68 Cross Cultural Research February 2003 at CALIFORNIA STATE UNIV on March 5

68 cross cultural research february 2003 at

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68 Cross-Cultural Research / February 2003 at CALIFORNIA STATE UNIV on March 5, 2016 ccr.sagepub.com Downloaded from
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cannot be regarded as just an age group. To join it, the man had to conform to specific conditions. One man could get qualified much earlier than another. The elders accumulated considerable authority both in religious affairs and in everyday life.They also enjoyed privileges during the distribution of certain kinds of food (especially valued food) as well as in matrimonial relationships, particularly in matchmaking. According to Keen’s (1997) description of traditional Yolngu society in northeastern Arnhem Land,“control of religious knowledge had been a key element in the political economy of marriage, country, and ceremony. There was a direct link between religious preroga- tives and power” (p. 300). Among the elders, there were men of special individual status: ritual leaders, custodians, or guardians of sacred objects and totemic centers, sorcerers, and so-called native doctors. One of the debated issues is whether the Australian Aborigines had secular formal leaders in traditional situations. Contrary to some writers’ attempts to disprove this, it appears that at least in some parts of the country, chiefs of local groups or camps (or of some other units) did exist. Their activity was mainly concerned with the organization of intergroup relationships. Besides, as Strehlow (1947) and the Berndts (1977) have argued, religious leaders often enjoyed considerable authority beyond the ritual sphere,and there was no clear-cut distinction between secular and religious affairs as well as between secular and religious authority in the aboriginal culture. Perhaps the existence of two types of for- mal leaders,namely the organizers of religious ceremonies and the headmen of certain residential units, was due to the fact that groups of people who performed the rituals together were not iden- tical with groups of people who lived together. The authority or the organizational activities of leaders of various types concerned vari- ous groups of people. It may be concluded that the Australian Aborigines definitely had a system of institutionalized authority positions that can only be described as hierarchy. Evidently, this system was more developed in certain northern and southeastern parts of the continent where population density was relatively high,and less developed in arid central regions hav- ing a very low population density. A crucial element of this system was the initiation rite whereby special secret/sacred knowledge was imparted to the individuals.Only men who had passed at least the primary stages of the initiation rite and had absorbed some Artemova / KNOWLEDGE MONOPOLY, SOCIAL INEQUALITY 69 at CALIFORNIA STATE UNIV on March 5, 2016 ccr.sagepub.com Downloaded from
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esoteric knowledge concerned with religious cults gained author- ity over women and adolescents. The elders were men who had passed all or nearly all stages of the initiation rite. However, cer-
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