The Primitive Mind and Modern Man

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This book is in the field of cultural anthropology and transcultural psychology, and is intended for college courses in anthropology and psychology, and general readership. The book focuses on ...
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Hunting and Cultivation Rituals

Pp. 83-94 (12)

John Alan Cohan


Primitive cultures have a striking relationship with animals, and remarkable rituals associated with hunting. Animals not only provide meat, but also hides and fur, and bones for fashioning into artifacts and ceremonial objects. Two broad areas of hunting rituals are one pertaining to “bribing” or coaxing animals to present themselves to the hunters; and the other involves appeasing the spirits of the animals once they have been slain. When animals are hunted, they are usually treated in a distinctive, reverent manner, partly to propitiate the ghosts of the animals, so as not to be harmed by them. Many cultures also show great respect to plants grown for food: In Papua New Guinea, for example, yams, a major food staple, are carefully attended to, and people talk to a yam as if it were human. The practice of reciting magical spells on traps, in order to attract game, is practiced in many cultures. In numerous cultures, ceremonies take place in preparation for the whaling season, including ceremonial launching of the boats, singing of whaling songs, donning of new clothes, and performing a ritual of “spearing” the woman whom they designated to represent a whale. Bears seem to be more venerated than any other hunted animal in the world. Elaborate ceremonies surround bear hunting. Bears have high intelligence, they walk in a human-like manner, they sit down against a tree with their paws, like arms, at their sides and perhaps one leg drawn up under their body. They exhibit a wide range of emotions that are very humanlike. The Nivkh people celebrate the Bear Festival, which involves a ritual sacrifice of a bear to was to commemorate deceased ancestors, or on special occasions. In the disposal of the bear’s remains, there is great respect accorded the bones, which are ceremoniously and carefully buried intact in proper position. The Motu in Papua New Guinea treat tuna with great reverence, and have elaborate preparations for the fishing season, including fasting, ritual bathing, singing, and dancing. They bless the fish before killing them. If a tuna is accidentally knocked against the side of the canoe, the fisherman must go down on his knees and kiss the fish; otherwise no more will enter the nets that day. Cattle and other livestock are treated with reverence in India, Northeast Africa, and other regions. Native Americans in the North Pacific have revitalized the First Salmon Ceremony, an aboriginal “first fruits” ritual, involving elaborate preparation and ceremonies to welcome the salmon. Protocols carefully prescribe the manner of fishing, cooking, eating, and disposal of fish bones. Reindeer breeders in Siberia practice a communal reindeer sacrifice in order to insure food, happiness, health and prosperity.


Western State Law School USA.