Daniel Everett
Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes

Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle
Profile Books 2008



Everett Snakes 81



Ritual
81 Ritual is a set of prescribed actions with symbolic significance for the culture. Piraha culture is remarkable to some Westerners, for its relative lack of ritual. There are areas where we might expect ritual behaviour, but we do not find clear cases of it.

Burial:
When someone dies, he or she is buried. The Pirahas never abandon bodies or deceased Pirahas to the elements, but all this bury them. This is an area where we can expect some ritual, though there is little that we can describe with this term here. There are some loosely follow traditions surrounding burial, but no ritual.

82 Most aspects of burials are subject to variation, however, and I have never seen any two burials exactly alike. The ad hoc nature of the burials plus the fact that they are logical solution to the in Delhi can see of leaving a rotting corpse above ground, leads me to avoid interpreting them as ritualistic.

Marriage:
Sex and marriage also involved no ritual that I can see. Although Pirahas are reluctant to discuss their own intimate sexual details, they have done so in general terms on occasion. They refer to cunnilingus and fellatio as “licking like dogs”, though this comparison to animal behaviour is not intended to denigrate the act at all. They consider animals good examples of how to live. Sexual intercourse is described as eating the other. The Pirahas quite enjoy sex and alolude to it or talk about others'sexual activity freely.

Sex is not limited to spouses, though that is the norm for married men and women. Unmarried Piraha have sex as they wish. To have sex with someone else’s spouse is frowned upon and can be risky, but it happens. If the couple is married to each other, they will just walk off in the forest a ways to have sex.
If one or both members of the couple are married to someone else, they will usually leave the village for a few days. If they return and remain together, the old partners are thereby divorced and the new couple is married.

Dancing,singing:
83 Perhaps the activity closest to ritual among the Pirahas is their dancing. Dances bring the village together. They are often marked by promiscuity, fun, laughing, and merriment by the entire village. There are no musical instruments involved, only singing, clapping, and stomping of feet. Sexual relations are relatively free between unmarried individuals and even between individuals married to other partners during village dancing and singing, usually during full moons. Aggression is observed from time to time, from mild to severe, but aggression is never condoned and it is very rare.

84 The relative lack of ritual among the Pirahas is predicted by the immediacy of experience principle. This principle states that formulaic language and actions (rituals) that involves reference to non-witnessed events are avoided. So ritual where the principal character could not claim to have seen what he or she was enacting would be prohibited. Beyond this prohibitive feature, however, the idea behind the principle is that the Pirahas avoid formulaic encodings of values and instead transmit values and information via actions and words that are original in composition with the person acting or speaking, that have been witnessed by this person, or that have been told to this person by a witness. So traditional oral literature and rituals have no place.


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