Eipo - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The visible world is considered to be inhabited by numerous, usually monstrous, beings: souls of the deceased, zoomorphic spirits of the forests and rivers, and powerful shapers of nature and bringers of culture who, since mythical times, have influenced the life of people. Yaleenye (a name that means "the one coming from the east") is the most prominent such culture hero. Mythical powers, symbolized by holy relics, were traditionally housed and honored in sacred men's houses. Various ceremonies that pervaded everyday life were performed to ensure the well-being of humans, domestic animals, and food plants. Fundamentalist Christianity has replaced—sometimes radically—traditional practices and, to a lesser extent, beliefs. Syncretic ideas and ceremonies are quite common and cargo-cult concepts exist.

Religious Practitioners. Seers are the only ones who can communicate directly with the extrahuman sphere and its agents. They may also act as sorcerers, inflicting harm, disease, and death on others. Male cult leaders, who were sometimes also big-men, were responsible in the past for religious ceremonies. The small group of specialists in religious matters included healers.

Ceremonies. Until recently, the first and most important initiation of boys between about 4 and 15 years of age was a major event that involved participants from other valleys. It was held at intervals of about 10 years, depending on how many boys were available for this costly ceremony. Coinitiates kept a lifelong bond. Second and third stages involved, respectively, the bestowal of the cane waistband and penis gourd, and the presentation of the mum, a. back decoration that hung down from the head. Large and costly ceremonial dance feasts for visitors strengthened ties with trade and marriage partners from other valleys. Warfare and alliance formation involved ceremonies, and the killing of any enemy was celebrated triumphantly. More rarely, great ceremonies, bringing together inhabitants from distant, sometimes inimical valleys, were held to ensure the fertility of the soil.

Arts. The Eipo make very few carved or painted objects. Some Mek groups have sacred boards and large sacred shields that were not used in war. Drums are known only in some areas, but the Jew's harp is found everywhere. The texts of profane songs and sacred chants convincingly use powerful metaphors and are highly sophisticated examples of artistic expression.

Medicine. Compared to other areas of New Guinea, surprisingly few plant medicines are used. Leaves of the stinging nettle are applied as counterirritants. Other traditional (psychosomatic) treatments, carried out by healers who were Usually males, involved sacred pig's fat and chants to invoke the help of extrahuman powers. Healers usually were not paid for their services. In recent years modern medicines have been administered at some mission stations.

Death and Afterlife. The death of a person leads to emotional distress among others and is spontaneously and Ceremonially lamented, sometimes for months. The corpse traditionally was placed in a tree and protected against rainfall with bark and leaves. After mummification the body was put under the roof of a garden house. Later, in a third ceremony, the bones were placed under rock shelters. The complete cycle of ceremonies was not performed in all cases, and today through mission influence the dead are buried. The souls of the deceased are thought to leave the body, as they do during fainting spells or severe illness, and it is hoped that they will quickly proceed to the mythical ancestral village of their Respective clans high up in the mountains. The spirits of the dead are thought to be basically angry and jealous of the joys on earth, and people think they can come back to harm or, less frequently, to help the living.

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