Modang - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. The Modang cosmology gives an idea of a tripartition of the universe: upper world or sky ( /engèt ), earth ( sun mna' ), and underworld ( dya' mna' ) are differentiated. The skies—divided in seven "layers" ( telsun ) —and the underworld are the dwelling places of the deities ( metà ). At the top of the pantheon one finds a pair of goddesses: Doh Ton Tenyè and Dèa Long Meluen, respectively elder and younger sister. Besides these main figures a complex of deities, malevolent spirits or ghosts ( sekyah ), and supernatural beings is recognized. Among the metà, the thunder-gods ( dlay ) have a predominant position: they punish humans guilty of transgression of taboos and custom or mockery of animals.

Ceremonies. The ritual life is extremely rich. The yearly cycle has two main phases: Edat na' plaè, "the Custom of Rice," and Na'pli', "to do the sacred [things]," which are comprised of no fewer than twenty-four rituals of varying scale. Transition rites (birth, naming, marriage, funeral) are carried out by ritual specialists, who are also spirit mediums ( lun enjuk ). Formerly, most of these ceremonies, when done for the chief's family, required human heads, as well as the building of the great house. Headhunting was abolished in the 1920s. Now for the great head-hunting ritual, Nemlèn, pieces of old skulls are used.

Death and Afterlife. Conceptions of the soul distinguish between a "soul of the living" ( welgwen lun blom ) and a "soul of the dead" ( welgwen lun lewas ). Eschatological notions refer to a journey of the soul to a village of the dead, Pang Kung Kelung. However, people who have died a "bad death," or lewas ak (i.e., by drowning, in childbirth, or violently), go to another place called Pang Kung Néang. In accordance with this belief, there are two graveyards ( keldam ) in the village. The chiefs used to be buried separately from the other villagers, in impressive mausoleums ( belah ) up to 10 meters high. Statues of dead persons (parents, grandparents) of high status are erected in the village toward the end of the Nemlèn ceremony as an expression of prestige. These images ( bo' jöng ), carved on the upper part of posts, display the particular aesthetic values of the Modang.

Arts. The Modang have a rich craft tradition of mat making, basketry, beadwork, iron forging, and wood carving, which has achieved a high degree of skill as evidenced by house posts, boards, doors, and staircases with intricate motifs of spirits, animals, and ornamental designs. Painted murals on the chief's house and mausoleum (especially among Long Gelat and Long Way) show the same symbolic figures. The performing arts are well developed also: collective dances ( enjéak ) and masked dances ( hedo' )—the masks worn by men only—take place on ritual occasions. Vocal music, expressed in chants ( teluy ) and epics ( tek'na' ), presents more complexity than does instrumental music.

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