Fore - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Fore religion consists of a complex body of beliefs concerning nature, human nature, and the spiritual realm. It is animated by a host of ancestor spirits, ghosts of the recently deceased, and nature spirits. Central figures in Fore cosmology include a sacred creator-spirit couple who emerged from a swamp in South Fore and traveled through the region, leaving humans and many useful species of plants and animals along the way. They also provided fundamental teachings for acceptable human existence emphasizing the themes of fertility, strength, cooperation, and loyalty that are expressed in myths and ritual activities. This couple exists in many manifestations among the Fore, and they make their presence known most frequently by giving their voices to the playing of sacred flutes on all important ceremonial occasions. Ghosts and nature spirits are capable of causing illness or misfortune when offended and of rewarding respectful behavior by ensuring abundant gardens and wild resources. In recent decades, many Fore have been evangelized by Christian missionaries.

Religious Practitioners. There are no specifically religious specialists among the Fore although some people, both men and women, are known for having superior knowledge of and access to the spirit world. Chief among these people are curers and sorcerers who are able to manipulate spiritual powers to their own ends.

Ceremonies. The most important ritual complex among the Fore revolves around the initiation of boys into manhood. Young boys are removed forcibly from the care of their mothers and taken to live with men. During the initiation stages, which last several years, they are taught the rationale and techniques of nose bleeding, cane swallowing, and vomiting designed to promote growth, strength, and fertility and to protect their health from the polluting powers of women. They also are instructed in the proper beliefs, behaviors, and responsibilities of adult Fore men. At puberty, young women also are secluded briefly, undergo nose bleeding, and are informed by older women of their new responsibilities. The Fore also hold periodic pig feasts once or twice each decade, often in conjunction with initiations. These are the largest social gatherings in the region and are highly competitive political events.

Arts. A major focus of Fore art is items of body adornment, including feather headdresses and shell headbands and necklaces. Traditionally, men also carved wooden bows and arrows and war shields while women fashioned clothing and knitted net bags with intricate geometric designs.

Medicine. Fore attribute most serious illness, including kuru, to sorcery, but lesser ailments may be caused by witches, ghosts, and nature spirits or may result from abrogation of social rules and expectations. Curers rely on preparations from the local pharmacopoeia of medicinal plants, incantation, bloodletting, and divination. Local curers, called "bark men" or "bark women," treat relatively minor illnesses, but sorcery-caused sickness requires the attention of powerful and widely known "dream men" who always live in a distant parish and may be non-Fore. These men perform acts of divination and curing using information gained in dream states induced by ingestion of hallucinogenic plant materials and heavy inhalation of tobacco smoke.

Death and Afterlife. Death is marked by extended mourning rituals, public display of the corpse, and the giving of gifts by paternal relatives to the maternal relatives of the deceased. In the past, the body commonly was eaten, especially by women, children, and the elderly and the remains were buried in an old garden site of the deceased. Human flesh was thought to promote fertility and regenerate both people and gardens. The Fore no longer practice mortuary cannibalism, and each line maintains a common burial ground for its dead. The spirit of the deceased is thought to remain for a time near the grave site and finally to move to one of the known spirit places to continue its afterlife indefinitely.

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