Gainj - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Malevolent spirits, associated with mythical cannibals and sorcerers, are believed to inhabit the permanently cloud-covered primary forest of higher altitudes. Each kunyung is said to have such a place associated with it that is safe for members but dangerous for nonmembers. Ancestral ghosts are believed to be at best neutral; at worst they are malevolent and cause illness and death among the living. There is a pervasive fear of human sorcerers. Some Gainj have become members of the Anglican church, but for most people membership appears to be nominal.

Religious Practitioners. Gainj recognize traditional healers and sorcerers.

Ceremonies. The major ceremony is a dance ( nyink ), which one kunyung sponsors while others attend as guests. Traditionally, nyinks ended a male initiation, but with fewer youth being initiated, dances may now be held to celebrate the opening of a trade store or the formation of a business cooperative. Men, decorated and wearing elaborate headdresses, sing, dance, and drum from dusk to dawn, before an audience of men, women, and children from the entire valley. Nyinks are still often the occasion for paying outstanding debts and beginning marriage payments.

Arts. As in much of the highlands, the principal art form is body decoration and the construction of elaborate headdresses.

Medicine. There are very few surviving traditional medical practitioners, mostly very old men. Like a number of highland peoples, the Gainj value Western medicine and would like to have greater access to it. There is a corresponding denigration of traditional medicine, and younger Gainj are not learning traditional methods. Moreover, local representatives of the provincial government and missionaries have discouraged traditional medicine, going so far as to imprison admitted practitioners. The traditional pharmacopoeia relied heavily on plants, especially ginger and stinging nettles. A local plant is also said to have been effective as both a contraceptive and an abortifacient. Occasionally, people still sacrifice pigs to ancestors in an attempt to cure illness.

Death and Afterlife. All deaths are believed to be caused by sorcery or by malevolent spirits. Ancestral ghosts are thought to inhabit the areas in which they died and may visit evil upon the living. They can be ritually appeased; sorcerers cannot.

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