2.b.5 – The rituals and words are cultural instruments?

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January 23, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti


The rituals and words are cultural instruments?

The growing importance of transmission of knowledge has stimulated the development of two key instruments: the rituals and verbal language.
The anthropologists of the ninetieth and twentieth century have conducted numerous studies on oldest human communities, namely those with an economy still based on hunting and gathering of fruits as the tribes of North America, of the Amazon rainforest, Indonesia and Australia. It was noted that a common feature of these cultures was the organization of celebrations rituals which involved the whole community; although every people has its own particular way of celebrating religious festivals or ceremonies, all of them they did it with a huge variety of rituals, prayers, dances, songs, banquets and sports competitions.
Modern psychology tells us that these rituals strengthen the group identity and help to develop solidarity, cooperation and administration of social life. Their importance is such that often they take on a sacred character.
Many rituals require considerable talents of cohesion, imitation and learning skills that we know essential to life of human beings; for example, the group dances can show these qualities together with other physical qualities like strength and agility. Besides being entertaining shows, useful to strengthen social relationships, often play a role in courtship.
The ritual involving the whole community have mainly a social role and are precisely called social rituals, but in any human activity we can find some little rituals that we can call working procedures: a chef who prepares a plate of spaghetti, according to a precise recipe, repeats basically the same proceeding, i.e. makes a kind of ritual work; the same would do the masons to build a wall or peasants to cultivate corn or harvesting olives. These activities are mainly handed down through direct imitation, exactly like the social rituals; the language holds a secondary role like in all activities based on movement: we all had the experience to find ourselves in difficulty with written instructions to install a new television or other electrical appliance and we all know that the instructions are clearer if accompanied by illustrative drawings in which a balloon shows us how to do things, although a person would be even better.
The verbal language, instead, becomes the main instrument when it is necessary to recount experiences or past events, or when you need to pass abstract concepts. The appearance of the word marked a milestone in culture: experience could now be told and not only displayed, with the word we can express abstract concepts, ideas, opinions; thanks to word, the movement of ideas was much easier and culture had a new instrument, extremely precise, transmitted and preserved.
The current language is another typical example of cumulative culture: it continuously varies from region to region and from generation to generation. It should be remembered that even in the animal world, particularly in monkeys, there are social rituals, voice signals and tool-making and certainly existed even in the most ancient of hominids; cumulative culture has only led to a further development, both cultural (variety of forms and applications) and genetic (changes of the voice apparatus, logical and imitation capabilities).


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