Lakalai - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. A single god, Sumua, resides in the volcano and controls the taro crop. Although beliefs about him were incorporated in the cargo-cult myth, he is thought to have become inactive with the spread of Christianity. Uncleared bush and the high seas are the domain of a variety of spirits, which can also enter villages after dark. Ghosts of near kin may be helpful, but in general spirits are at best unpredictable and are likely to be dangerous to the living.

Religious Practitioners. Specialist magicians perform Garden magic for the benefit of coresidents; specialist war magicians were equally useful in the past. Weather magicians are often hired to bring or prevent rain. Most men know spells for love magic, hunting, and fishing. Most older men are thought to know death-dealing sorcery, but deaths tend to be blamed on a few whose ancestors were renowned sorcerers. Both sexes rescue souls captured by ghosts and act as curers. Women are most likely to know magic relating to female fertility and child growth.

Ceremonies. The most important but most infrequent is the mage, which honors the dead kin of the sponsor. The climax involves dances and other performances and the distribution of feast foods, including domestic pork. Sponsoring mage is a major avenue to renown. Every dry season, men wearing masks ( valuku ) peculiar to their clan parade through the villages, sometimes chasing and beating women and Children. In the past, when boys reached maturity, groups of them assumed a special headdress and also paraded, indicating their readiness for marriage. A joint ceremony honoring young girls occurs when they first put on leaf skirts. Other small ceremonies celebrate a girl's menarche and the first time a first-born child of either sex does something new. All ceremonies are generally enjoyable occasions, and religious aspects are minimal, even for the mage and the valuku. A Father is obliged to sponsor ceremonies honoring his children; men competing for status put on more spectacular Ceremonies than the occasion demands. The form and content of ceremonies has altered in recent years, but all persist apart from the one indicating maturity for boys.

Arts. Designs for masks, face paint worn by dancers and other participants in ceremonies, carved and painted canoes, and shields are all of the same sort, and all of them belong to the clan of the person who first discovers the design (often in a dream) or invents it. The Lakalai greatly value innovation in art, even though new designs must conform to a fairly rigid pattern, and they also praise new songs and dances. Major artists are men, but women compose songs, especially dirges, and sometimes learn new mask designs and songs in dreams. Men are the principal performers in dances and mage, in which they hope to attract the sexual interest of female spectators.

Medicine. Most remedies involve spells, but minor ailments may be treated by herbs alone. Today, Western Medicine supplements traditional cures.

Death and Afterlife. Traditionally, the dead were buried in the house floor. If a mage was planned, the left humerus was exhumed so it could be used as the focus of the Ceremony, and afterward it was attached to a spear with which a man was killed. With the prohibition of all these activities by the Australian government, the dead are now buried in village cemeteries, and other relics take the place of the humerus. Mourning involves the seclusion of the widow and long-term abstention from favorite foods by all close kin, and it is still observed in attenuated form. Souls of the dead are simultaneously thought to live in the olu, in a ghostly village in the bush, in the cemetery, and in the Christian Heaven.

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