Manus - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Indigenous religion revolves around the dead rather than gods. Ancestors monitor the acts of their agnatic descendants and punish wrongdoing by taking the substance of an individual's soul. A recently dead ancestor could be adopted as household patron and protector. There are also malevolent spirits, which can be controlled by sorcerers. Most Manus are Christian, and denominational beliefs have been modified in different ways by their mixture with indigenous cosmology.

Religious Practitioners. Divining in various ways is Common, and many villages have two or three practitioners, who are not distinguished by special title or ritual. Some people are thought to control malevolent spirits, but few admit to this activity. Many people have entered the service of the church as catechists and lay officials, and some have been ordained.

Ceremonies. Dancing and feasting are performed only as part of other activities, especially men's-house raising, Marriage and bride-price exchange, visits by important government and church officials, major provincial occasions, and important sporting events. Exchanges are frequent and are always accompanied by a degree of ceremonial activity, especially speech making and feasting. Church services are well attended.

Arts. Everyday objects, houses, and canoes could be carved and painted in the past, though this is less common in the present. Woven mats and baskets, lime gourds, and lime sticks frequently are decorated. Indigenous valuables (shell money and dogs' teeth) were and are treated as decorative as well as valuable. They are mounted on beadwork belts made with bright designs. People also make decorative beadwork-and-shell bracelets and necklaces.

Medicine. Before colonization there was extensive use of plant matter as medicine, and some is still used. Much illness is thought to be caused by ancestors and much medical practice involves locating and resolving the source of such illness. Illness caused by contact with matriclan totems, potentially fatal, is usually not worrisome as it is treated easily by the invocation of matriclan ancestors by matriclan women. With colonization, church and government health services spread; now they are often the treatment of first resort, though failure of nurses or physicians to diagnose and treat a complaint quickly can be taken to mean that an ancestral illness exists.

Death and Afterlife. Almost all deaths, even of the very old, are laid to ancestral illness or sorcery. The human spirit reluctantly leaves the body after death, usually before burial. Spirits exist in a parallel, invisible world, where they continue to act as normal people. As already described, they monitor the behavior of their agnatic descents, punishing where necessary. In addition, they may take revenge on some of the living to redress old complaints or their own death. The most Recent dead are the most active, and after three or four generations the spirit no longer affects the living. This set of beliefs overlays Christian beliefs in Heaven and Hell, angels being the spirits of the dead.

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