Goodenough Island - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Goodenough has been missionized for almost a century, and village churches (United or Catholic) are ubiquitous. Most elements of the traditional religion survive, however, and the world view remains magical and animistic, including a great variety of anthropomorphic spirits. Ancestral spirits as well as immortal demigods are invoked in magical spells. Gardening is accompanied at all stages by Rituals and taboos, and magic exists for every human activity, from love and war to birth and death. Each group has its own secret magic of appetite suppression and food conservation, the obverse of which is the sorcery that brings famine by inducing insatiable hunger. A dominant principle of the indigenous cosmology derives from a fatalistic and anthropomorphic application of the emotion of bitter resentment. A modern projection of this principle can be seen in the local cargo cults that blend Christian dogmas of sacrifice with traditional hero myths.

Religious Practitioners. The main ritual experts are those with inherited magical systems employed for the communal control of human appetite, the most important food crops, and the elements. All leaders make some use of garden magic on behalf of their groups, and most men and women possess a few inherited spells of their own.

Ceremonies. All life-crisis ceremonies involve the distribution of cooked and uncooked food. Other occasions of ceremonial feasting are harvests, housewarmings, canoe launchings, and other inaugurations. A feature of all such ceremonies is that the initiator or food-distributing sponsor may not eat. An important ceremony in the past was manu-manua, a periodic ritual of prosperity, in which the magicians sat absolutely still for a day reciting myths and spells to banish famine.

Arts. Traditional wood carving (of bowls, drums, combs, lime gourds and lime sticks, war clubs, house boards, and canoes) was done in typical Massim curvilinear style. The arts of singing and dancing were highly developed, and mouth flutes were used in courtship. Rhetoric and storytelling are important skills, and there are oral traditions of myth and folktale.

Medicine. Most illnesses are attributed to sorcery, broken taboos, attack by ancestral or other spirits, misfiring magic, or malicious gossip. Curers, who almost invariably are also sorcerers, employ incantation, rubbing the body with doctored leaves, and spitting chewed ginger on the patient's head. Since the ultimate cause of many illnesses is believed to lie in disturbed social relations, curing may also require divination and the public confession of grievance.

Death and Afterlife. Burial customs vary across the island, with interment in side-chambered graves practiced in most communities but secondary burial of bones in caves occurring in the north. Elaborate washing ceremonies and food taboos are general but vary locally in detail, as do the sequences of mortuary feasts. For the majority of islanders nowadays the afterlife is a vague notion of the Christian Heaven. However, burial rites continue to acknowledge the traditional belief that spirits of the dead journey first to Wafolo, a point on northern Fergusson Island, and from there—guided by a spirit who dwells in hot springs—they travel north to the island of Tuma in the Trobriands.

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