Iraqw - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Christianity and, to a much lesser extent, Islam have gained wide acceptance in Iraqw society; however, many of the precolonial beliefs are still maintained. Lo'a, a female deity, is associated with the sky, the sun, and the rain. Netlangw, or earth spirits, live in stream beds and springs. Lo'a and the netlangw are considered to be in opposition. Lo'a is more remote than the earth spirits, but sacrifices are made to her for prevention of disease and for gratitude for the harvest. Both Lo'a and the netlangw are addressed in prayers.

Ancestors can influence the living and are thought to appear in the form of a hyena. Although there is no ancestor cult, sacrifices to the ancestors are made when it is feared that they are angry. Ancestors only cause trouble to their immediate relatives. Witchcraft is not a prominent feature of the Iraqw religion, but Iraqw do believe that certain people are capable of performing witchcraft and bringing misfortune to others through the manipulation of animals.

Religious Practitioners. The principal religious specialist in Iraqw society is the diviner or rainmaker ( qwaslare). These experts, who can be men or women, are responsible for deciding what rituals must be carried out for the benefit of both individuals and for the county. The knowledge of divination is usually transmitted along kinship lines. Diviners do not request payment, but people give them presents or assist them in cultivation in return for their efforts. Individuals who can divine for the county as a whole are thought to come only from the Manda clan.

Ceremonies. Sacrifices are made to Lo'a, the netlangw, and to the ancestors. In addition, the Iraqw hold a countrywide, boundary-defining ritual to purify the land. Harvest rites are also held in gratitude to Lo'a.

Arts. Iraqw women make many different types of pottery and weave mats from reeds. Musical instruments are also made.

Death and Afterlife. At death, people become ancestors and go to live in an underworld that is nearly identical to the world of the living.


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