Religious Beliefs. Ancestral totems (including the snake, crocodile, pig, bird of paradise, hornbill, eel, hawk, and cassowary) were at the core of traditional religion, and clan insignia were displayed on all implements, canoes, and ceremonial objects. A general spiritual force traditionally was believed to control most happenings in the world; it could be tapped through carved effigies (placed around longhouses and in gardens) and used to dispel sickness from the village and ensure growth and fertility. Virtually all of the traditional Religion was supplanted by Christianity, beginning in the 1930s.
Ceremonies. The direct campaign waged by missionaries and evangelists beginning in the 1930s effectively destroyed what was evidently a very rich ceremonial life in Gogodala Villages. Men made and drank kava to mark all feasts and celebrations, which included first-menstruation rites for girls and a cycle of initiation for males, the culmination of which was the spectacular ceremony inducting all adolescent males into the aida cult. Aida not only united the males of a village in a secret society but also bound together neighboring longhouses. Canoe races symbolized the competitive rivalry but also the complementarity of clans and communities at the conclusion of the aida ceremony and at truce making. Through the efforts of the Australian government and the Papua New Guinea National Cultural Council, the establishment of the Gogodala Cultural Centre in 1974 has revived local interest in and enactments of traditional ceremonial life in new, syncretic forms.
Arts. In the southern region around the Gulf of Papua, rich artistic traditions abound, and Gogodala styles have been regarded as perhaps the most abstract and individualistic of them all. Until the 1930s, Gogodala surrounded themselves with their art, elaborately carving and painting longhouse posts and joists, ladders, canoes, canoe paddles, drums, and nearly everything else. Light, balsalike wood and cane were the basic materials for flat, shieldlike masks and plaques, flat or round ancestral human figures, and three-dimensional totem effigies, all of which typically manifested the Gogodala hallmark of concentric designs incorporating asymmetric appendages. Destruction of these objects was related to the fact that nearly all artistic productions were based in Gogodala traditional religion, aimed at soliciting the intervention of ancestors in worldly affairs. Individuals distinguished locally as artists were believed to inherit their talents, and all had their individual styles. While all traditional art focused on the Supernatural world, nowadays Gogodala artists produce most of their work for sale, and some of them have exhibited their work as far away as West Germany.
Medicine. Illness and death traditionally were attributed to attacks by spirits and sorcery; thus individuals wore Personal charms, and effigies were placed outside longhouses and in gardens to ward off the spirits responsible. When these failed, numerous medicinal plants were used in treatment, which emphasized external applications rather than internal use. Since World War II, mission clinics have provided Western medical care.
Death and Afterlife. All early European visitors to the Gogodala remarked upon the coarse net veils completely covering the heads of relatives of the recently deceased. Such veils were worn in mourning for about a year, though high death rates through disease and warfare could result in at least some people wearing such veils almost perpetually. The dead were buried with their heads facing the east in shallow graves on ridges at some distance from the longhouse. If the deceased was male, an effigy was placed in his garden, warning all to take nothing from it until a feast was held at which all of the food from his garden and all of his pigs would be consumed by the community. The soul was believed to leave the corpse with the rising sun on the day following death, at which time it would travel to the west to its final resting place.