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As far as ancient rituals are concerned, one would be amazed to find what people had created to show their respect for nature. Regarding it as a religious and spiritual phenomenon, men even staked their lives to appease the spirits, which, they believed, resided in the Earth's natural elements. The wind, the rain, the earth, the mountains and the trees with their supernatural powers maintained the existence of life on Earth.

In old civilizations, some tribes worshipped their kings, whom they believed represented certain forces of nature. They were hailed as gods and revered for the powers they were believed to possess. The Shilluk, an old African tribe, worshipped their leader believing that the founder of the tribe, Nyaking, was reborn as the leader himself. According to legends, Nyakang was the rain-giver. The members of such tribes associated their prosperity and even survival with the qualities and well-being of the king. If the king fell ill, it was considered a bad omen to the entire community. If the king was courageous and wise, the tribe would be blessed with a good and comfortable life ahead. However, in order to stay in office, the king had to abide by certain rules and regulations laid down by the tribe's ancestors. It was believed that if he became unworthy of his position and was allowed to stay, then the force of nature he represented would turn against the whole village.

In parts of Europe and Asia, it is still the custom to construct a straw figure and carry it through the village amidst the mourning and wailing of the women. The straw figure is supposed to represent the nature spirit. Each culture has its own unique way of worshipping the spirit. The figure can be buried, tossed into water or carried back to the village. As the latter is an act symbolizing life, the women rejoice while it is being carried back.

The ritual is also conducted by dressing up the straw figure in a man's shirt and taking it to the boundary of the neighboring village. The shirt is removed and hung on a young tree once the figure is torn to shreds by the women. The ritual ends with much celebration when the tree is cut down and brought back to the village. The whole process is supposed to symbolize the rebirth of man.

There are various other forms of nature worship which are unique to certain cultures. The more popular ones are sword dancing and what is commonly known in England as Morris dancing. These rituals pay tribute to the forces of nature in the hope that the village will be blessed with a good harvest and a fertile soil. According to the natives, they also ensure that the cycle of the seasons does not falter.

The Morris people are found in English villages and can be easily identified by their white pleated shirts, white trousers or skirts with bells at the knee and flowers on their hats. They use maces or wands while dancing. At times, lances are also used. These items are considered symbols of fertility. During the dance, the leader of the people is supposed to carry a sword with a piece of cake attached to the end. The cake is divided among the Morris men and women as the dance progresses. They are then expected to donate to the community's treasury.

   
Answer the following questions using complete sentences
  1. To what extent did the ancient civilizations try to appease the divine spirits ?
  2. Why did people worship the wind and the rain ? Explain in your own words.
  3. Why did the Shilluk worship their leader ?
  4. How was the fate of 'such tribes' (paragraph 2) affected by the qualities of their kings ?
  5. When do you think a Shilluk leader had to be replaced immediately ?
  6. Why was it important to the tribe that a Shilluk leader be replaced ?
  7. According to the passage, how do certain cultures today ensure the fertility of their land ?
  8. '... they also ensure that the cycle of the seasons does not falter.' (paragraph 5) Explain what this sentence means in your own words.
  9. How can you spot a Morris woman in England ?
  10. 'These items are considered symbols of fertility.' (paragraph 6) With reference to the last two paragraphs, what is the 'fertility' referring to ?
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Answers
 

1.

They staked their lives to appease the spirits.
 

2.

They believed divine and powerful spirits lived in them.
 

3.

The Shilluk believed that their leader possessed divine powers of the rain-giver.
 

4.

The tribes believed that they would lead a prosperous life if their kings were strong, bold and wise.
 

5.

He had to be replaced immediately when he refused to follow the guidelines written by the ancestors.
  6. If he remained as the leader, the nature god he represented would seek revenge on the tribe.
  7. They perform rituals known as sword dancing and Morris dancing.
  8. The rituals are conducted to make sure that the seasons -- spring, summer, autumn and winter -- continue as usual.
  9. They wear white pleated shirts, white trousers or skirts with bells at the knee and flowers on their hats.
  10. It is referring to the fertility of the land. / It is referring tot he fertility of the soil.
 
 
 
 
 

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Comprehension 1

 

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