I’m proud to offer to my readers a sample of my student’s work. After a few exercises and discussions on the process of historical methodologies, I tasked my students to respond to three questions regarding a small sampling of traditions taken from past and present peoples.
The traditions, and their descriptions, were contained in documents I compiled (links to be posted soon). Paraphrasing, the questions were:
A. How do these traditions serve the society that developed them?
B. To what extent can, or did, the traditions develop into religious beliefs?
C. What could motivate any society to maintain such traditions?
The responses were interesting for the insight that was brought to bear by the students. But, they also revealed evidence that some of the discussion went beyond the here & now with students actually considering the Context of early Neolithic life.
Here are a few of their written responses.
R.L of Pd.8
1. Traditions serve many purposes within a society, some of which include the promotion of a certain lifestyle, and the explanation of the unknown. Traditions such as the different proverbs or the Zodiac calendar, served the purpose of giving advice, or being a marker, for the followers of those traditions, and it helped lead them to a lifestyle suited to their culture. For example, the Zodiac calendar is used to mark holidays like the Chinese New Year, which is an important day in Chinese culture. Traditions could also be used to explain some unknown things. For example, creation myths, such as the one about Atum, was the way ancient Egyptians explained the origins of the world and mankind. Those are the purposes that traditions serve.
2a. Some motivations for a society to develop traditions include creating unity between people, and solving a common problem. Traditions are able to unite a society because when large groups of people all participate in common activities and beliefs, the people that participate will have a sense of connection. For example, Chinese foot binding was a thing that many women did, and that helped forge a unity within the Chinese culture. Also, Aztec sacrifices were very publicized, which further led to the unity between the people who participated or watched the sacrifice. Traditions could also stem from the solution to a common problem. This can be seen in the proverbs, which all present advice to people who might have their problems solved through that advice. Those are some of the motivations of a society to create traditions.
2b. The traditions within the readings that showed signs of the full adoption of it as a religious belief include the Aztec sacrifice and the Egyptian creation myth. These two can be considered religious beliefs because both involve the people of those traditions believing in upper beings, or deities, that exert some form of force upon the Earth.
3. A benefit that could be derived from these traditions would be unity between the people. As stated before, traditions lead to connectivity through the fact that commonality leads to unity. In this sense, traditions hold together a culture, for they are the glue between the people. Furthermore, traditions are the activities and beliefs that draw the line between different cultures, which further supports the idea that traditions help unite people into groups. That is why a benefit of tradition could be the unity between people.
H.W, SL, BL, and ML of Pd 2
1. Every tradition has a purpose. For example, the Aztecs depended on the war god, Huitzilopochtli for battle. The sun is taken as a physical manifestation of the god. To make sure the sun had energy to travel from East to West every day, they gave blood as nourishment for Huitzilopochtli. They would donate a heart to the Huitzilopochtli statue every year. Also, Chinese foot binding was a method to enhance the feminine features of females. It also served as a sign of honor if a woman was to allow her significant other to change her bandage.
2. The motivation for a society to develop their traditions may derive from their ancestors that have once experienced some sort of event that led them into trusting their own idea. These traditions may later turn into beliefs through the form of oral tradition, where the next generation is taught to do the same thing,thus making it into a belief for future generations. For example, the Aztec War god, Huitzilopochtli, was responsible for leading the Aztecs to their glorious victories and leading them to their homeland Aztlan. Due to the god’s reputation in the people’s minds, they believe that the god will bless them with the power to win their battles by performing rituals such as sacrifices that will become tradition, in which will become beliefs over a period of time.
3. One benefit would be that the traditions separate the rich and important from the poor. In China, foot binding was common among the rich, but because the tradition resulted in crippled feet the tradition was not popular among the poor and the workers. As a result, foot binding became a feature that people could use to identify the rich and wealthy women.
YJL, NA, EP, SS, JS of Pd2
1. The traditions described in the readings serves a purpose of respecting a certain idol, people, or a process that has been continued down for years. For example, the Aztec ritual had a purpose to respect their idol, the war god, Huitzilopotchli by sacrificing a human. As for the Chinese Foot Binding Ritual, it was a tradition passed down from the ancient times where they would bind the feet of young girls in order to develop into women. Also, the Chinese Zodiac serves a purpose of respecting people by figuring out someone’s age without rudely asking them.
2. Economic troubles and personal problems may have led to the societies to lean against the power of these “gods” and traditions. If natural disasters were to occur and ruin the crops of the citizens, they could simply blame it upon the “gods.” Not only that, but if there were to be economic troubles or any other troubles for that matter, the citizens could force the blame upon the traditions or “gods.” These traditions later turned into beliefs as the rumors of these gods and traditions were passes down from one generation to another and eventually became assumed truths for the cultures.
3. Benefits that society can derive from these traditions are different for each one. The binding of the feet creates a very intimate relationship between the husband and the wife, making the human relationships of the society to improve. The Chinese Zodiac allowed people to determine others’ age without disrespect. The Aztec ritual of sacrificing humans allowed them greater eagerness and confidence for it allowed them to believe the war god was on their side. This most likely gave them an advantage during wartime.
CS, LC, EM, LP, VL of Pd2
1. These traditions and beliefs served purposes that were thought to benefit society at the time. The Chinese footbinding established a standard of beauty, while the Chinese zodiacs served as a system of time that represented people’s personalities. This gave a sense of cultural values and cultural identity. The purpose of the Aztec Ritual was to sacrifice a person’s heart so their war god would be “nourished.” This was part of their religious beliefs.
2. People were motivated to establish such traditions because it provided hope, a means of explaining natural phenomenon, and in some cases, superiority. People were motivated to believe in Gods because they needed hope and also an explanation for the phenomenon of how life came to be. Human beings are naturally curious. The explanation of one creator who created more Gods made sense to them. As for the Chinese, the traditions and beliefs such as the footbinding and the zodiacs, were motivated by the need to establish standards in terms of beauty and social class. For example, in the time, the result of the Chinese footbinding, smaller feet, was considered beautiful. It also showed a distinction between social classes, because it was usually the upper class in China who practiced footbinding.
3. Society could benefit from these traditions and beliefs in different ways. For one, practicing traditions and beliefs such as Chinese footbinding, enabled people to maintain their cultural identity. In addition, believing in religious figures provided people with good morals and motivated them to do good deeds to please the gods. The Arabic proverbs which were generated from different beliefs showed the ethical values of the culture and illustrated people making an effort to do good deeds. Aside from cultural and personal reasons, the Chinese zodiac system benefitted society because it helped to keep time.
JL, SY, WL, JE of Pd3
1. These traditions serve the purpose of honoring and passing on people’s beliefs. In some way, the traditions were kept to maintain a good standard of life. For example, the Aztec sacrificial ritual was performed to give the sun the energy it needed to travel across the sky, nourishing much needed crops. Also, the Chinese foot binding tradition was meant as a symbol of status and beauty for the woman, allowing her to receive the praise of others.
2. Motivation for society to develop such traditions could be necessity. For the Aztecs, they needed the sun and they believed that Huitzilopotchli was responsible for moving it across the sky. Thus, they gave the god sacrifices. Another example is the Zodiac. The Chinese could have invented it in the need for a way to keep track of years.
3. If there was a benefit that society could derive from these traditions, it would be confidence or unity. If the society all believed in the truth of one thing, people would feel unified because of their similar beliefs. Also, believing in a certain god or deity could have given the people hope and the confidence to make things right if things went bad.
Very good analysis of the component, ritualistic, and social composition of ‘traditions’.