Marind-anim - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practitioners. Today, the Marind are largely Christians: some are Protestants, but the majority are Catholics. While the beliefs and practices have changed accordingly, the past is still remembered and scenes borrowed from traditional rites are sometimes reenacted at festive occasions. In traditional Marind-anim culture, every clan and subclan stood in a specific relation to several of the innumerable phenomena in nature and social life that are relevant to human existence. The clans being organized into the Geb-zé and Sami-rek moieties, these totemic relations were ordered in a system of dual oppositions, with each moiety leading in some areas and following in others. The Geb-zé moiety was associated with male sex, homosexuality, the sun and moon, going east with the southeast monsoon, the daytime, life, dry land and the beach, the coconut, the stork, and the cassowary; its members led the great cults. The Sami-rek was associated with the female sex, heterosexuality, the underworld, going west with the northwest monsoon, night, death, the sea, the swamp and inland region, the sago palm, the dog, crocodile, and pig; its members led the head-hunting expeditions and the great feasts that followed them. All phratries sustain dialectical connections with the opposite moiety, connections which are founded in myth. Thus the dualism of the whole repeats itself in parts, creating a dialectical system of opposites that has a logic of its own. The dramatis personae in myth are the dema, the ancestors of the clans. They play a dominant role in the ceremonies of the great cults and their names are invoked in magic, the minor rites accompanying everyday activities and needs. Such invocation is particularly effective if pronounced by a member of the clan originating from that dema. The belief involves the close cooperation between the subtribes constituting a settlement.

Ceremonies. The major ceremonies associated with the big cults are also initiation ceremonies associated with rebirth and the promotion of life. To that end the mythical history is staged and its main features symbolically represented. Of particular importance is the origin myth with the two central themes of antagonism between the sexes and life originating from death. The myth overtly recognizes the male as superior, while symbolically confirming the real superiority of the female, who produces life by giving birth to the (sun) bird. The life from death theme is symbolized by the coconut (symbolizing the human head) that sprouts when buried and is confirmed by the head-hunting that followed the initiation rites. The Mayo Marind rites also emphasize the female, while the Imo rites emphasize a slightly different theme, particularly the association of the female gender with death and decay, and celebrate male triumphs in warfare. Information on the cults of the Kondo and Upper Bian groups is incomplete.

Arts. The Marind are masters at body decoration. Their dances and ceremonies are a feast for the eye. The decoration of objects is of minor importance, with the exception of carved ceremonial spears and some images used in Mayo initiation rites. Singing, accompanied by drumming, for both ceremonial purposes and pleasure is important.

Medicine. Illness is cured by shamans whose cures are restricted to the extraction of foreign objects supposedly placed in the victim's body by hostile sorcerers. The shamans are often well-versed in mythology and some play a major role in rites.

Death and Afterlife. Death and the dead are of little importance, except among the Upper Bian where they are identified with the dema. The dead are believed to travel underground to the far east, where, like the sun, they will emerge to go to the far west, where, passing the spot where the sun sets, they will go on to the land of the dead which is just beyond. They will return to sit aside at big feasts, but they have no role to play.

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