Kewa - Religion and Expressive Culture

At least 80 percent of the Kewa population call themselves Christian, and most are baptized members of the Catholic or Lutheran churches. Other denominations in the Kewa area are: Evangelical Church of Papua, Wesleyan, Bible Church, United Church, Nazarene, Pentecostal, and Seventh-Day Adventist. The remaining Kewas are uncommitted or traditional animists. Syncretism is not uncommon.

Religious Beliefs. A belief in one supernatural being is widespread, often based on an interpretation of the sky being "Yaki(li)." Ancestral spirits can be particularly malevolent if not appeased properly. The most powerful spirits traditionally were those associated with various curing ceremonies. At a lower level, but still feared, are the nature spirits. Coexisting; with Christianity is the widespread belief in and acceptance of sorcery. Traditionally, men's cults predominated, with associated secret languages and ceremonies. There is a wide-spread fear of both the power of sorcerers and the power of ancestral ghosts.

Religious Practitioners. Certain men are responsible for divining and effecting cures. Pigs and chickens are killed and presented in payment for their services. Sorcery includes incantations and exorcisms of potent items. The most vicious forms of sorcery are always considered to be from outside the region. Hair, nails, and feces can be used for potential harm.

Ceremonies. Exchange ceremonies provide social cohesion, especially large festivals that culminate in the killing of hundreds of pigs. Bride-exchange and compensation Ceremonies are confined to the clans involved. With the advent of roads and accidental deaths, large compensation gifts are negotiated by the government. Churches have incorporated various special days and meetings into village life.

Arts. A few traditional musical instruments are made: the Jew's harp, drum, and flute. In some areas panpipes are also used. Combs and pipes are carved and designed from bamboo. The Kewa people excel in body decorations for special events, painting their faces with intricate, colorful designs. Wigs are decorated with beautiful plumes from birds of paradise, parrots, cockatoos, cassowaries, and other birds. Funeral decorations include clay for body painting and Job's tears ( Coix la chryma-jobi ) for necklaces.

Medicine. Illness is often attributed to the breaking of Social taboos, such as incorrect preparation of food, not observing sexual abstinence at certain times, or not showing respect for the dead ancestors. Remedies are provided by healers and other experts, often using traditional herbs (such as ginger) and medicines. There are aid posts, health centers, and hospitals throughout the Kewa area.

Death and Afterlife. The bodies of important men are placed on elevated platforms; the bodies of lesser men and of women are suspended on poles. Grief is shown by painting the body with clay and tearing out the hair. The spirit of the departed person is assumed to reside nearby for some time. The more important the person was in life, the more Important the spirit is in death. Healthy people do not simply die; their death is attributed to sorcery or foul play of some kind. Well-known diseases such as leprosy, hepatitis, worm infestation, pneumonia, malaria, and dysentery traditionally had curing functions associated with particular spirits. The spirits of the dead are called upon in remembrance ceremonies and some important graves now are marked with special small houses. The Kewa belief in the afterlife is evident in various myths and stories.

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