Maisin - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefe. Most Maisin believe that the spirits of the recent dead exercise a considerable influence, both for good and bad, over the living. Encounters with bush spirits can cause serious illness, particularly to women and children. Despite many attempts to get rid of sorcery, Maisin believe that various kinds continue to be practiced by villagers and by outsiders and they attribute most deaths to this cause. God and Jesus are very distant deities, sometimes encountered in dreams. Faith in them, it is said, can overcome the evil caused by sorcerers and spirits. With a handful of exceptions, Maisin are Christians. Most of the coastal people are second- or third-generation Anglicans while the Kosirau converted to the Seventh-Day Adventist church in the 1950s. Villagers accept this version of Christian teaching and liturgy, but they also encounter local bush spirits, ghosts, and sorcerers and most practice garden magic and make use of indigenous healing techniques and practitioners. There is considerable diversity in religious belief, depending in large part upon an individual's education and experience outside of the villages.

Religious Practitioners. Six Maisin men have been ordained as priests, and many more have served as deacons, members of religious orders, teacher-evangelists, lay readers, and mission medical workers. The Anglican Church has been almost entirely localized and, since 1962, an indigenous priest has served the Maisin. Healers can also be found in most villages—men and women who possess superior knowledge of indigenous medicines, bush spirits, and the interactions Between human souls and the spirit world (including God).

Ceremonies. At the time of European contact, funerals, mourning rites, initiations of firstborn children, and intertribal feasts were the main ceremonial occasions. All were marked by large exchanges of food, shell valuables, and tapa cloth. Initiations and intertribal feasts were also occasions for days, sometimes weeks, of dancing. The chief ceremonies today are Christmas, Easter, and patronal feast days. Huge feasts are often held on such days, along with traditional dances by troops in indigenous costume. Life-cycle Ceremonies—particularly firstborn puberty celebrations and mortuary rituals—are the other chief occasions for ceremonies.

Arts. Maisin women are famed throughout Papua New Guinea for their exquisitely designed tapa (bark cloth). Primarily serving as the traditional clothing for men and women, tapa today is a major item of local exchange and a source of cash. It is sold via church and government intermediaries to artifact shops in the cities. Most women receive elaborate facial tattoos in late adolescence, with the curvilinear designs covering the entire face that are unique to the region.

Medicine. Maisin attribute illnesses to "germs" or to spirit attacks and sorcerers, depending upon whether they respond to Western medicine. Villagers make use of local medical aid posts and a regional hospital, as well as home remedies and the services of village healers.

Death and Afterlife. Traditionally, Maisin believed that spirits of the dead inhabited the mountains behind their Villages, frequently returning to aid or to punish kin. Villagers still encounter the recent dead in dreams and visions—attributing both good luck and misfortune to them—but they now say that the deceased reside in Heaven. Although they have been greatly modified by Christianity, mortuary Ceremonies continue to present the most "traditional" face of Maisin society. Villagers mourn a death collectively for three days following the burial, during which time they avoid loud noises and work in the garden, lest they offend the soul of the dead person or its living relatives. Bereaved spouses and parents go into semiseclusion for periods lasting from a few days to Several years. They are brought out of mourning by their affines, who wash them, trim their hair, and dress them in clean tapa and ornaments in a ceremony that is almost identical to the puberty rites for firstborn children.

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