Kurtatchi - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. To a Western observer, traditional Tinputz life seemed filled with supernaturalism. Most daily activities involved consideration of spells, magic, and attention to spirit beings. Tinputz do not seem to have recognized a category of supernaturals that might be called "divinities." By far the most important spirits were those of deceased humans. Although they were generally regarded with dread, they might also be propitiated and called upon to aid in gardening and other activities. The same term, ura, was applied to spirits thought to inhabit particular locales. Roman Catholic missionaries began work in Bougainville in 1902, and Methodist and Seventh-Day Adventist missionaries arrived after World War I. Methodist (now United Church) presence is today very strong in the Tinputz area.

Religious Practitioners. There were no full-time religious specialists, but many individuals were believed to have special knowledge to influence events (e.g., every village had its rainmaker) . Mission teachers and United Church pastors play a role in today's religious life.

Ceremonies. As noted, life-cycle ceremonies were the most significant for Tinputz, but almost any activity might have associated with it spells or magical substances. Missionization brought Sunday and other Christian observances.

Arts. Music, dance, and other aesthetic activities were intimately connected to ceremonial life. Slit gongs, wooden trumpets, panpipes, bullroarers, musical bows, and Jew's harps were used for different occasions. Utilitarian objects like lime pots and canoe paddles were decorated, but carved wooden figures, especially of ura spirits, were traditionally associated with religious observance.

Medicine. Tinputz did not make the Western distinction between medicine and religion. Illness was thought to be brought by malevolent spirits or magic performed by an enemy. Although plant and other materials were used for curing, their efficacy was as much supernatural as pharmacological. Western medicine has stamped out yaws and Hansen's disease, but malaria continues to be a serious health problem.

Death and Afterlife. Except in the case of the very young or very old, Tinputz regarded all deaths as caused by malicious human or spirit beings. The dead were believed to go to the active volcano at Mount Balbi, but some remained near the living in the form of ura. Tinputz living on the shore originally threw the dead into the sea; however, burial had been adopted even before Christianity became dominant. Mourning was enjoined for widows and, in the case of a tsunaun's death, for a whole village.

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