We analysed a Zulu wedding ritual, posing two questions: (i) what makes a ritual stereotyped and rigid along with preserving certain flexibility; and (ii) does a ritual pass between generations and individuals en bloc, or as a smaller subset of acts? We found that the ritual repertoire constituted only one act that was common to all individuals that performed the ritual. Repetitive performance of this act conveyed the impression of a stereotyped ritual. This structure eases the transmission of the ritual, since it is only necessary to learn the performance of one act that can then be embedded in a sequence of ‘free-style’ acts. Gender difference was minimal, but young women performed more acts than adults, perhaps as a reflection of them being inexperienced actors. Altogether, the present study unveils underlying mechanisms that seem to characterize the evolution of rituals and thereby highlighting a foundation of human cultural behaviour in general.
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