Kaluli - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Kaluli believe that there is a spirit world that is coextensive with the everyday world of nature and subject to the same laws but that cannot be directly perceived., Every human is thought to have a spirit "shadow" (in the form of wild pigs for males, cassowaries for females) that wanders about in the forests of Mount Bosavi. A human and his or her shadow counterpart are linked in such a way that injury or death of one's shadow means that one will sicken or die. Along with the pig and cassowary shadows of living humans, the shadow world is peopled by three types of spirits: ane kalu (spirits of the dead), who are kindly disposed to the living and can be recruited to provide assistance when needed; mamult who are generally aloof from humans but who during their hunts on Mount Bosavi may inadvertently kill a person's shadow animal, and whose ceremonial dances cause the thunderstorms during rainy seasons; and kalu hungo ("Dangerous men") who inhabit specific creeks or other such locations in Kaluli territory and who will cause bad luck or bad weather when humans trespass on their property.

Religious Practitioners. Mediums are men who have married spirit women in a dream and who develop the ability to leave their physical bodies to walk about in the spirit world. At the same time, spirits may enter the medium's body and speak through him during seances to help people in curing an illness, locating lost pigs, or divining the identity of a witch. Witches ( sei ) can be male or female and generally do not themselves know of their evil aspect, which waits until its host sleeps and then prowls about in the night seeking its victims. Sei are thought not to attack their own kin, except on extremely rare occasions.

Ceremonies. The centerpiece of Kaluli ceremonial life is the Gisaro, which is performed at all major celebratory occasions such as weddings. "Gisaro" specifically refers to the songs and dancing performed for a host longhouse by visitors; the songs are composed to incorporate sorrowful references to important places and people who have died but who are remembered with fondness and grief. The ornately costumed Gisaro dancer performs his song in the central hall of the host longhouse, and his goal is to incite members of the host groups to tears with the beauty and sadness of his composition and the stateliness of his dance. When he has succeeded, longhouse men run up to the dancer and thrust burning torches against his back and shoulders, burning him. After all the singers of a Gisaro troupe have performed, the dancers leave small gifts for their hosts, as repayment for having evoked their tears and grief.

Arts. The ultimate artistic expression is the composition and performance of Gisaro songs and the proper execution of the accompanying dance. Visual arts are not highly developed, except in the elaborate costumes of the Gisaro dancers.

Medicine. Food taboos and the use of medicinal plants are commonly applied to treat illness, but most curing is done through the assistance of a medium, through actions he takes while traveling in the spirit world.

Death and Afterlife. Upon death, one's spirit immediately quits the now useless physical body and is chased into the forest by the longhouse dogs. The spirit is thus forced to walk on the Isawa River, which in this new noncorporeal state appears as a broad road leading west. Eventually, the spirit arrives at "Imol," a place of enormous fire, where he burns until rescued by a spirit woman who carries his charred soul back along the Isawa, stopping at spirit Gisaro ceremonies along the way. In this way, she gradually "heals" the soul, eventually bringing him to her spirit longhouse and taking him as her husband (in the case of the death of a woman, the spirit helper and eventual spouse is a male). Henceforth, the spirit will appear to humans as just another wild creature of the Forest or will speak to his or her kin through a medium. Traditional mortuary ritual called for the body of the deceased to be slung in a hammock-link affair of cane loops, after the body had been stripped of ornaments and clothing, and hung at the front of the house near the unmarried women's communal area. Fires would be lit at the head and foot of the corpse, and during the next days friends and kin would view the body. Later, the body would be placed on a platform outside until decomposition was complete. The bones would be later recovered and hung up in the eaves of the longhouse. Since 1968, government edict has required that bodies be buried in a cemetery. Survivors of a deceased person assume food taboos during the period of mourning. These taboos are obligatory for the surviving spouse and children, but they are often voluntarily taken on by close friends and other kin as well.

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