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Bearing the 'Bare Facts' of Ritual. A Critique Of Jonathan Z. Smith's Study of the Bear Ceremony Based On a Study of the Ainu Iyomante

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A few years ago, Benjamin Ray criticized Jonathan Z. Smith's study of the bear hunting ritual. In this article, I further examine and develop a criticism of Smith's theory of ritual. Since he presents the Ainu bear ceremony as the exemplar case and bases his theory of ritual on his interpretation of it, I review and examine the available ethnographies of the Ainu bear ceremony Iyomante . My reading of them calls into question both Smith's presentation of the ethnography of the bear ceremony and his interpretation of its meaning. Smith's focus on the ritual killing as the core of the Ainu bear ceremony as the perfect hunt to resolve incongruity between the mythical ideology and the hunting practice is based upon his not taking into consideration the Ainu religious world of meanings. From my study of the Ainu bear ceremony, I maintain that the ritual dismemberment of the bear and the ritual decoration of the bear's skull constitute the core of the meaning of the ritual. To interpret the religious meaning of this ritual, I point out the necessity for considering the Ainu view of personhood and ontological understanding of the "bear." In my interpretation of this core part of the bear ceremony, the material form, that is the bear, of the Ainu deity is ritually transformed into its spiritual mode and then sent back to the mountain whence from it originally came.

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/content/journals/10.1163/1568527991526086
1999-01-01
2015-07-31

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