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Dual Organization in Central Ceylon? or The Goddess on the Tree-top

  • Nur Yalman


In this paper I am concerned with an examination of symbolic and social dual organization. Does “dual organization” refer to those rare social systems in which the total community is in one way or another bisected into two definable “groups” which have certain formal relations with each other? Or, alternatively, can we speak of “dual organization” when the society is not so divided, or when the social divisions are obscure, but where there is a symbolic system in which binary categories are prominent? And furthermore, just what is the relationship between dualism as a symbolic order, which appears quite widespread, and dualism as bisected social structure, which has rarely been satisfactorily analyzed ?



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1 Lévi-Strauss, C., Anthropologie Structurale, (Paris, 1958), p. 179n.

2 Hocart, A. M., “Buddha and Devadatta,” Indian Antiquary (Bombay & London, 1923) Vol. 52, pp. 267; also “Duplication of Office in the Indian State,” The Ceylon Journal of Science (Colombo & London, 1928), Section G, Vol. I, part 4, pp. 205210.

3 “De quelques formes primitives de classification,” Année Sociologique, 6 (1901–1902).

4 “La Pré-éminence de la main droite,” translation in Death and the Right Hand, Needham, R. (Chicago, 1960).

5 Needham, R., “The Left Hand of the Mugwe,” Africa, 30, 1960; also “Genealogy and Category in Wikmunkan Society,” Ethnology (Pittsburgh, 1962), Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 254f, and others.

6 Reprinted in Anthropologie Structurale, (Paris, 1958) pp. 147–180.

7 “The Analysis of Dual Organizations: a methodological critique,” in Bijdragen Taal -, en Volken kunde, pp. 18–44 … but, see also reply by Lévi-Strauss “On Manipulated Sociological Models,” ibid., No. 116, 1960, pp. 45–54.

8 Yalman, N., “The Structure of Sinhalese Healing Rituals,” in Religion in South Asia, ed. Harper, E. (Seattle, 1964), pp. 115150.

9 The poya days are named: masa poya (lit. “month poya,” no moon), attavaka poya (half moon), pasalos vaa (full moon), etc. The period when the moon is getting larger is auspicious, the period after full moon inauspicious. Annual rites are normally timed to begin soon after masa poya, grow with the moon, and come to climax on the night of the full moon.

10 There is some suggestion that these secondary rituals are timed to form a cycle, but the evidence on this point is not extensive. It is said that at least in the Uva (Eastern Provinces) Kataragama area, the rites of Panama, Kotabowe Vidiya, and Mayangene, take place in a set order, and even that the God visits these centers in a fixed order. In the same way, it is said that the Kandy and Hanguranketa rituals, and others in the same district, are also part of a special cycle.

11 See Yalman, N., “The Ascetic Buddhist Monks of Ceylon,” Ethnology (1962), Vol. 1, pp. 315328.

12 See Gunasekera, U. A., “Puna Maduva” in Spolia Zeylanica, (Colombo, 1953), Vol. 27, Part 1, pp. 6375; Raghavan, M. D., “The Pattini Cult as a Socio-Religious Institution,” in Spolia Zeylanica, Vol. 26, Part 11, pp. 251261 (Colombo, 1951); Yalman, loc. cit., 1964.

13 Often referred to as Polanga (Russell's Viper?) in myths; see below.

14 For further material on An Keliya, see Wirz, P., Exorcism and the Art of Healing in Ceylon, (Leiden, 1954) pp. 168178; LeMesurier, C. J. R., “An Keliya,” The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon), Vol. VIII, No. 29 for 1884, 1886, p. 369; Raghavan, M. D., “The Pattini Cult as a Socio-Religious Institution,” Spolia Zeylanica, 1951, Vol. II, p. 26.

15 Knox, Robert, An Historical Relation of the Island of Ceylon (London, 1681), p. 97.

16 For a fuller analysis of status divisions in Terutenne, see my “The Flexibility of Caste Principles in a Kandyan Community,” in Aspects of Caste in S. India, Ceylon and N.W. Pakistan, ed. Leach, E. R., Cambridge Papers in Social Anthropology, No. 2, 1960, pp. 78112.

17 Yalman, N., “Sinhalese-Tamil Intermarriage on the East Coast of Ceylon,” Sociologns, Vol. 12, 1962, pp. 3654.

18 Most castes appear to have special suffixes to indicate status in personal names. The Rodiya use Valli/Villi for female and male respectively.

19 For a penetrating and highly suggestive analysis of “origin stories” see C. Lévi-Strauss, “La Structure des Mythes” in Anthropologie Structurale and Leach, E. R., “Lévi-Strauss in the Garden of Eden,” Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences (Series II, Vol. 23, No. 4, February 1961).

20 Gunasekera (note 12), p. 69.

21 I am aware that in yet other myths, Ratna Valli is described as the mother of Parākrama Bahu I, and that Vijaya Bāhu predicted that her “body shall be the place for the birth of a son who will surpass all former and future monarchs in glorious qualities.” (Mahavamsa 59.34 sq.) But that evidently was a “correct marriage.” Geiger, Wilhelm, Culture of Ceylon in Medieval Times (Wiesbaden, 1960) p. 114.

22 Raghavan, M. D., Handsome Beggars: the Story of the Ceylon Rhodiya (Ceylon, Colombo Book Center, 1957) p. 62. Raghavan also gives some information about the telambu tree: “Sterculia Foetida. A tree common in the dry region of Ceylon, with dull orange flowers. The great pendulous red follicles gaping open and showing the black seeds within are very striking objects. The seeds are eaten roasted.”

23 Nevill, The Taprobanian, Vol. II, Part III, 1887, p. 87.

24 There is undoubtedly also a theme of the “original incest sin” running through the demon birth stories. This is why they are often associated with myths of the creation of the world and the first couple. The concept of “original sin” is not particularly strong among Sinhalese Buddhists, and even though a latent preoccupation with this subject may be present in the rituals, they appear to me to be directed more specifically against sexual mistakes which have occurred in the community during the past year.

25 For further elaboration, see Yalman, N., “On some Binary Categories in Sinhalese Religious Thought,” Transactions of the N. Y. Academy of Sciences (Series II, Vol. 24, No. 4, February 1962), pp. 408420.

26 Yalman, N., “On the Purity of Women in the Castes of Ceylon and Malabar,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 93, Part 1, 1963, pp. 2558.

27 For a vivid description of this fear of low caste pollution among high caste women, see Raghavan, P. 35.

28 See his discussion of conscious and unconscious models in Anthropologie Structurale, p. 308.

Dual Organization in Central Ceylon? or The Goddess on the Tree-top

  • Nur Yalman


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