Rituals come in many different forms and are practised in cultures the world over, but why have they become such an important part of our lives?W
When the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski visited the Trobriand Islands in Papua New Guinea in the early 20th Century, he noted the elaborate preparations fishermen would make before setting out to sea. They would carefully paint their canoes with black, red and white paint, chanting spells as they did so. The vessel would be struck with wooden sticks, the bows stained with red ochre and crew members would adorn their arms with shells.
Malinowski recorded a long list of ceremonies and rituals the islanders would perform before venturing out onto the open sea. But when the fishermen went out into the nearby calm lagoon, they did not use these rites. Malinowski concluded that the “magic” rituals performed by the islanders were a response to help them cope with the unpredictable might of the Pacific Ocean.
Later anthropologists have noted that fishermen in other parts of the world, such those engaging in deep sea fishing off the gulf coast of Texas and drifter fishing skippers in East Anglia, UK, were also prone to superstitions and rituals to help them cope with the uncertainty and dangers of their profession.
But evidence points to the existence of rituals long before the 20th century. One of the earliest examples of a human ritual practice is thought to be a carving of a python in a cave in Botswana, Southern Africa, dating back 70,000 years. Thousands of stone spearheads in the cave were thought to have been burnt in a ritual, including some that had been intricately carved from red stone brought from hundreds of miles away. The archaeologists who made the discovery believe the destruction of the spearheads were part of ritualistic sacrifices to the python.
But why have rituals been used for such a long time?
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