Dobu - Religion and Expressive Culture

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Religious Beliefs. As the site of intensive missionary activity since 1891, the Dobu area is now thoroughly Christianized and village churches (run by local lay preachers) are an important focus of community life. Sundays and holy days of the Christian calendar are observed, and commemorative dates of the Dobu mission are celebrated (notably the anniversary of Bromilow's arrival), when gifts of money are made to the church. Many Dobuans have become ministers and are found in communities throughout the Massim. Elements of the traditional religion survive, however, and beliefs in magic, witchcraft, and sorcery remain pervasive. Yam gardening is still accompanied by rituals, taboos, and magical incantations; the dogma persists that yams are "persons" and must be treated properly lest they abandon their owner's garden for another. Every woman is a potential witch ( werebana ) and every man a potential sorcerer ( barau ); as such their spirits are most active during sleep. Immortal spirit beings, commemorated in myth, validate magical systems and explain the Dobu world of "contending magical forces." The most important are Kasabwaibwaileta (the hero of kune or kula) ; Tauhau (creator of the White man, his goods, and his epidemic diseases); Yarata (the northwest wind); and Bunelala (the first woman to plant yams). Others are less anthropomorphic, such as Nuakiekepaki, the moving rock-man who sinks canoes. Many supernaturals are exemplars whose secret names are invoked in the incantations used to control them. Yabowaine was another supernatural who "watched over" war, cannibalism, and kune. He was believed to form the fingers and toes of unborn children, and on account of this creative function the first missionaries appropriated his name for "God," thereby immeasurably inflating his traditional role.

Religious Practitioners. Although there are ritual specialists as well as renowned diviners, most men and women use magic of their own inheritance. The uses of magic in gardening, in love, and in kune are highly competitive: "The ladder of social ambition is that of successful magic," Fortune wrote. The social distribution of magic thus coincides with the distribution of wealth and power.

Ceremonies. The most important ceremonies are periodic exchanges and feasts associated with marriage and death.

Arts. A rich mythology contains many legends that validate magical spells. Decorative art of the pleasing curvilinear style typical of the Massim was largely confined to houses and canoes. The bamboo flute and Jew's harp were used in Courtship, and dancing to hand drums accompanied feasting. Many of the dance songs translated by Fortune are remarkable for their pathos and poetic beauty.

Medicine. Illness is almost invariably attributed to sorcery, witchcraft, or the breach of taboo; curing involves the settlement of grievances. Ginger is the most common magical prophylactic and curing agent. Many other plants and herbs are used, but their pharmacological efficacy is doubtful.

Death and Afterlife. Death and mourning continue the cycle of affinal exchanges and feasts. The surviving spouse's village gives yams, arm shells, and a pig (previously, a human captive) to the village of the dead spouse, who is buried by his or her own susu. After a year the latter release the widow or widower from mourning, and following this rite he or she may never again enter the village of the deceased. Large feasts ( sagali ) are held periodically in honor of the collective dead of a village, at which pigs and yams are distributed to other localities. The spirits of the dead went to Bwebweso, an extinct volcano on Normanby Island ("Bwebweso" means "extinguished") . Its portals were guarded by Sinebomatu (Woman of the Northeast Wind) who exacted a payment of betel nuts from each new arrival. The diseased and the deformed were consigned to a swamp at the foot of Bwebweso. The spirits of those slain in war also had a separate afterworld.

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