Ritual and Ontogeny

Life Cycle Rites in an Eastern Indonesian Society

by Gregory Forth

Forthcoming August 2024

Tags: Anthropology, Archaeology, Ritual Studies Monograph Series

ISBN 978-1-5310-2729-2
eISBN 978-1-5310-2730-8

Like many people, the Nagé of Flores Island recognize "humans,"' "animals," and "spirits" as distinct kinds of being. The book explores how, in performing and interpreting life-cycle rituals, Nagé use these three categories in conceptualizing different stages in a person's coming into being—beginning with fetal existence through entry into adulthood, marriage, and extending to death and beyond. Special attention is given to two unusual, now defunct, and previously non-obligatory ceremonies and how they relate to other life-cycle rites and enduring features of Nagé society, including marriage alliance and treatment of the dead. All these rituals reveal that, for Nagé, an unborn child exists in a largely animal state, becoming fully human only after birth. Funeral rites, by contrast, turn on a belief that the deceased becomes a malevolent spirit before transforming into a disembodied soul. Nevertheless, before this transformation is complete, Nagé also conceive of a person as participating in an animal-like condition.

Based on 34 years of anthropological fieldwork (1984-2018), this book is the first general account of Nagé culture and indigenous ritual. Engaging with anthropology's "ontological turn"— a theoretical approach grounded in the idea that different societies differ fundamentally in the way they understand humans in relation to other beings—it is also the first to explore a society's worldview by focusing on the life cycle and particularly how component rituals express beliefs about the course of a human life. As such, the book will attract anyone interested in how a traditional non-Western community continues to view human existence.

Comp Copy If you are a professor teaching in this field you may request a complimentary copy.