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November 19, 2018

Hierarchical order is akin to animals too

Hr five priests
Hr five priests

I am in a Catholic Church. It is the first Mass of the day which starts at about 7.30am to 9am. One thing I like about Catholics is they keep time. If a Mass has to start at a certain time, it begins at the exact time. They do not wait for the congregation to fill up the church in order to start the day’s business. In nearly everything the Catholic Church management put their hands on to, trust them to do a good job and in good time. They are methodical, clean and detailed.

At the exact time to start the Mass, in comes the first of the orderlies. They are two. They are all dressed in white robes and purple maniples running from the shoulders and down to the waist. They are held at the waist by the cincture of similar colour. They walk side by side, and in steps like two army captains inspecting a parade. Never missing a step and always in harmony. They reach the pulpit, and the congregation knows the drill. We all stand as the lead orderly makes the Sign of the Cross as a sign that the holy place is about to start the order of the day.

After a brief session of setting up the altar and the scripture book, the church choir falls into a song to escort the church orderlies to their seats behind the altar. They make sure to sit behind one bigger seat which is placed closer to the altar. As the song nears the end, two small altar boys enter the church from the back door. One is carrying a lit candle, and the other one a small bell with a gold chain which he holds close to his heart. They are all in sparkling white robes, and also walk like soldiers in a parade. Few steps behind the boys is the man of the day – the Priest or the Father. He is immaculately dressed in a cream alb. The maniple running down from his shoulders is golden, and so is the cincture that holds it at the waist. On top he is wearing the chasuble, and owing to it's simple hole with high neckline, it looked like a bandana around his neck. As he gets closer to the altar, he lifts his hands in the air in greetings, and the whole church goes very quiet. The man of God is in charge.

Even from a casual observer, the vestments among the leaders of the church can tell their hierarchical order. From the subordinates to the highest ranking Chief Priest, the colours and the insignias they wear clearly makes a statement on who they are, and at what stage within the church order they are at.

Many animal societies are, like ours, hierarchical in character. Among animals as in humans, there is ample evidence of rank, class, inequality and even a kind of jealousy or snobbery. They too have to recognise and come to terms with their social status. This, just like in humans, is not necessarily fixed for all the time. Just like we set out to elect officials or just nominate for considerations, animals too are able to take steps to change their social structures.

Just as we can easily recognise that the Bishop outranks the Priest because he wears more impressive garments, so does one member of an animal species will know which is a dominant creature through its overt barge of status. This is particularly so among the birds species where social standing seems to go hand in hand with distinctive plumage. It may be difficult for an untrained eye to distinguish between the barges that tell the social status of a bird, and what tells of reproductive status.

Some birds will have the stripes on their breasts either wider than normal, or a colour band on the face becoming darker than normal. For higher social status in animals, the changes are more or less permanent although the position may not be permanent. When a higher social status animal loses the high table spot, the colours will not fade or the bands become thinner. The signs will remain and one has to use brutal power or persuasive manouvre to keep the position. As for the reproductive status, it usually fades after the mating season, and has to be reestablished the next season.

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