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One of the astounding practices of every society in the world is rituals. From the most highly developed societies in the world to the most primitive tribes in the depths of the jungles, rituals are part of their lives. No one knows when early man started to involve himself in rituals, but there is archaeological evidence showing that rituals go a long way into history. Human skeletons which are millions of years old show that the bodies were buried with some kind of ritual.

Basically, what is a ritual? It is an elaborate step by step procedure, usually in the presence of a crowd and often with links to religion. Rituals are conducted at various stages of a person's life - - from birth to death. They are always part of a religious celebration. But, strangely enough, there are rituals which are not religious.

There are a few important rituals in an individual's life. In every society, birth is an important event. Rituals at birth differ from society to society but they seem to be similar in one thing; the parents are expected to share their joy. Then comes the event to name the baby. This is usually a religious event. The Christians have what they call baptism and most other religions have their equivalents.

After this there are rituals at each stage of the child's life. Most are minor ones like the one among Hindus, where there is a ritual that initiates a child to education. When a child reaches puberty there will usually be a ritual to mark his or her entry into adulthood. In some tribes, attaining puberty is an important event. Elaborate rituals, often in stages and lasting several days, are indulged in. The man or woman coming of age is made to feel the importance of the position that he or she has attained and all the accompanying responsibilities that he or she now holds. Usually, after undergoing the ritual he or she is considered an adult, may attend meetings, take part in hunting and discussions.

Do we have a modern equivalent? At first thought it may not seem obvious, but the twenty-first birthday celebration is actually a modern form of this. After attaining 21 years of age, a person is allowed to vote, he may move out from his parent's home and no court will force him to obey his parents. His friends usually signify his entry into manhood by giving him a golden key.

The first great ritual that involves two people is the wedding. Most societies have elaborate rituals to celebrate weddings. There is much feasting and dancing, and this is easily the most important ritual that a person is conscious of undergoing. Basically, it involves a lot of promises being undertaken by each partner to the other and to each other's parents. Usually this is a religious ceremony, but in most modern countries there are government departments that conduct simple rituals, without any religious significance; but no less dignified.

Entries to associations or even professions are sometimes through a ritual. Another type of ritual is when a certain stage has been completed. Anyone who has attended a kindergarten graduation would have seen the elaborate ritual that is organized and conducted to make the kiddies feel so important. Most of these are social rituals and have no religious significance. In fact there are even rituals conducted by governments. If you have seen a tree planting ceremony, you will understand. Basically all that is requires is for someone to plant a tree. But what an elaborate ritual? A VIP is invited, ribbons are cut, the tree ceremoniously planted and watered and speeches made.

But why are rituals conducted? The reason appears to be that for some reason, we enjoy them. Research shows that man simply likes rituals. Seeing that rituals are only for important occasions the reason is probably that, something needs to be done to impress in our minds the importance of the occasion on which the ritual is conducted. For example, no couple will ever forget their wedding. The vows are solemn, the ceremony often in a place of prayer and the ritual before hundreds witnesses. Certainly this will impress in the minds of the couple, that they are taking a very important and serious step in their lives.

   
  Questions
   
  1. (a) How does the writer substantiate his belief that rituals began during prehistoric times ?
    (b) In your own words explain what is a ritual.
    (c) What are the main stages in life where rituals are common in many societies ?
       
  2. (a) Why is the 'coming of age' ritual so important in ancient times ? Is it still important today ?
    (b) Explain the importance of the wedding ritual.
    (c) Give two reasons as to why rituals are important.
       
  3.   What is the function of non-religious rituals ? Are they important ? Why ?
       
  4.   For each of the following words give one word or short phrase ( not more than seven words ) which has the same meaning as it has in the passage.
      i.   astounding   v.   initiates
      ii.   basically   vi.   indulged
      iii.   elaborate   vii.   significance
      iv.   procedure   viii.   impress
       
  5. Briefly summarize the various rituals that are given in the passage. Your summary should be about 160 words.
       
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  Answers
       
  1. (a) Skeletons of prehistoric man found show that he had been buried with rituals. Thus the writer illustrates his point.
    (b) It is a proceeding which takes place before witnesses and it is usually linked with religious beliefs.
    (c) The stages are birth, coming of age, marriage and death.
       
  2. (a) It indicated that a person was independent and that he had become an adult. In ancient times he could now join the hunt and attend meetings. The equivalent of this in modern times in the 21st birthday.
    (b) Weddings are importance because they are the first rituals involving two persons. They are important because they signify new responsibilities for the couple.
    (c) Rituals are important because they impress important issues firmly in the minds and also, people like rituals.
       
  3.   In a country like China where there are several religions. Non-religious rituals are necessary so that all can participate. They are important too as the functions, like the importance of trees, has to be impressed on the people.
       
  4. i surprising
    ii fundamentally
    iii complex
    iv way
    v person undergoing the ritual
    vi taken part
    vii meaning
    viii ingrain
       
  5. Even though their details differed from society to society, rituals are conducted from birth to death. They are usually related to religion. Rituals pertaining to birth usually involve the parents sharing their happiness. the rituals are usually linked to religion and are different in form. An important ritual in many societies is when a person becomes an adult. The modern day equivalent of this is the celebration of the twenty-first birthday. Of special significance is the presentation of keys to the person celebrating his birthday. These rituals are calculated to impress upon the person undergoing it the importance of the stage of life he or she has attained.

The first important ritual that involves two persons is the wedding. There is usually an elaborate celebration to impress upon the new couple about their responsibilities to each other. in addition there are a lot of other rituals at various stages of life and a lot other which are non-religious. ( 160 words )

           
 
 
 
 
 

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Comprehension 1

 

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