Myth & Religion Definitions
!Kung Ritual and Healing
Future of the !Kung
Myth and Religion Definitions
Religion is defined, following Wallace,
as belief and ritual concerned with
supernatural beings, powers, and
So defined, religion is a cultural
Kinds of Religion
Religious forms vary from culture to culture but
there are correlations between political organization
and religious type.
Religious Practitioners and Types
• Wallace defined religion as consisting of all a society‟s cult
institutions (rituals and associated beliefs), and developed
four categories from this:
Shamanic religions shamans are part-time religious
intermediaries who may act as curers--these religions are most
characteristic of foragers.
Communal religions have shamans, community rituals, multiple
nature gods, and are more characteristic of food producers
Olympian religions first appeared with states, have full-time
religious specialists whose organization may mimic the states,
have potent anthropomorphic gods who may exist as a
Monotheistic religions have all the attributes of Olympian
religions, except that the pantheon of gods is subsumed under
a single eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent
Origins, Functions, and Expressions of
Neanderthal mortuary remains provide the earliest
evidence of what probably was religious activity.
• Tylor first studied religion anthropologically, and developed a
taxonomy of religions.
• Animism was seen as the most primitive, and is defined as a
belief in souls that derives from the first attempt to explain
dreams and like phenomena.
Mana and Taboo
• Mana is defined as belief in an immanent supernatural domain
or life-force, potentially subject to human manipulation.
• The Polynesian and Melanesian concepts of mana are
Melanesian mana is defined as a sacred impersonal force that is
much like the Western concept of luck.
Polynesian mana and the related concept of taboo are related to
the more hierarchical nature of Polynesian society.
Magic and Religion
Magic refers to supernatural techniques
intended to accomplish specific aims.
Magic may be imitative (as with voodoo
dolls) or contagious (accomplished
Anxiety, Control, Solace
• Magic is an instrument of control, but religion
serves to provide stability when no control or
understanding is possible.
• Malinowski saw tribal religions as being
focused on life crises.
Rituals & Rites of Passage
• Rituals are formal, performed in sacred
• Rituals convey information about the culture of
the participants and, hence, the participants
• Rituals are inherently social, and participation
in them necessarily implies social commitment.
Rites of Passage
• Rites of passage are religious rituals which
mark and facilitate a persons movement from
one (social) state of being to another (e.g.
Plains Indians‟ vision quests).
Rites of passage have three phases:
Separation – the participant(s) withdraws from
the group and begin moving from one place to
Liminality – the period between states, during
which the participant(s) has left one place but
has not yet, entered the next.
• Liminality is part of every rite of passage, and involves
the temporary suspension and even reversal of everyday
Incorporation – the participant(s) reenters
society with a new status having completed the
Communitas refers to collective liminality,
characterized by enhanced feelings of social
solidarity and minimized distinctions.
Rituals play an important role in creating and
maintaining group solidarity.
In totemic societies, each descent group has an
animal, plant, of geographical feature from which
they claim descent.
• Totems are the apical ancestors of clans.
• The members of a clan did not kill or eat their totem,
except once a year when the members of the clan
gathered for ceremonies dedicated to the totem.
Totemism is a religion in which elements of nature
act as sacred templates for society by means of
• Totemism uses nature as a model for society.
Each descent group has a totem, which occupies a specific
niche in nature.
Social differences mirror the natural order of the
The unity of the human social order is enhanced by symbolic
association with and imitation of the natural order.
Religion and Cultural Ecology
Sacred Cattle in India
• Ahimsa is the Hindu doctrine of nonviolence that forbids
the killing of animals.
• Western economic development experts often use this
principle as an example of how religion can stand in the
way of development.
Hindus seem to irrationally ignore a valuable food source
Hindus also raise scraggly and thin cows, unlike the bigger
cattle of Europe and the U.S.
These views are ethnocentric and wrong as cattle
play an important adaptive role in an Indian
ecosystem that has evolved over thousands of
• Hindus use cattle for transportation, traction, and
• Bigger cattle eat more, making them more expensive to
The power of religion affects action.
Religion can be used to mobilize large segments
of society through systems of real and perceived
rewards and punishments.
Witch hunts play an important role in limiting
social deviancy in addition to functioning as
leveling mechanisms to reduce differences in
wealth and status between members of society.
Many religions have a formal code of ethics that
prohibit certain behavior while promoting other
kinds of behavior.
Religions also maintain social control by stressing
the fleeting nature of life.
Religion and Change
• Religious movements that act as mediums for social
change are called revitalization movements.
• The colonial-era Iroquois reformation led by Handsome
Lake is an example of a revitalization movement.
• A syncretism is a cultural mix, including religious blends
that emerge when two or more cultural traditions come
Examples include voodoo, santeria, and candomlé.
• The cargo cults of Melanesia and Papua New Guinea are
syncretism of Christian doctrine with aboriginal beliefs.
• Syncretisms often emerge when traditional, non-
Western societies have regular contact with
A Pilgrimage to Walt Disney World
Walt Disney World functions much like a sacred shrine, which is
a major pilgrimage destination
• It has an inner, sacred center surrounded by an outer more secular
• Parking lot designations are distinguished with totemlike images of
the Disney cast of characters.
• The monorail provides travelers with a brief liminal period as they
cross between the outer, secular world into the inner, sacred center
of the Magic Kingdom.
Within the Magic Kingdom
• Spending time in the Magic Kingdom reaffirms, maintains, and
solidifies the world of Disney as all of the pilgrims share a common
status as visitors while experience the same adventures.
• Most of the structures and attractions at the Magic Kingdom are
designed to reaffirm and recall a traditional set of American values.
• It is difficult to distinguish between sacred and secular rituals as
behavior can simultaneously have sacred and secular aspects.
• Americans try to maintain a strict division between the sacred and
the profane, but many other societies like the Betsileo do not.
African Bushmen Creation Myth
People did not always live on the surface
of the earth. At one time people and
animals lived underneath the earth with
Kaang (Käng), the Great Master and Lord
of All Life.
In this place people and animals lived
together peacefully. They understood each
other. No one ever wanted for anything
and it was always light even though there
wasn't any sun. During this time of bliss
Kaang began to plan the wonders he would
put in the world above.
First Kaang created a wondrous tree, with
branches stretching over the entire country. At
the base of the tree he dug a hole that reached
all the way down into the world where the people
and animals lived.
After he had finished furnishing the world as he
pleased he led the first man up the hole. He sat
down on the edge of the hole and soon the first
woman came up out of it. Soon all the people
were gathered at the foot of the tree, awed by
the world they had just entered.
Next, Kaang began helping the animals climb out
of the hole. In their eagerness some of the
animals found a way to climb up through the
tree's roots and come out of the branches. They
continued racing out of the world beneath until
all of the animals were out.
Kaang gathered all the people and animals about
him. He instructed them to live together
peacefully. Then he turned to the men and
women and warned them not to build any fires or
a great evil would befall them. They gave their
word and Kaang left to where he could watch his
As evening approached the sun began to sink
beneath the horizon. The people and animals
stood watching this phenomenon, but when the
sun disappeared fear entered the hearts of the
people. They could no longer see each other as
they lacked the eyes of the animals which were
capable of seeing in the dark. They lacked the
warm fur of the animals also and soon grew cold.
In desperation one man suggested that they
build a fire to keep warm. Forgetting Kaang's
warning they disobeyed him. They soon grew
warm and were once again able to see each
However the fire frightened the animals. They
fled to the caves and mountains and ever since
the people broke Kaang's command people have
not been able to communicate with animals. Now
fear has replaced the seat friendship once held
between the two groups.
The Bushmen of Africa believe that not only are
plants and animals alive, but also rain, thunder,
the wind, spring, etc. They claim:
What we see is only the outside form or body.
Inside is a living spirit that we cannot see. These
spirits can fly out of one body into another. For
example, a woman's spirit might sometime fly
into a leopard; or a man's spirit fly into a lion's
• Kaang (Käng)
• Sometimes depicted as an elephant.
• Trickster God (Praying Mantis)
• Luck and Misfortune
• Success and Failure
Summoning the forces of life, a man or
woman dances in a circle of clapping,
After some hours he/she will fall into a
trance, then rise to heal the sick.
Besides treating physical illnesses, the
“trance dance” traditionally was used to
heal spiritual sicknesses, which, it was
believed, led to conflicts and broken
Such healing power allowed Bushmen to
live together peacefully under harsh,
The San people have few medicines and generally
use dancing and ceremonies to cure illness and
This involves dancing near a sacred fire. In this
dance, the spiritual leaders, which are diviners
and healers, dance around the fire until they are
in a trance-like state, when they believe they
receive the power to heal.
They then attempt to pull out the invisible arrows
affecting the person they are healing. When they
reach this state they are able to heal large
numbers of people at one time.
Despite the lack of
medicines, the San people
generally live long and
However, lung infections
and skin diseases are a
Kwashiorkor is also a
serious threat. This is a
result of a lack of protein
in the San‟s diet.
anemia, weakness, hair
loss and an extended belly.
It occurs exclusively in
Concept that the dead come back to
bother people and cause sickness
Why? Longing for living.
Healers in trance talk to the dead
and try to convince them to leave
the live person alone. When the
dead won‟t “hear” them the sickness
gets worse and the individual dies.
The Rock Art of the San (Bushmen) people of
Southern Africa has been described as one of
humankind‟s greatest treasures from the past.
It is found over a large area of Southern Africa
and more than 15 000 sites occur in South Africa
alone. The discovery of fragments of rock art –
dated at more than 26 000 years old – suggest
that southern African rock art is one of the
longest continuous art traditions in the world.
This priceless heritage – as depicted in the
collection of the Centre for Indigenous Knowledge
of the University of Pretoria – is a valuable aid to
understanding the spiritual search of the San
Art & Religion
San religion and mythology are of
significance in interpreting rock art.
The rock artists depicted human and
animal subjects; handprints and a range
of geometric designs were often added to
enhance the meaning.
Later visitors often interacted with images
by scratching or rubbing them. For the
San, rock art images marked places of
access to supernatural spiritual power.
The San believe that when
an eland dies, supernatural
energy is released that
may be accessed or
harnessed by the shaman
priests to perform services
such as healing and rain
They would dance around
the animal and sing eland
songs to invite the eland
spirit to enter their bodies.
Such a scene is depicted in
this superb, upside-down
So important was the eland that it
features significantly in the rituals
performed at initiation
• When a young boy hunts his first
eland he is considered to be „of
age‟. Since this is such an
important event, certain rites are
performed to ensure his safe
transition to a new stage of life.
• When an eland has been killed,
the skin is stretched out on the
sand. The young man is invited to
take his place on the skin while
the other members of the group
dance around him and make eland
footprints all around the skin,
using the dismembered eland
• This is a symbolic gesture which
means that whichever direction
the young person should choose
to move out towards, from the
focal point of the outstretched
eland, he would move across the
path of the eland, since one‟s
spirit, and that of animals, lingers
within your footprints.
Two San people painted in
profile and gracefully
elongated, not only for
aesthetic reasons but also
probably displaying the visual
distortion experienced as a
result of the trance
Objects seem attenuated and
weightless, almost floating, as
• The one figure bends forward,
possibly in a dancing position,
or else as a result of the
during the initial stages of
• The figures display details of
hunting equipment but the
string of the bow, which was
painted in a lighter colour,
cannot be discerned due to
the age of the artwork. The
decorative detail of the
leather aprons, as well as the
tassles of the headdress and
the short shoulder wrap are
all carefully depicted.
This rock painting of Nguni cattle
being herded by a San hunter
forms part of a larger narrative
depiction and reveals a
fascinating number of contrasts
Traditionally the San were
hunter-gatherers who did not
keep cattle. A number of
interpretations of the scene
depicted here come to mind, the
first being that this scene relates
to a frontier situation, where San
people and early pastoralists lived
in harmony and where the San
were known to have assisted in
cattle herding in exchange for
There are, however, many rock
art depictions that illustrate times
of strife, for instance when the
need for grazing for cattle herds
threatened the San‟s natural food
Also note the hunting bag carried
over the shoulder of the hunter,
where the bow and arrow can
clearly be seen in profile.
Future of !Kung
What problems do they face?
The Bushmen had their homelands invaded by cattle herding
Bantu tribes from around 1,500 years ago, and by white colonists
over the last few hundred years.
From that time they faced discrimination, eviction from their
ancestral lands, murder and oppression amounting to a massive
though unspoken genocide, which reduced them in numbers from
several million to 100,000.
Today, although all suffer from a perception that their lifestyle is
'primitive' and that they need to be made to live like the majority
cattle-herding tribes, specific problems vary according to where
In South Africa, for example, the !Khomani now have most of
their land rights recognised, but many other Bushman tribes have
no land rights at all.
• The Gana (G//ana) and Gwi (G/wi) tribes in Botswana's Central
Kalahari Game Reserve are among the most persecuted – they have
no ownership rights over their land, and the Botswana government
has in fact been trying to force them off their ancestral land for the
last 16 years.
• In 1997, many were forcibly evicted from their homes in the Kalahari
desert, and those that remain have faced drastic restrictions in their
hunting rights, torture and routine harassment. In the latest move to
drive them out, the Botswana government has announced that it is
cutting off all water supplies to Gana and Gwi communities in the
I do not want this place. It is foreign to me. My land is in there
[the reserve]. I would rather die there than live here.
Bushman, New Xade, May 2002
We want to live in our land and to choose the way we want to
Roy Sesana, April 2002
I am feeling very sad. We were created by God on the land of our
fathers and their forefathers – it is our ancestral home. The
government has treated us unfairly. We were not given any choice
about moving out.
Molatlhwe Mokakale, April 2002
Now we have to leave our graveyards and go. The government
sees no problem with taking us out of our ancestral lands and
putting us somewhere else. Our Bushman culture and our social
living is destroyed, there is no respect for any of those things,
there is no democracy for us.
Roy Sesana, October 2001
The government said I must leave Molapo because there‟s eland
here, diamonds here and other things here. I think the
government tells me to leave so others will enjoy the riches of
this land. But I'm going to stay because those things are mine,
not the government's.
Gakeitsiwe Gaorapelwe, Molapo, October 2001
This place is not for the wildlife department. It is my father's
father's father's land.
Bushman woman, Molapo, October 2001
Uncharted Africa Bushman Safaris, Botswana
Uncharted Africa is unique in its pioneering efforts to
work with the Bushman communities to provide a
dignified and culturally sensitive experience.
The company has worked closely with The First
People of the Kalahari, the Bushman pressure
group that has been affiliated to the United
Nations for many years.
Uncharted Africa Safari Company offers an
incredible opportunity to experience a dignified
and sensitive Bushman safari. For many years, it
has not been possible to offer a genuine non-
patronising Bushman experience due to the threat
Now, the Bushman people themselves in
conjunction with Uncharted Africa Safari Company
offers a fascinating insight into their unique way of
life, now almost extinct.
These are 4 to 7 night tailor made safaris
You will be flown into the nearest Airstrip and
transferred by land cruiser to a remote mobile
camp site on the Namibian border at Xai
Botswana has a history of good governance rare
in Africa. However, its aim is now the very
backward one of integrating the Bushmen into
the 'mainstream' and ending their way of life.
The government must halt its violations of
Bushman rights, and allow them to live in peace,
in a way of their own choosing.
The authorities must prevent officials from
The right of the Bushmen to hunt the game on
which they depend must be recognized.
The right of the Bushmen to own communally the
lands they live on and use within the Central
Kalahari Game Reserve must be recognized.
Services on which the Bushmen now depend –
health care, water and food supplies – should be
How you can help
Send a brief, polite letter or fax to the President of the
Republic in Botswana. State that you are concerned about the
Bushmen of the Kalahari and what must be done to preserve their
rights and their culture.
The Hon F G Mogae
President of the Republic
Private Bag 001
Fax: + 267 356 086
Begin: 'Your Excellency'
Send a copy of your letter to the Director of Wildlife and
National Parks in Botswana:
Director of Wildlife and National Parks
PO Box 131
Sign the online petition for the rights of the Kalahari
Bushmen on the Survival website, at
Spread the word!
Tell your friends and family about the
Kalahari Bushmen and the problems they
Visit www.survival-international.org/ , the
website of Survival International.
This organisation is dedicated to
defending the rights of tribal societies all
over the world.