Pigs for the Ancestors

Ritual in the Ecology of a New Guinea People; New, enlarged edition

Roy A. Rappaport

View Inside Price: $22.50

September 10, 1984
502 pages, 5 1/4 x 8
16 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300032055

Out of Print

The Tsembaga Maring are a group of slash-and-burn farmers occupying a small territory on the northern slopes of the Central Highlands of New Guinea.  Taking them to be part of a complex ecological system which includes their human neighbors as well as the flora and fauna with which they share their territory, Rappaport argues that their elaborate ritual cycle, which ostensibly refers to spirits, in fact operates as a homeostatic mechanism regulating the size of the pig population, acreage in cultivation, fallow periods, energy expenditure in subsistence activities, protein ingestion, man-land rations, and the frequency of fighting. The sustained functional analysis relies upon quantitative data and shows how, when, and to what degree cultural and noncultural variables affect one another. The findings challenge the view that religious rituals have no effect upon the external world as well as the assumption that ecological studies of human groups require an analytical framework fundamentally different from those employed in the study of other animals. This study not only fills a gap in New Guinea ethnography but also constitutes a major contribution to ecological anthropology, the study of religion, and functional analysis.


Mr. Rappaport is assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan. 

"The new material is intellectually sophisticated, moving, and often brilliant. It will advance our understanding of anthropological explanation in particular. For this and for its contribution toward a unified rather than a divided discipline, it is likely to have as important an impact as the original edition." —Emilio F. Moran

"This is valuable reading for graduate students and professionals in several related fields of the social sciences."—Joseph A. Mannino, Science Books & Films

"Rappaport's study of the Tsembaga should be read by all scholars interested in the ethnography of New Guinea or the functions of rituals. In addition, this book should be read by anyone interested in ecology, cultural and non-cultural. . . . Pigs for the Ancestors will become the yardstick for studies in human ecology for a long time to come."—Journal of Asian Studies

"The Rappaport study is the finest and most provocative piece of human ecology I have ever read." - Edward S. Deevey