Friday, July 23, 2010

Rites of Passage: Death

The major changes in the life cycle of a person’s social development are marked by rites of passage-rituals of birth, puberty, marriage and death. These rituals serve to express the course of social time, indicate changes in personal status and invoke supernatural aid in bringing them about. The pattern of these rites, analyzed by authorities such as Charles Ivan Gennep, appears to be extraordinarily wide spread in societies.
 The transition such as puberty is ritual professed n three phases: first, the person is removed from the old category (preliminal separation), next he is isolated from normal social contacts and placed in an external, suspended state (liminal transition); and finally, he is ritually reincorporated into a new place in society (postliminal incorporation).
The disappearance – reappearance sequence indicates a kind of rebirth into each new state, which enables others in the social group to realize that they must establish a new set of relation with the initiate. For example, in rural Italy the pubescent boy is ceremoniously passed through a sapling that has been split in two (reborn) which is then bound up again so that it continues to grow. The boy is considered a young man, and boy and tree mature together.
 Death is the final and ultimate rite of passage, the last in a long chain or transitions. It rarely seen as the total eclipse of the person;  but more as transition to another state. The belief that death is not the “end” underlies much of ritual behavior, which attempts to link birth and death and to counter the psychological repugnance of ageing (entropy).
Funerary symbolism often focuses on phenomena in nature which repeat themselves in order to disclaim the ‘reality” of death- asserting that death follows birth as birth follows death in a cycle. Through ritualized ceremonies, presided over by a priest or shaman, both the dead and the living are moved on to new points of orientation.
 The corpse is normally the focus of the funeral ritual it is cremated, buried or in the case of some Tibetan Buddhists, eaten by vultures. The force that gave the body life is believed to be transformed but not extinguished. Throughout the world, a key principle of most of most religious dogma proposes the temporary habitation of the body by the soul, suggesting that death is a “passage’ or stage of development. The soul may move to non corporeal or spirit state, as in the Judaeo –Christian tradition, or may be reincarnated, as in the Hindu and Buddhist religions.
 At funerals in Berewan, Central Borneo, the corpse is first displayed for close relatives on a specially built seat for a couple of days before being placed on a coffin or huge urn. After four to ten days, it is removed for temporary storage in the long house, and then placed on a simple wooden platform in the grave yard for eight months to five years. The bones are then transported to their final resting place, which is typically a niche in a richly carved post or a wooden mausoleum.


  1. where did you find these images?i am doing a report on the berawan and need images of their funerary ritual


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