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Throughout history there have been numerous cultures that have openly practiced rituals that many in modern society consider appalling. From the painful tattoo ceremonies practiced by the Polynesians to the ritual of sacrificial death practiced by the Iberians, various cultures through time practiced these rites of passage because they were an integral part of their culture and identity. In many respects one could argue that from an anthropological standpoint these customs and rites defined a collective identity.
Although various cultures develop rituals that many Westerners view as unusual, it can be effectively argued that many of these practices are part of every culture and society to some extent. For instance, consider the practice of sacrificial death, or more commonly suicide. While many Westerners find the practice of sacrificial death in other cultures objectionable-as it is often a reflection of the violation of a taboo-what individuals in modern civilization often forget is that while suicide is not openly practiced in Western culture, it is as much a part of Western collective identity as it is in more primeval societies. The reason that sacrificial death is often viewed as counter-cultural in Western civilization is because the practice, and more broadly, conceptions of death in Western culture vary widely from those expressed in more primitive societies. To illustrate how death is a social construct and further how sacrificial death works within the larger framework of society, an overview of Iberian traditions and customs reveal the following:
- Many of the social customs that are practiced in the region are a direct reflection of social rites directly associated with death that have perpetuated over time.
- Many do not openly speak about the practice of sacrificial death, the reality is that suicide in Iberian society is a cultural manifestation, inextricably linked to the natural possesses of life.
Understanding sacrificial death within the context of the Iberian people is not simply as simple as understanding the practices of death. As noted by an author:
The study of suicide has placed much emphasis on the act of self-destruction, very little on the meaning of death. While suicide is an individual and social act, as a form of death, it is a cultural act as well.
By this assumption, it can then be argued that the practice of sacrificial death in the Iberian community is more culturally constructed than individually formed. This view stands almost in direct contract to the view that Westerners hold about the practice of suicide. In Western culture, suicide is often seen as an individual practice that is often not directly related to cultural ideologies. In other words, although the practice may have an impact on society, it is often typically only associated as being an individual construct.