-being as dependent upon a common body of ritual
performances use such rituals to give their members confidence, to dispel their
anxieties, and to discipline their social organization. Conventional theories hold
that rituals come into play when people feel they are unable to control events and
processes in their environment that are of crucial importance to them. However,
recent studies of the Tsembaga, a society of nomadic agriculturalists in New
Guinea, suggest that rituals do more than just give symbolic expression to the
relationships between a cultural group and components of its environments; they
influence those relationships in measurable ways.
Perhaps the most significant findin g o f th e studie s wa s that , amon g the
Tsembaga, ritual operates as a regulating mechanism in a system of a set of
interlocking systems that include such variables as the area of available land,
necessary length of fallow periods, size of the human and pig populations,
nutritional requirements of pigs and people, energy expended in various activities,
and frequency of misfortune. In one sense, the Tsembaga constitute an ecological
population in an ecosystem that also includes the other living organisms and
nonliving substances found within the Tsembaga territory. By collating measurable
data (such as average monthly rainfall, average garden yield, energy expenditure
per cultivated acre, and nutritive values of common foods) with the collective
decision to celebrate certain rituals, anthropologists have been able to show how
Tsembaga rituals allocate energy and important materials. Studies have described
how Tsembaga rituals regulate those relationships among people, their pigs, and
their gardens that are critical to survival; control meat consumption; conserve
marsupial fauna; redistribute land among territorial groups; and limit the
frequency of warfare. These studies have important methodological and theoretical
implications, for they enable cultural anthropologists to see that rituals can in fact
produce measurable results in an external world.
By focusing on Tsembaga rituals as part of the interaction within an ecosystem,
newer quantitative studies permit anthropologists to analyze how ritual operates
as a mechanism regulating survival. In the language of sociology, regulation is
a “latent function” of Tsembaga ritual, since the Tsembaga themselves see their
rituals as pertaining less to their material relations with the ecosystem than to
their spiritual relations with their ancestors. In the past, cultural anthropologists
might have centered on the Tsembaga’s own interpretations of their rituals
in order to elucidate those rituals; but since tools now exist for examining the
adaptive aspects of rituals, these anthropologists are in a far better position to
appreciate fully the ecological sophistication of rituals, both among the Tsembaga
and in other societies.
The primary purpose of the passage is to
A) Propose that the complex functions of ritual have been best analyzed when
anthropologists and ecologists have collaborated in order to study human populations
as measurable units.
B) Criticize anthropologists’ use of an ecological approach that ignores the symbolic,
psychological, and socially cohesive effects of ritual.
C) Evaluate theories of culture that view ritual as an expression of a society’s understanding
of its relationship to its environment.
D) Point out the ecological sophistication of Tsembaga ritual and suggest the value of
quantitative methods in assessing this sophistication.
E) Argue that the studies showing that the effects of Tsembaga ritual on the environment
can be measured prove that the effects of ritual on other environments can also be
On the basis of the information in the passage, one might expect to find all of the following
in the recent anthropological studies of the Tsembaga except
A) An examination of the caloric and nutritive value of the Tsembaga diet.
B) A study of the relationship between the number of Tsembaga rituals and the number
of pigs owned by the Tsembaga.
C) An analysis of the influence of Tsembaga forms of worship on the traditions of
D) A catalog of the ways in which Tsembaga rituals influence planting and harvest cycles.
E) A matrix summarizing the seasonality of Tsembaga rituals and the type and function
of weapons made.
Which of the following best expresses the author’s view of ritual?
A) Rituals symbolize the relationships between cultural groups and their environ ments.
B) As a cultural phenomenon, ritual is multifaceted and performs diverse functions.
C) Rituals imbue the events of the material world with spiritual significance.
D) A society’s view of its rituals yields the most useful information concerning the
E) The spiritual significance of ritual is deemed greater than the material benefits of
The author of the passage uses the term “latent function” (third paragraph) in order to suggest
A) The ability of ritual to regulate the environment is more a matter of study for
sociologists than for anthropologists.
B) Sociological terms describe ritual as precisely as anthropological terms.
C) Anthropologists and sociologists should work together to understand the symbolic or
psychological importance of rituals.
D) Anthropologists are more interested in the regulatory function of rituals of the
Tsembaga than they are the psychological function of rituals.
E) The Tsembaga are primarily interested in the spiritual values that are embodied in
OA later, after discussion
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