Author: Malidoma Patrice Somé
Paperback, 112 pages
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication date: December 1997
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You won't find this slim but powerful volume in the New Age section of the bookstore, but you may find in it an insight into why ritual is performed, and how to add meaning to your own rituals. Malidoma Patrice Somé is a member of the Dagara tribe, in Burkina Faso, West Africa. In Ritual, he describes not only the ritual practices of the Dagara people, a highly spiritual tribe of indigenous Africans struggling to maintain their traditional ways in the face of Western encroachment, but the larger view of spirituality held by the indigenous African.
Ritual engages the reader in examining the deeper, psychological reasoning behind the difference between the Western way and the Dagara way. The book examines the Dagara's theory of the cause of many problems found in Western society -- lack of ritual. The social, community, and spiritual effects of ritual are examined in engaging recollections of rituals and events in the author's and his tribe's lives and serve to illustrate by example the difference not only in practice, but in worldview held by the Dagara as opposed to that held in the Western world.
The author makes a case that the West's disregard for the spirit world is a key factor in the ills found in the society. In comparing Dagara societal traditions with Western ones, the case is rather convincing. However, Ritual is far from being simply another "Western culture is evil and we must all go live like stone-age indians" book-length rant. Somé breaks down the elements of ritual, and examines the reasons why community, family, and individual rituals seem to "work" for the Dagara, yet don't for the West. The difference in basic worldview here becomes apparent in its importance not because the author seeks to claim that the Dagara view is somehow better than the Western one, but because the Dagara worldview is a framework in which the spiritual power of ritual is permitted to work.
I would venture to say that this book is essential for anyone seeking to understand a bit more about the worldview of African Traditional Religions (Kemeticism/Kemetic Reconstructionism included). Other Pagans will also enjoy this book because of the insights into the meaning of ritual within a community structure, especially when used to gain insight into a pagan group context. General readers will also gain an understanding of tribal society through this book--not just African tribal society, but the tribal society that most of us -- no matter where we are in the world--seek to find in the groups we join whether they are religious groups, parenting-style groups, social groups, interest groups, or family groups.
Reviewed by Jen Sokoloski (JenSoko/AthenaPrime)