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Rites of passage

Alan Barnard describes rites of passage as a ceremony that an individual goes through to mark the change from one status in life to another. For example christening or baptism in Christianity.

  • Naming rites mark the transition from non-person to person or from person outside the community to person within the community.
  • Initiation rites mark the transition from childhood to adulthood
  • Marriage rites mark the transition from single to married status. Marriage rites are found in every society though not religious in nature in all the cases.
  • Funeral rites mark the transition from person to ancestor or from person within the community of the living to person beyond. Funerals are also universal. In some societies more than one funeral is necessary and sometimes even more than one burial ceremony. In Aboriginal Australia an individual is buried once then his or her body dug up and buried again to mark these phases in the transition from living to ancestral status.

An important writer on rites of passage was the French folklorist Arnold van Gennep whose book The Rites of Passage (1909) paved the way for future research. According to him there are three phases

  • Separation such as leaving the group prior to rituals
  • Transition the period of most ritual activity
  • Incorporation where individuals are reintroduced to the group in her new status

Victor Turner in his book The Forest of Symbols (1967) described the male initiation ceremony among Ndembu of Zambia. He stressed the special bonds formed among people involved in the liminal phase (threshold) and called this communitas. Communitas is opposite of normal social structure. As among the Iatmul Ndembu communitas involves the violation of normal rules of behavior and at the same time a heightened sense of group solidarity.