I.5.4 Myths and Rituals

Myth Ritual
Believed to be truthful accounts of the past, the narrative that gives religious sanctity and sacred character to the account, and is often associated with ritual is called myth. All myths may not actually depend on the past and necessarily do not deal with sacred, yet they refer to or hinge upon such putative factors providing social credibility and acceptability of the account.

Well-known myths are creation myths. Myth is different from legend as the characters in the myth are usually not humans. They may be supernatural beings or animals or other animate and inanimate objects and sometimes they are ambiguous characters.

Myths generally offer explanations for the customs and practices.

On the other hand, legends are about culture heroes, historical figures located in historical events, which are believed to have taken place, that very easily transit into the contemporary life.

Ritual, like religion, is difficult to define due to diverse forms and complexity of

the phenomenon. However, one may understand it as a set of formalised actions performed with symbolic value in a socially relevant context or worshiping a deity or cult. It is also a customary observance involving stereotyped behaviour.

Rituals vary in form and in content within a particular religion and across religions. They involve participation of one or more individuals, physical movements or actions, verbal and non-verbal or symbolic mode of communication based on certain shared knowledge. Often ritual actions are infused with certain moods and emotional states and the participants may inwardly assent or dissent from the ritual process.

Victor Turner defines ritual as “prescribed formal behaviour for occasions not given over to technical routine, having reference to beliefs in mystical (or non-empirical) beings or powers regarded as the first and final causes of all effects”.

Folk tales are not considered sacred but regarded as stories or fiction meant basically for entertainment. These tales may also include supernatural  elements, yet are essentially secular in nature. The characters in these tales may be human and/ non-humans. The tales exist independent of time and space. Gluckman and Turner differentiate ritual from ceremony, though both of them are forms of religious behaviour. Ritual involves social status and transition of one’s status and, therefore, it is ‘transformative’, while the ceremony is associated with social status and ‘confirmatory’. But such fine distinction often gets blurred and difficult to maintain the difference. Rituals are classified as religious, magical, calendrical, sacred, secular, private, public, sacrificial and totemic and so on.
There is a strong relationship between myth and ritual, and there was a debate as to which came first. It is so because some argued that ritual is the enactment of myth whereas others had argued that myth arises out of rites.

The contemporary studies on myths find no strict correspondence between the two.

Franz Boas tried to understand the social organisation, religious ideas and practices of people from their myths. Malinowski argued that myth is a powerful social force for the native which is relevant to their pragmatic interests. It expresses and codifies beliefs and works towards efficacy of ritual and provides a practical guide. Anthropologists most often use in their discourses on religion the ‘rites de passage’ of Arnold van Gennep, who analytically isolated a set of rituals called rites of passage. The rites are organised recognising the change of status of individual in one’s life time, and each of the rites employs three phases: separation; margin (or limen); and incorporation.
For Levi-Strauss, myth is a logical model, it is a cultural artefact.

The human mind structures reality and imposes form and content on it. According to him, myth is an area where human mind enjoys freedom and unrestrained creative thinking expressed in it. Taking into consideration several limiting factors, humans think certain conceivable possibilities about the critical problems that they face. Therefore, myth provides the conceptual frame for social order, but it need not correspond with the ethnographic facts of social organisation.

Levi-Strauss provided a method for structural analysis of myth. The latter studies of myth point out the fact that myth interprets the reality but does not necessarily represent the social order.

Turner elaborates the transitional phase liminality in his study of Ndembu in Zambia.


I.2.2.2 Culture and Society


Culture is the sum total of learned, shared and socially transmitted behaviour that includes ideas, values, and customs of groups of people. A fairly large number of people living in the same territory constitute a society.Members of a society share a common language, which facilitates day-to-day exchanges with others and participate in a common culture.
Early notion of culture was popularised among Anthropologist in order to understand homogeneous societies. In the modern world the relationship between culture and society is a complex one. Culture is produced and reproduced within the society and society acts in certain way in a culture. According to Pertierra, (2004) society can be seen as the collection of individual members pursuing their interest in the context of formal rules administered by specialists and implemented by the state. It was also a constant state of self constitution, whose members are engaged in individual life projects marked by purposive and value rationality. Society consists of individuals mostly unknown to one another but nevertheless linked through abstract categories such as class, nation, or gender. In this case society assumed as the real place or arena, an institution in which individuals play their roles in order to achieve their different objectives.
Nadel in his work says it is necessary to make a distinction between “Culture” from its companion term “society.”

According to him culture is the way of life of the people; while a society is an organised, interacting aggregate of individuals who follow a given way of life.

In simple terms a society is composed of people; the way they behave is their culture.

Since the time of Boas, culture became a tool for understanding and describing the exotic society.

Early Anthropologists used culture as the set of practical and contingent  significations, while postmodernists use it to mark the domain of signifying practices.

Anthropological study on cultural relativism allows a comparison of culture without assuming evolutionary hierarchies. It means that every culture has in its own rights to be different and does not stand for the purpose of other culture. In other words, all cultures express validity in their perspective of the world. Thus, it could be in-appropriate to judge cannibalism activity among society even if we use universal notion on violence and understand the reason and rationalise such activity.
When we see the relation between society and culture, society and culture are two elements that are complementing each other. Culture is manifested in the socio economic structures as frames for the organisation of social relationship, it is embedded both in the material setting and the social institutions of society. Material experiences are organised and group relations are structured through culture. But culture has also the medium through which the social world is experienced, interpreted and understood. In this sense, culture is something more basic than ideological superstructure. Culture is produced in a given society within the framework set by the socio-economic structure. The cultural process perpetually occurs among the different groups and classes in a society, and also affects social structure. Society expresses itself through culture. We can associate the group of people or society from the culture they practice, such as Asian society is characterised by Asian culture, or Javanese society with its Javanese culture.


The roots of the term society can be traced to the Latin word socius which means companionship or friendship.

Everyone often defines society as an aggregation or collection of individuals. But in anthropology, the term “society” refers not just to a group of people but to a complex pattern of norms of interaction that exist among them. In terms of common sense, society is understood as a tangible object, where as in anthropology it refers to an intangible entity. It is a mental construct, which we realise in every day life but cannot see it. The important aspect of society is the system of relationships, the pattern of the norms of interaction by which the members of the society maintain themselves. Some anthropologists say that society exists only when the members know each other and possess common interests or objects.

Society is defined as structure that is a recognizable network of inter-relating institutions. Because human beings exist in a linguistic and symbolic universe that they themselves have constructed the temptation is to construe society as a highly complex symbolic and communication system. Society is not a static or peace-fully evolving structure but is conceived of as the tentative solution to the conflicts arising out of antagonistic social relations of production. Frequently social scientists emphasize the cultural aspect of social relationships. In doing so they see society as being made possible by the shared understanding of its members. This stress on culture is associated with the notion that society is underpinned by ideas and values. Society is not imposed upon people in the processual definition rather it has to be accepted and confirmed by participants. Each interaction episode contains within it the possibility of innovation and change. So against the view of society that sees it as structure the process view asserts that people make structure.

Society is a group of interacting individuals sharing the same territory and participating in common culture.

Definition of Society

George Simmel has stated that it is the element of sociability or companionship which defines the true essence of society.

Aristotle stated centuries ago man is a social animal, it brings into focus that man always lives in the company of other people. Society has become an essential condition for human life to continue.

August Comte viewed society as a social organism possessing a harmony of structure and function.

Emile Durkheim regarded society as a reality in its own right.

For Talcott Parson Society is a total complex of human relationships in so far as they grow out of the action in terms of means-end relationship intrinsic or symbolic.

G.H Mead conceived society as an exchange of gestures which involves the use of symbols.

Morris Ginsberg defines society as a collection of individuals united by certain relations or mode of behaviour which mark them off from others who do not enter into these relations or who differ from them in behaviour.

Cole saw Society as the complex of organised associations and institutions with a community.

MacIver and Page found it was a system of usages and procedures of authority and mutual aid of many groupings and divisions, of controls of human behaviour and liberties; a web of social relationship.

A society is generally conceived of as a human group which is relatively large, relatively independent or self perpetuating in demographic terms, and which is relatively autonomous in its organisation of social relations. But it is the relativity of each society’s autonomy, independence and self-perpetuating nature which is the crucial factor, and the distinction of one society from another is often arbitrary. It is important in anthropology not to allow these arbitrary divisions to distort our vision of systems of local, regional, national and international social relations.

The definitions of society is of  two types – the functional definition and the structural definition.

From the functional point of view, society is defined as a complex of groups in reciprocal relationships, interacting upon one another, enabling human organisms to carry on their life-activities and helping each person to fulfill his wishes and accomplish his interests in association with his fellows.

From the structural point of view, society is the total social heritage of folkways, mores and institutions; of habits, sentiments and ideals.

Ginsberg, Giddings, Cole and Cuber take a structural view of society while McIver, Parsons, Lapiere, Cooley and Leacock have given functional definition of society.

The definition of society has undergone little variation from the standpoint of classical and modern scholars. Society is a group of people who share a common culture, occupy a particular territorial area and feel themselves to constitute a unified and distinct entity. It is the mutual interactions and interrelations of individuals and groups. Society is a group of people related to each other through persistent relations in terms of social status, roles and social networks. By extension, society denotes the people of a region or country, sometimes even the world, taken as a whole. Used in the sense of an association, a society is a body of individuals outlined by the bounds of functional interdependence, possibly comprising characteristics such as national or cultural identity, social solidarity, language or hierarchical organisation.

Characteristics of Society

1. According to McIver society is a web of social relationships”, which may be of several types. The family alone is said to have as many relationships based on age, sex, gender, and generation. Outside the family there is no limit to the number of possible relationships.

2. McIver says society means likeness”. Therefore, likeness is an essential prerequisite of society. The sense of likeness was focused in early society on kinship, that is, real or supposed blood relationships. In modern societies the conditions of social likeness have broadened out in the principle of nationality of one world. “Comradeship, intimacy, association of any kind or degree would be impossible without some understanding of each by the other, and that understanding depends on the likeness which each apprehends in the other.

3. Society also implies difference but this sense of likeness does not exclude diversity or variation. Society also implies difference and it depends on the latter as much as on likeness. A society based exclusively on likeness and uniformity is bound to be loose in socialites. All our social systems involve relationships in which differences complement one another, for e.g., family rests upon the biological difference between sexes. Besides the difference in sex there are other natural differences of aptitude, of interest of capacity. While difference is necessary to society, difference by itself does not create society, difference subordinate to likeness. It has been argued that likeness is necessarily prior to the differentiation of social organisation.

As McIver observed, – primary likeness and secondary difference create the greatest of all social institutions-the division of labour.

4. Interdependence is another essential element to constitute society. Family, one of the important units of society with which we all are closely associated, is based on the biological inter-dependence of the sexes. None of the two sexes is complete by itself and therefore each seeks fulfillment by the aid of the other. The Social organisation diversifies the work of each, making each more dependent on others, in order that by the surrender of self sufficiency he may receive back thousand fold in fullness of life. This interdependence is both extensive as well as intensive.

5. Lastly, cooperation is also essential to constitute society. Without cooperation no society can exist. Unless people cooperate with each other, they cannot live a happy life. All social institutions rest on cooperation. The members in social institutions cooperate with one another to live happily and joyfully. Cooperation avoids mutual destructiveness and results in economy. For want of cooperation the entire fabric of society may collapse.

Thus likeness, interdependence and cooperation are the essential elements to constitute society. Besides these elements, McIver has also mentioned some other elements of society; it is a system of usages and procedures, authority and mutual aid, of many groupings and divisions; it controls human behaviour and liberties.

This view brings in several other elements of society firstly, in every society there are some usages concerned with marriage, education, religion, food, and speech etc., which differ from society to society. Secondly, there are procedures i.e., the modes of action in every society which maintain its unity and organisation. Thirdly, the presence of an authority is necessary to maintain order in society. Fourthly, no society can be stable unless there is a feeling of mutual aid among its members.

Fifthly, in a society there are several groupings and divisions such as family, city and village etc. sixthly, liberty and control go together in a society. Without liberty man cannot develop his personality. Control upon an individual’s behaviour is not meant to destroy his liberty but to promote and protect it.

It is this social fact and not the biological fact which constitute society. The true nature of society consists not in the external factors of interdependence of likeness or authority but in the state of mind of the beings which compose society. It is the pattern, not the people, which is termed society. It is not a group but a process of relationships. It is said society is the extension of individuality, the transcendence of self-closedness, the vehicle of personal identity, the means of the continuation of personality through the generations, the nurse of youth, the arena of manhood and womanhood.

Sociologist Gerhard Lenski based on the level of technology, communication and economy had differentiated societies into: a) hunters and gatherers, b) simple agricultural, c) advanced agricultural d) industrial, and e) special (e.g. fishing societies or maritime societies). This classification is more or less similar to the system earlier developed by anthropologists like Fried and Service. They classified societies as foraging or hunter gatherer, horticultural, agricultural, industrial, and then information-age (post-industrial) societies. In order of increasing size and complexity, there are bands, tribes, chiefdoms, and state societies. Societies may also be organised according to their political structure. These structures may have varying degrees of political power, depending on the cultural geographical, and historical environments. The term society is currently used to cover a number of political and scientific connotations as well as a variety of associations.

Description of particular society to be done in following sequence-

  1. Introduction- definition
  2. Geographical location
  3. Marriage and family
  4. Kinship
  5. Economy
  6. Political organization
  7. Religion
  8. Conclusion

I.1.8.b.i Paleolithic culture

I. Lower Paleolithic

5,40,000-1,20,000 years ago

  • Occurs in Pliestocene epoch.
  • Rugged tools which were heavy and unsophisticated.
  • First tools found in oluvian region of East Africa.

Tool Culture:

1. Chellean, Abbevellian and Acheulianculture

  1. Hand axes:

Pear shaped tools with cutting edge narrower than the butt. The evidences of Chou-kou-tian show that the tools must have been used for hunting big animals. Chellean, Abbevellian and Acheulian are the three kinds of hand axes found. Abbevellian and Acheulian were later in time to chellean hand  axes.

  1. Cleavers:

They have a broader cutting edge and are generally found along with Acheulian culture region

  1. Pebble tools:

Chopper and chopping tools which were used for cleaning the hides and scrapping the barks for covering bodies.

Chopper tools have unifacial cutting edge whereas chopping tools are bifacial.

Found in Burma, east Africa and India.

2. Oluvian culture: Coexistence of pebble tools and hand axes.

Materials used:

Hand axes were made with pressure flaking of quartzitein India, china and Java.Further, Metamorphic rocks in India, sedimentary rocks in Europe.


Biological evolution during this period was Homo erectus.  Emergence of perfect bipedalism aided the manufacturing of tools and big game hunting.

Social aspects:  Glynn Issac opined that enculturation process continued as in Great apes with more details.

“Man and Hunter model” proposed by Issac and Leaky propounded that factors like physical strength and requirement of long duration of time for hunting made man involved in big game hunting. The female was involved in child care and thus institution of family evolved.

Jane Goodall rejected the man the hunter model and gave examples of chimpanzees, Gllanas of Kalahari where female were involved in food collecting.

II. Middle Paleolithic

70,000-30,000 years ago

Tool culture: Moustrian culture

Flake tools

  1. Burin: used for engraving
  2. scrapper: scrapping barks of tree and dressing the hides
  3. Points: Manufactured by levallosian method or simple pressure flaking. are or various shapes and sizes. Large sized points were used as arrow head and small ones for fishing.
  4. Borer: to drill holes.


  • Biological evolution was Neanderthal man who lived in rock shelters and caves for the access of stone.
  • Belief in supernatural powers evident from burial practices.
  • Belief in after life as skulls were places in particular directions along with tools
  • In shanidar fossils were found along with flowers indicating intentional burial.

III. Upper Paleolithic

30,000-20,000 years ago

occurs in Holocene

Tool culture

  1. Aurignatian or Blade-Burin culture:
  • Discovered at La Aurignae.
  • found knife blades, engraved blades, burin
  • Sub species associated with this culture was Cromagnon.
  1. Solutrian or Needle culture:
  • discovered at Solutre
  • flakes and needles both eyed and uneyed
  • Cromagnon
  1. Magdalanian culure or Art form culture:
  • La Magnalene
  • flake tools made of bones with art forms engraved which indicate their beliefs and lifestyle
  • Ivory and horn were used extensively
  • many of the evidences were in colder climate and there was dependence on reindeer.


Blade tools and use of non-lithic material. Tool material was bone and ivory along with stone.


  • emergence of hunting and fishing societies
  • use of animal hides to cover bodies
  • building of shelters using bones and horn
  • It is believed that language in a rudimentary form emerged
  • social political life resembled band organisations.

I.1.6.a Australopithecines


The fossils of Australopithecus were found at different places in Africa and outside Africa. It is a small brained bidep with a number of species within the same genus. Most of these variants are associated with savanna living.

Divided into two groups

I. Gracile:

It is considered to be an ancestor of Homo

Small and gracile in terms of body weight, skeletal features like dentition, facial musculature and cranial capacity.

Omnivore and probable tool maker. Feebly developed supra orbital ridges proves his diet

It includes

1. A. Anamensis:

  • Earliest Australopithecus species found in Northern Kenya

2. A. Afarensis:

  • Found at Lateoli in Tanzania and Hadar in Ethiopia
  • Human like footprints found at lateoli which confirm them to be bipedal
  • Large ape like canines but did not fit into diastema. Thus side to side movement of lower jaw was possible
  • A complete skeleton of gracile female called Lucy fossil was discovered by Donald Johnson at Hadar(Ehtiopia)

3. A.Africanus (Southern ape of Africa)

  • First Australopithecus to be discovered. Raymond Dart
  • Taung fossil: Juvenile fossil, Foramen Magnum located underneath the skull indicating bipedalism and erect posture, incisors and canine teeth were short like humans
  • Initially it was difficult to conclude on Australopithecus Africanus features based on child  fossil but later discoveries by Robert Broom at Sterkfontein and others at Makapansgat helped in deriving a complete picture:
  • Brain case is rounded, well developed forehead, moderate brow ridges.
II.  Robustus or Paranthropus

·         Large and robust with features such as supra orbital ridges and sagittal crust

·         Larger dentition

·         considered to be extinct with changing climate

It includes

1.A. Aethiopicus:

  • Earliest known robustus found in North Kenya and South Ethiopia

2.A. Robustus:

  • Discovered by Robert broom at Kromdraai. It is found to be living at the same time of A.Africanus though they have marked different hominid features.

3.A. Boisei or Zizanthropus:

  • Discovered by Louis Leakey at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.The discovery demonstrated the presence of early hominids in east Africa.


Geographical disrtibution:

South Africa:   

1.Taung – A.Africanus

2.Sterkfontein – Plesianthropus Transvellenis

3.Makapansgat – A.Prometheus 


4.Kromdraai – A.Robustus

5.Swartkrans – Paranthropus Crassidens

East Africa:  1.Omo(ethiopia) – both gracile and robustus 

2. Hadar(Ethiopia) – A.Afarensis

3. Laetoli(Tanzania) – A.Afarensis


4.Olduvai(Tanzania) – A.Boisei





I.1.3 Main branches of Anthropology

There are four branches of anthropology:

  1. biological/physical anthropology,
  2. sociocultural anthropology,
  3. archaeological anthropology and
  4. linguistic anthropology.

It highlights the holism of the discipline and how these parts with their uniqueness still manage to retain an analytic connectivity.

Anthropology studies humankind in its totality taking into consideration both the past and present. And in this pursuit to comprehend the intricacies of human life, anthropology assembles knowledge from humanities, social sciences, biological sciences and physical sciences.

The various branches of anthropology  highlight the fact that the subject with its four branches is a holistic science of human beings in all aspects.

On the one hand, physical/biological anthropology guides us about human evolution, our place in the animal kingdom as primates, our genetic conditions, variability in people, etc., and on the other hand socio-cultural anthropology tries to explore the social and cultural life of human beings in society. For this anthropology as a discipline takes help of societal aspects like religion, economy, polity, power, kinship, marriage, family, gender behaivour, and try to understand why and how humans behave in different situations to live their lives in order.

Archaeological-anthropology is peninent in anthropology as it involves both physical and social aspects of human lives but of what is bygone. It clearly deals with reconstruction of whatever has occurred in an era where evidences are not very concrete but it is with them, that archaeologists along with the use of various methods try to decipher the past.

Linguistic anthropology is a branch, which is closely associated with social anthropology and it tries to understand human society with the help of languages of the past, languages of the present, gestures, symbols, etc.

To sum up anthropology as a subject is completely unique for it being able to take into consideration all facets of human life and provide knowledge and generate thought for deliberation.