Ceremonies, festivals, and other rituals provide a structure for an individual or a group to reaffirm social values and ties. They tend to be public events, seen as different from everyday, which spotlight an important personal or cultural happening. Ritual helps to give meaning to the world in part by linking the past to the present and the present to the future. Ritual works through the senses to structure our perception of reality and the world around us; it is often when a society's deepest values emerge in the form of activity, objects, and dress. Ceremonies often combine religious belief with social and political concerns. Although rituals tend to evolve very slowly, cultures do change over time, and possible disjunctures may develop between a ceremony and the attitudes of the society, resulting in the modification or even elimination of the ceremony. The costumes worn at these times are frequently special to the occasion and dramatically symbolic; they can reflect historical or cultural preferences that are no longer in vogue. Different stages or events characterize some celebrations, requiring many changes of costume or dress. Dress is an inclusive concept that involves modifying the body by the use of textiles, cosmetics, scars, coiffures, apparel, jewelry, and accessories held by or for a person. Although in general dress can range from temporary acts of covering and adorning to permanent acts of modification, such as scarification, ceremonial dress is usually of a temporary nature.
Unlike masquerading, dress is not meant to transform an individual into something else but to enhance the identity of the individual. In many cultures, costumes have been used in a wide range of festivals stressing community solidarity or declaring the right of a person or group to a particular status, office, or possession. Since the nineteenth century, the Zulu of South Africa have used clothing and jewelry made from imported beads to demarcate changes in status associated with different life-cycle stages. Children and married women usually wear less beadwork. Young girls attire themselves in square or rectangular beaded loincloth panels attached to a bead string; pregnant women dress in leather aprons decorated with beadwork; and married women wear a knee-length skirt made of pleated goat skin or ox hide, hoop-like circular necklaces, and a flared headdress in the shape of a crown covered with red ocher or red beads and a beaded band around its base. The color schemes of beaded necklaces convey social messages about stages of physical and social development. Small rectangles, zigzag or vertical bands, diamonds, triangles, and lozenges are the most widespread motifs.
Was this article helpful?