Rituals have long been the subject of study for anthropologists as a way of furthering their understanding of different societies and cultures’ practices, along with, for example, observations of gender relations or processes of exchanges.
As a window into people’s ways of being, rituals can be of a sacred or mundane nature and found in pretty much all societies. Perhaps British visitors to the World Gallery will be reminded of rituals carried out at the home – from sharing Sunday lunches with family to doing a weekly shop at the local market.
In the World Gallery, a wide range of rituals are presented and addressed; from the sacred prayers wrapped up in amulets carried by nomads in the Himalayas to the more mundane practice of consuming tea and tsampa, so evocative of home for Tibetans.
In the Northwest Coast, the practice of making model totem poles has been revived, especially during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This ritual preserved local skills, techniques, stories and symbols when the Haida and other Native Peoples were nearly wiped out by colonist diseases.
Rituals have an important mnemonic role in the processes of recording and reaffirming socio-cultural constructs. Rituals of dance, art, stories and music help to reflect world views, like the transformations practiced by the peoples of the Northwest Coast. One can see how the study of rituals can be useful for anthropologists to gain understanding of societies and cultures’ practices.