Culture, Thought, and Social Action: An Anthropological by Stanley J. Tambiah

By Stanley J. Tambiah

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But this a r g u m e n t in terms of revelation or authority is just as applicable to the Trobrianders, who believed that their spells came with their first ancestors, and it therefore provides no distinguishing criterion between higher and primitive religion. Tylor's distinction between revealed and natural religion is false. A more convincing reason may be that the sacred words of Islam, Buddhism, and the Jewish and Christian faiths at some point came to be written down, and that writing is a revolutionary technology that fixes and freezes religious dogma in a m a n n e r that is different from 26 Ritual as Thought and Action the dogma of oral tradition, which is inevitably flexible and adaptive, even though it believes in an unchanging tradition.

This axiom they have derived principally from Frazer, and indeed from Malinowski, who had affirmed the truth of this classical assertion on the basis of his fieldwork. It would perhaps have been safer for the linguists to have held fast to their knowledge of how language works and to have questioned whether anthropologists had correctly reported primitive thought. Before I conclude this survey I should refer to another feature of the theory of language formulated by Ogden and Richards—a feature that did not appeal to man's evolution but to a synchronic scheme which fitted beautifully with Malinowski's assertions.

T h e renowned wayugo (lashing creeper) spell used in canoe building magic transfers speed to the canoe under construction (1960: 431). Technically the lashing creeper maintains the cohesion of the various parts of the canoe. Here is an enumeration of the constituents of the canoe, each of which is followed by the verb "might heel over" (that is, overtake). Inventory of canoe parts: I (might heel over) ; my keel, my canoe bottom, my prow, my rib, my threading stick, my prowboard, my transverse board, my canoe side.

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