Ritual and Knowledge among the Baktaman of New Guinea

Barth, Fredrik: Ritual and knowledge among the Baktaman of New Guinea

The religion of the Baktaman, particularly their secret rites, and the meanings and knowledge which these rites embody, is the theme of this book.

The analysis of ritual is a central anthropological problem, since the basic values and conceptualisations of a culture seem to be expressed in this mode. But people perform these rituals because they thereby – as in e.g. music and painting – can communicate ideas and messages which they cannot express in ordinary words. Precisely for this reason the anthropological analysis of ritual codes cannot be based on methodology or premises borrowed from the analysis of linguistic codes (as do many American anthropologists, and structuralists of the Levi-Strauss school); nor does the author believe that the substantive content of rituals can be ascertained from other sources, such as myths and exegeses.

As a mode of communication, ritual is characteristically collective and builds on metaphor. Professor Barth’s analysis therefore proceeds concretely as a sociology of knowledge: How does this stone-age population communicate a tradition of knowledge and conceptualisation of the world through their rites, i.e. what messages do novices and audiences receive? And, as a next step: From what we discover in this specific material, what general methods for analysing ritual codes can we develop?

"This is a work of rare distinction by one of the finest anthropologists of our day." (Harold W. Scheffler)

"I have never read a more sensitive or reflective analysis of the belief systems of a non-Western people." (Sidney W. Mintz)

First published: 1975, Universitetsforlaget / Yale University press

Language: English

Fredrik Barth: Biography and bibliography

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