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70. RELIGIOUS PRACTICES: Role of Saints & Martyrs

What is the definition of a saint?

  • Who becomes a saint?
  • How do they attain this status?
  • Compare this to what you believe a saint is.

What is the definition of a martyr?

  • Who becomes a martyr?
  • How is this status attained?
  • Do martyrs become saints?
  • Compare this to your description of who becomes a martyr.

Is the status of sainthood or martyrdom a generally acclaimed designation?

Or is it a strictly ecclesiastical decision as to who becomes a saint or is declared a martyr?

Are ancestors also honored?

  • If so, what role do they have in contrast to the roles of saints and martyrs?
  • How does remembering saints and martyrs benefit the individual? the community? the nation?

Are saints and martyrs honored at special ceremonies?

  • Does each have a special day when they are remembered?
  • What is done on that day or at that special occasion?
  • Are there certain locations associated with saints or martyrs?
  • Where are these, and what is the association?

Are children named after saints and martyrs? Why?

65. RELIGIOUS PRACTICES: The Role of Ancestors

Are past generations of ancestors remembered? Are they honored? In what way? Is there a difference between how male ancestors or female ancestors are honored?

How important is this nationally? for the family? to the individual? for the deceased?

Is there a special time locally or nationally when ancestors are remembered? What is done at this time?

Does the family make regular visits to the gravesite(s)?

  • How often do they go?
  • What do they do there?
  • What other activities are done by the family to remember their loved ones?
  • Are there special ancestral shrines?
  • Where are they, and what objects are kept there? How are they used?
  • What other activities are done by family members to care for the needs of their ancestors?

Are ancestors considered benevolent extensions of the earthly family unit?

  • If so, what are the obligations expected to be carried out by the living for the dead?
  • By the dead for the living? For how long?
  • Who in the family makes sure these obligations are carried out?
  • Are there pictures of the deceased in the home?
  • Are they in a special place for remembrance, intercession, or prayer?
  • Are pictures taken of the dead body and put in a special place?

Are the ancestors feared as spirits which might harm the living?

  • How many generations need to pass before the harm is mitigated?
  • What needs to be done by the family to block potential harm?
  • What things offend to the ancestors?
  • If they are offended, what may they do to the living?
  • What must be done to placate their displeasure?

Are ancestors consulted?

  • How often and in what way?
  • Are séances held? When, where and why?
  • What can ancestors do to help the living that the other spirits or gods cannot or will not do?


This assignment explores proper etiquette for the giving and acceptance of gifts.

To whom would a person give a gift: relative, friend, neighbor, trading partner, headman, government official, etc.? On what occasion would a gift be given? Are these occasions determined by the calendar [as birthdays] or by the course of events [as encouragement for good work done]? What is the motive for giving: love, concluding a business deal, influencing a decision, building up goodwill, etc.?

What types of gifts are appropriate for various occasions? What kinds of gifts are given in exchange? How long a delay between the receiving and the giving of a return gift is within the limits of appropriate behavior? Is the gift related to the status of giver or recipient? In what ways? Be careful to distinguish between a true gift and payment for services rendered, especially when the latter had been delayed.

How does one acknowledge the receipt of a gift? When is it proper to open a gift? On receiving it? Later, when the giver has departed?

How much sharing of excess farm or garden produce is done in the village? What is said when giving and receiving something? Is an equivalent exchange expected?


Many cultures have special traditions or ceremonies to induct their young people into the world of adulthood, but some do not. Inquire about the existence of such traditions. Here are some ideas to get you started.

How and at what age is a boy recognized as an adult, able to take part in adult activities? Is there a special initiation ceremony? Is this a tribal ceremony? One conducted by the family? If a family tradition, would each family have its own tradition, or is this also standardized in the culture? Who conducts it? How is the boy prepared for it? Is he given a new name? Who gives it and how is it determined? What activities are now open to him?

How is a girl recognized as having come of age? At what age are a girl’s ears pierced? By whom? Is special note taken of a girl’s first menstruation? How? How is she prepared for it? Does a girl receive an adult name? What duties, responsibilities, or privileges are now open to her?


How is time kept track of in the city, town, neighborhood, family, by an individual? Is there a town clock? Do offices, public buildings, and homes have clocks? Do men and women wear watches? Do children have watches? At what age are they taught how to tell time?

Is it important to be on time for business meetings? for social functions? for church? What is the meaning of “on time” for such events? Does it make a difference if the event is Western oriented or locally run? Are there certain events when time is of importance?

Do offices, businesses, government departments (post office, passport office, etc.), stores have regular hours they are open?

Is the Western calendar followed? Is another type of calendar also followed for religious purposes? for agricultural purposes? What seasons are acknowledged (in comparison to the Western concept of “four seasons”)? Why are these differentiations made? Is timing calculated differently for these seasonal changes? Is daylight savings time observed?


Ask your friends about the annual national religious calendar (dates and reasons for the celebration). Are there other celebrations or ceremonies that are local? When are these held?

Observe, when possible, several ceremonies done in the village or your area of town. At this stage, don’t worry about fine details of ritual and meaning. Note these important points:

  • The time and date of the ceremony
  • Correlation with phases of the moon, the season of the year, the time of day
  • Who performs the ceremony and where it is held (a building set aside for religious ceremonies, a home, outdoors, etc.)
  • Why it is performed and for whom (an individual, a family, the whole society)
  • What is the purpose of the ceremony (curing, blessing, fertility, dedication, initiation, etc.)
  • Participation – Is it a private ceremony, participation by invitation, or an open public event? Who gets invited? How do people know about the event? How are the participants expected to respond?
  • Progression of events

What other holidays are observed throughout the year? Make a list of these, noting the name of the holiday, the date it is observed, the reason why it is celebrated, and the extent within the country that it is observed (whether it is local, ethnic, or limited in some other way).

How long do the activities last (a day, a week, or more)? What special foods are prepared for the event? Is this an occasion for wearing the national dress? Are there special activities associated with the time? What is their significance? Are homes and neighborhoods decorated for the occasion?

Are schools closed on these special days? Are special programs held in schools or other venues and if so, when? Are outsiders (government dignitaries, parents, friends, etc.) invited?

How much coverage is given on TV or the radio to the celebrations?

Write down your observations and add to them as you have opportunity to attend more such events.

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