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

By Stanley J. Tambiah

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B. Other substances. Binabina: stone or volcanic rock imported from the south. It is heavier, hardier, and less brittle than the local dead coral. The two stones used in the ritual are called "the pressers of the floor" which impart their qualities to the stored food. T h e contrast in the m e a n i n g s of the material symbols used is clearcut in this exhibit, in the inaugural rite the substances brought into contact with an adze or ritually planted while the spell is recited are luxuriant green leaves, wild plants which produce large tubers, plants which produce scented white flowers and tubers (the white connoting fertility and sexual purity), soil scraped from the enormous m o u n d s made by the bush hen, and so forth.

These arguments were directly contravened by him because his exposition in Coral Gardens and Their Magic was in terms of a word-for-word translation and a commentary on recorded texts. It was the same histrionic talent that led him to dwell on the problem of meaningless words and the "coefficient of weirdness" in magical language. In fact his translation was excellent, and he concluded that the "coefficient of intelligibility" in the spells was high. His strategy of teasing the credulous reader and taking him on a circuitous and repetitious route, strewn with his sins of commission and omission, was adopted so that in the end a dramatic answer could be produced, which was that magical language was eminently intelligible.

The view is emphatic that the Pali chants should be recited aloud and that through listening to them the congregation gains merit, blessings, and protection. Yet the sacred Pali words as such are not understood. 6 The chants are of course not nonsensical—they expound matters of Buddhist doctrine, the noble truths of detachment and conquest of life, and victorious episodes in the Buddha's life, which have no direct relation to the everyday concerns of village life. Yet at the conclusion of the chants, especially those designated as parittá (chants of blessing and protection), the blessings transferred by the monk to the layman 24 Ritual as Thought and Action are long life, good health, and fair complexion.

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