Pintupi - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Central to Pintupi beliefs is the Dreaming ( tjukurrpa ), according to which the world was created and continues to be ordered. The Dreaming is both past and Present. In its unfolding—that is, through the activities of the ancestral heroes—not only were the physical features of the world created but also the social order according to which Pintupi life is conducted. Particular geologic features of the terrain are understood to be the direct result of specific deeds of these heroes. Yet the Dreaming is also ongoing, providing the force that animates and maintains life and the rituals that are required to renew or enrich that force.

Religious Practitioners. Religious practitioners are patrilineage elders, whose depth of knowledge of the sacred traditions of their patriline and its totems qualifies them for the instruction of younger and less knowledgeable initiates. The accumulation of ritual knowledge is something that occurs over time, as an individual is gradually led deeper and deeper into the secrets of ritual life. Practitioners are responsible not only for transmitting this ritual knowledge to younger generations but also for maintaining the sacred sites and the spirits associated with them.

Ceremonies. Both men and women have a rich store of ritual lore, linked to the Dreaming, with attendant Ceremonies that are performed in the context of initiations and as a part of the process by which sacred sites may be maintained. As with other Western Desert peoples, ceremonial occasions are tied to times and places where large numbers of people can congregate—at water-hole encampments during periods of heavy rains, for example. During these ceremonies there is singing, chanting, and the reenactment of myths appropriate to the specific occasion.

Arts. Pintupi visual art, bodily adornment, and songs are tied to ritual practice, specifically to the Dreaming, and each myth has specific signs and chants associated with it, as well as dramatic reenactments that must be performed. There has been some Pintupi participation in the production and sale of acrylic paintings of Western Desert themes to Australians and Europeans interested in local art.

Medicine. Traditional curing involved sorcery and the use of herbal remedies. The Pintupi today avail themselves of medical care provided through the Australian government health services.

Death and Afterlife. Behavior after the death of a loved one focuses on the grief of the deceased's survivors: people abandon the site at which the death occurred; close kin distribute the belongings of the deceased to more distant kin (whose grief will ostensibly be much less); the bereaved physically harm themselves as an expression of grief; and "sorry fights"—ritual attacks by relatives upon the deceased's coresidents for their failure to prevent the death—also occur. Actual interment of the body is done by the more distant relatives, for close kin are thought to be too grief-stricken to carry out the necessary work. The spirit is thought to survive the body and to remain in the area of this first burial, only departing after a second ceremony is held months later. Where the spirit ultimately goes is vaguely described as somewhere "up in the sky."

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