Foi - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. In traditional times, Foi men engaged in a variety of cult activities all designed to ensure fertility and heal sickness by appeasing ghosts. All sickness except that caused by sorcery was believed to occur through the agency of ghosts. In addition, men sought to acquire ghosts' powers of magic, prescience, and sorcery for themselves. According to the Foi, all dead people become ghosts, and the power and the malevolence of certain kinds of ghosts are a result of the manner of death: violent homicide produces the most virulently malevolent and powerful ghosts, while the ghosts of dead people who die more peacefully are less efficacious and dangerous. Ghosts take the form of certain birds, chiefly fruit- and nectar-eating birds. The trees which attract such birds, including several Ficus varieties, are considered the favored abode of ghosts. Other places thought to attract ghosts are the spots where powerful magic spells were once performed, still pools of water, and whirlpools formed in sharp bends in the rivers. In the past, men fasted and slept near these places to establish contact with ghosts in dreams. Such cult activity ended in the late 1960s following effective missionization.

Religious Practitioners. Certain men became skilled in such healing techniques and renowned for their rapport with powerful ghosts. These men also took the initiative for inducting young boys into the cult secrets. Men attempt to Purchase knowledge of sorcery and the associated substances, often from neigboring peoples. Knowledge of effective sorcery is associated with big-men.

Ceremonies. The "Bi'a'a Guabora" (arrowhead cult) was a secret male fertility cult designed to ensure success in hunting. Its rites were performed in conjunction with funeral Ceremonies, widow remarriage, and the completion of a new longhouse. The usane habora was the major traditional healing ceremony. It was followed by a slaughter of pigs and the Exchange for pork or shell wealth and nighttime men's dancing accompanied by drums. The sorohabora was a more secular pig kill and exchange to celebrate the completion of a new longhouse or an especially large canoe. The nighttime performances at these ceremonies included the singing of laments in the memory of deceased men. More recently, the Foi have borrowed the Mendi-Nipa sa pig kill and exchange, which has provided them with links to the regional exchange networks of the southern highlands.

Arts. The most highly developed art form among the Foi is ceremonial song-poetry, composed by women as sago work songs and performed by men. These songs are laments composed to commemorate deceased men. They make use of a wide range of imagery, the most important of which is the linking of the deceased's lifespan to the series of places he occupied and made use of during his life. The Foi also have a large corpus of myths that they recite in casual recreational contexts. Graphic art, by contrast, is nonexistent.

Medicine. The "Usi" and "Hisare" (ghost-appeasement cults) were the major cults of the middle Mubi area. They involved the preparation of certain potions, the learning of techniques of foreign-body removal from afflicted persons, and instruction in sorcery. Something over 60 percent of all boys were inducted into Usi in pre-1960 times. Adult men were also subject to a number of food taboos in traditional times, the rationale of which was to prevent premature aging and weakness by avoiding items associated with femaleness and old age. These taboos have relaxed somewhat since 1970.

Death and Afterlife. Ghosts were expected to leave the community of the living and take up residence in the afterworld located in the distant east. This belief now competes with vague ideas concerning Christian Heaven. A widow is thought likely to attract the attention of her dead husband's ghost and is considered particularly dangerous to other men for some time after her husband's death. For this reason, widows who are about to remarry have to undergo various purification rituals designed to forestall the anger of their former husbands' ghosts. Ghosts are also believed to be the agents by which men can induce illness in their sisters' children if they become frustrated over insufficiencies in the bride-wealth they have received for these women. On the other hand, men seek through dreams and in their healing cult rites to establish contact with ghosts whom they consider the source of magical techniques and knowledge of future events.

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