Keraki - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Certain Keraki religious beliefs are embodied in myth and actually not known by a significant proportion of the population. There is an Originator and his family, who constitute the Sky Beings of gainjan times, when creatures were greater than they are today. These Sky Beings can grant or withhold favors to present-day human beings, and they may cause sickness by capturing a person's spirit. They may be appealed to through prayers or exhortations.

Religious Practitioners. The actions of Keraki religious practitioners are linked to the belief in magic, particularly sympathetic magic. All Keraki practice magic of various kinds, but specialist practitioners are of two main types: the rainmakers and the sorcerers.

Ceremonies. Keraki ritual life is quite varied. At the group level, exchange feasts are extremely important: they provide a stimulus for food production and bring together otherwise disparate groups. Hosts provide sociability, food, and sexual partners for male guests; these favors are then reciprocated at a return feast. At the individual level, by far the most Important ceremony of male youth is the period of seclusion and initiation mentioned above, where young boys are taught ritual and mythological lore. In a practice not uncommon in the Trans-Fly, the initiates are sodomized by men from the opposite moiety in order to promote the boys' growth.

Arts. Keraki arts include wood carving, textile making, and aspects of music and performance associated primarily with ritual.

Medicine. Sickness and death are often ascribed to Sorcery. Treatments for sorcery vary, but they often include bleeding or the extraction of some object introduced into the body.

Death and Afterlife. Deceased are buried in a house, often a yam house. The corpse is wrapped in bark and shallowly interred in a supine position with feet facing the south (toward the sea). Roughly a year of formal mourning and food avoidance follows, particularly for women, who cut their hair and then let it grow, refrain from washing, and wear makamaka, elaborate costumes constructed of multiple layers of plaited swamp grass. After interment, there is a small burial feast, followed by the erection of a small memorial and the burning of personal belongings. A larger feast signals the end of formal mourning. Women then remove the makamaka, and the memorial is uprooted. There is a belief in a soul that independently continues the existence of a person after death, but where it abides is unclear.

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