Gnau - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Specific locations within Gnau territory are each associated with a descent-group founder, who is thought to have left behind the ritual knowledge and practical lore necessary to proper living. The activities of these founding personages and the knowledge they left behind are recounted in myths and songs, which also refer to a wide variety of spirits. These spirits are often invoked in garden ritual and their influence is thought to be necessary to the success of a crop.

Religious Practitioners. All men learn ritual lore throughout the process of their socialization. The mother's brother is the ritual specialist called in for most of a boy's initiations, and every adult male has garden magic to perform. The ability to cause a death through magic appears to have been specifically limited; through this means a man is believed able to kill his sister's son.

Ceremonies. Villagewide ceremonies accompany important life-cycle events as well as major undertakings such as the erection of a new men's house. Such occasions will involve feasting, song, and dance. Of particular importance in traditional Gnau life was the Tambin, the major male initiation rite held by the boy's mother's brother and supported through payments of wealth and the provision of a feast by the father's lineage. A parallel rite is held for girls upon attaining puberty. In the Tambin, a number of boys who have reached puberty go into seclusion together, during which time they are bled and also receive blood taken from their mothers' brothers. This bleeding, caused by cutting the mouth and the penis, is central to Gnau male ritual and is considered to be absolutely essential for a man's development. It appears to have no direct parallel in the ritual for females.

Arts. Gnau material culture appears to be utilitarian for the most part, but ornamental items of shell and feathers are made. Gnau songs are elaborate expressions of local mythology. Singing to the accompaniment of slit drums and ritual dance form important elements of any Gnau ceremony.

Medicine. Illness is thought to be largely the result of violations of taboos. Cures are believed to be effected through the observance of dietary taboos, the use of herbs, and bloodletting.

Death and Afterlife. Traditionally, when an individual died the Gnau laid the corpse out on a platform where it was smoke-dried; today interment is practiced. The spirits of the dead are thought to watch over their descendants and may appear to speak to their survivors in dreams. Their assistance is sought through spells and ritual.

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