In his Frazer Lecture of 1952, Rituals of Rebellion in South-East Africa (1954), Professor Max Gluckman considers certain types of ritual behaviour as institutionalized expressions of rebellion against authority. He maintains that this expression is an important function of such ritual. The following quotations present the gist of his interpretation:
I shall therefore consider the social components of ceremonies, analogous to those which concerned Frazer, among the South-Eastern Bantu.…Here there are…performed, as elsewhere in Africa, national and local ceremonies at the break of the rains, sowing, first fruits, and harvest.…But whatever the ostensible purpose of the ceremonies, a most striking feature of their organization is the way in which they openly express social tensions. Women have to assert license and dominance as against their formal subordination to men, princes have to behave to the kings as if they covet the throne, and subjects openly state their resentment of authority. Hence I call them rituals of rebellion. I shall argue that some ritual rebellions proceed within an established distribution of power, and not about the structure of the system itself. This allows for instituted protest, and in complex ways renews the unity of the system (1954, p. 3).
We are here confronted with a cultural mechanism which challenges study by sociologists, psychologists, and biologists, the analysis in detail of the process by which this acting of conflict achieves a blessing—social unity. Clearly we are dealing with the general problem of catharsis set by Aristotle … the purging of emotion through ‘pity, fear and inspiration’. Here I attempt only to analyze the sociological setting of the process (1954, p. 20).