Aug 7, 2019 in Research

In her book, Yoruba Ritual: Performers, Play, Agency, Margaret Thompson Drewal seeks to demonstrate the that the common conception of the repetition of rituals as an inflexible, conventional, capable of being foreseen and containing a structure that is fixed. In proving this Drewal explores different rituals of the Yoruba culture in which she had taken part and observed. From these experiences, Drewal draws down a convincing element of the repetitive nature of rituals that is, in fact, the principal reason that rituals undergo different changes. The audience is able to understand from the text that such repetition was a strong influence on the abilities of the various participants in a ritual to transform the ritual in a few of its different aspects.

Berger, on the other hand, in his article Religion and World-Construction has used repetition in describing the different uses and meanings of the word sacred. He states that religion is the human enterprise which leads to the establishment of a sacred cosmos, meaning that religion is cosmization in a sacred manner. He adds that sacred means a quality of mysterious and awesome power which is not human but relates with him and is perceived to live in some objects of experience. Such quality is attributable to objects that are either natural or artificial, or to men or to the human culture’s objectivations. There exist sacred animals, rocks and even sacred objects. The ruler, according to Berger, may be sacred just like a certain custom or institution may be sacred. Space and interval may be apportioned similar quality as the one in sacred areas and periods that are known to be sacred. The quality may eventually be exemplified in sacred beings from greatly limited spirits to the great interstellar divinities.

According to the Drewal in her book, the Yoruba practices of rituals are understood by the tribe’s persons as being a means that is representative of the process through which people go through while living their lives. He asserts that, “as media of change and transformation, rituals are conceived as "journeys”, a metaphor that runs like a leitmotif throughout these pages.”. From her interaction with the Yoruba people, the journey indicates critical dimensions of ritual that are often left out by most works regarding this subject matter. This only means that the subjective involvement of partakers, their abilities for spontaneous self-monitoring, and their alterations of awareness through play and inventiveness.

The basic element in the use of repetition by Drewal as an explanation to the issue of the transformation of rituals in terms of their words, actions and the persons that take part in them is that it is a representation of an initial period during which the ritual took place. It is during this argumentative stage that Drewal (p 1) echoes Antonin Artaud that "an expression does not have the same value twice, does not live two lives…all words, once spoken, are dead and function only at the moment when they are uttered…once it has served, cannot be used again and asks only to be replaced by another, and…gesture, once made, can never be made the same way twice." This, in fact summarizes the whole of the concept of the repetitive aspect of the Yoruba ritual just as any other ritual. The use of repetition as a necessary element in the performance of rituals is in no particular manner an imposition upon any certain person within the particular society. It only serves as an illusionary representation of the previous lives and times of people of that given society. It acts as a means of slowing down the power of time to run off.

Berger has also used historical illustrations to get his audience to understand what sacred means. He states that “The historical manifestations of the sacred vary widely, though there are certain uniformities to be observed cross-culturally”. This is irrespective of if they are interpreted as emanating from cultural diffusion or from an inner logic of the religion imagination of a person. The sacred is taken as to stick out from the daily life’s routines, as something strange and possibly dangerous. However, its dangers are capable of being tamed and its potency connected to the daily life’s needs. Berger has also repeated the word man to stress that religion applies to man. He states that “Although the sacred is apprehended as other than man, yet it refers to man, relating to him in way in which other non-human phenomena particularly the phenomena of non-sacred nature do not”.  This means that the cosmos theorized by religion hence both surpasses and is inclusive of man. Berger has illustrated to his audience that this reality addresses itself to them and locates their life in an eventual meaningful order.

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Berger has also used different levels of sacred to bring out its meaning its meaning and application in human life. He states that in one instance, “the antonym to the sacred is the profane” which can be simply describes as the lack of sacred status. This means that all occurrences are profane that do not come out as scared. The everyday routines have also been described by Berger as profane apart from if they somehow get regarded with powers that are sacred. He adds that in even in such situations, however, the sacred quality ascribed to the ordinary activities of life itself still holds its unique character. This character is usually repeated by use of various rituals and the loss of which it is equivalent to secularization. This is to an origin of the happenings in question that are profane and not anything else. The dichotomization of realism into spheres of sacred and profane, however connected, is inherent to the religious enterprise. Therefore, the importance of any religious spectacle is clear.

In understanding the use of repetition in rituals as presented by Drewal, there is an indication of the continuity of life and its practices as were held before the existing generations. This then demonstrates the fact that the use and performance of rituals by a certain community does not simply relate to the commemoration of past events and practices. Rather, it shows the effect that these repetitive rituals have on the society itself and the people that live within them. For instance, through the performance of rituals, members of the Yoruba tribe became convinced to live in the same way as their ancestors did. If the ritual was about the issue of tooth removal, for example, this same ritual would be held repetitively as a means or event through which the removal of teeth for persons who are new to the tribe as offspring would take place. This is, indeed, a channel that is used in the education of new members of that particular society.

In such an educative element of the ritual, however, other members of the society are victimized for the benefit of the other members. For instance, in the event of a circumcision ritual, it is the community at large that enjoys the circumcision rituals that are performed. These rituals are educative to those persons that have never taken part in them. The downside of their benefit is that the subject of the entire ritual is the person who has just undergone circumcision. It is, of course, a painful process in which the person circumcised is expected to demonstrate utmost courage and bear the pain. “Participatory spectacle does not set up fixed unequal power relationships between the gazer and the object of the gaze; rather, the participatory nature of Yoruba spectacle itself means that subject and object positions are continually in flux during performance”. In placing a person who has undergone circumcision at the same participatory level simply outrides the best interest of the circumcised person. The other participants are simply partakers in the ritual while the circumcised person is the subject. The problem with this is that these circumcised persons will join the other side of the participants while newer members undergo the same ritual during the next circumcision season. Such repetition only puts the victims into increasingly complex positions due to the concept of improvisation for the better enjoyment of the rest of the individuals who are simply partakers.

Berger has also used real life situations that his audience can relate with in his explanation of the meaning of the word sacred. He states that the divergent type of sacred is that of chaos. He adds that the scared cosmos comes out of chaos and goes on to challenge the later as its terrible antagonistic.  The opposition between cosmos and chaos is regularly illustrated in various cosmogonist myths. Berger states that “The sacred cosmos which transcends and includes man in its ordering of reality thus provides man’s ultimate shield against terror of anomy”. This means being in a right relationship with a sacred cosmos entails having the protection against the threats of chaos. Coming out of such as relationship would imply being left on the edge of the depth of meaningless.  To be certain, what the religious person is careful about is more than all the risky power intrinsic in the expressions of the sacred themselves. However, behind this threat is the other, more terrifying one that is losing all relations with the sacred and chaos swallowing one up.  Berger adds that all the nomic perceptions are meant to keep this threat away. These perceptions, however, in the sacred cosmos, attain their eventual culmination.

Berger concludes by reminding his audience that human existence is basically and inevitably an activity that is externalizing. In the process of externalization, people give out meaning into actuality. Each society is a structure of externalized and symbolized meanings always purposing at a meaningful entirety. Each society is involved in the ever completed enterprise of constructing a world that makes sense to humans. He states that cosmization means the recognition of this world that is useful to man as being derived from its basic structures. Such a cosmos, as the eventual reason and validation of human nomio, need not essentially be sacred.

Religion has, therefore, been of significant use in the human enterprise of world-construction. Religion suggests the farthest a person can attain his self-externalization of linking his reality with his meanings. It also implies that human order is estimated into wholeness of being. Religion is, therefore, the audacious try to regard the whole universe as being humanly important.  Religion is taken to be scared, informing the activities of those of accept it. Those who are sacred are protected from the threats in the world. Religion is needed to construct a meaningful world. The everyday routines have also been described by Berger as profane apart from if they somehow get perceived with powers that are sacred.

In my own understanding, repetition in whatever use it is put is a means through which any given society learns to cope. There have been various indications of the life of human beings as having been a constant cycle that is shared all through the human race. Due to this, the use of repetition does not necessarily imply the reinforcement of a particular culture or religion. Neither does it serve as a way that is used in the oppression of different persons within a particular society for the benefit of other members. Repetition is simply a channel through which the members of a community learn to deal with the constantly changing worldviews and conditions. It is quite immaterial that the ancestors of that society also performed these rituals. Just as stated by Berger, rituals are used as way that human beings establish patterns in the running of their daily lives. This is formed through humanistic nature of the creation and adoption of habits. With such rituals having no certain authoritative origin, people feel free to use them as they deem fit.

The view by Berger, however, does not resonate with my position. I believe that every ritual-like aspect of the lives of people is their way of adapting to life as it progresses. These patterns do not require any particular source of power or origin simply due to the inherent instincts in human beings that they must survive. Their survival is not dependent on a single person. It is not about the survival of an individual but that of the whole community. This is mainly because of the increased likelihood of survival in the greatness of the numbers. As society keeps expanding, there is the weakening of existing bonds. These bonds need to be strengthened through the use of common, ritual-like practices that they can all identify with irrespective of the components of repetition found in them.

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