Human Nature

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 136–160 | Cite as

How Does Male Ritual Behavior Vary Across the Lifespan?

An Examination of Fijian Kava Ceremonies


Ritual behaviors of some form exist in every society known to anthropologists. Despite this universality, we have little understanding of how ritual behavior varies within populations or across the lifespan, nor the determinants of this variation. Here we test hypotheses derived from life history theory by using behavioral observations and oral interview data concerning participant variation in Fijian kava-drinking ceremonies. We predicted that substantial variation in the frequency and duration of participation would result from (1) trade-offs with reproduction and (2) the intrinsic status differences between ritual participants. We demonstrate that when controlling for household composition, men with young offspring participated less frequently and exhibited greater variance in their time spent at ceremonies than men without young children. However, men with a larger number of total dependents in their household participated more frequently than those with fewer. Moreover, we found that men’s ascribed rank, level of education, and reliance on wage labor all significantly predict their frequency of attendance. We also found that the number of dependents a man has in his household is positively correlated with total food production, and the amount of kava he cultivates. In general, these results suggest that ritual participation is part of an important strategy employed by Fijian men for both achieving status and developing social alliances. Variation in participation in kava ceremonies by Fijian men therefore reflects the constraints of their current life history condition and their inherited rank.


Ritual Life history theory Fiji Kava 


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory for the Experimental Research of ReligionMasaryk UniversityBrnoCzech Republic
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of ConnecticutStorrsUSA

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