Mendi - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Mendi revere their ancestors, who are thought to have an influence on the affairs of the living. Additionally, prior to the 1970s, Mendi participated in fertility cults meant to ensure human welfare. The rationale for several of the most important cults is contained in legends that make reference to male and female agents whose actions are believed to have shaped the landscape and given humans their present-day form. Several Christian missions—notably Catholic and United Church—were influential in Mendi as of the 1970s and 1980s; however, their influence was at least as much socioeconomic and political as it was spiritual.

Religious Practitioners. In former times, men with special knowledge (sometimes acquired from their fathers) acted as fertility-cult leaders. Nowadays some men have reputations as sorcery exorcists ( nemonk ol ), and a few women and men own spells and procedures for curing ills or for attracting wealth and/or spouses. Exorcists and curers receive small payments.

Ceremonies. Public ceremonialism now centers around occasions for wealth exchange: marriage, death, and the strengthening of political alliances.

Arts. Body decoration and feather-headdress-bedecked wigs—both worn mostly by men during public clan events—are the most notable visual arts nowadays. Clan parade formations and chants are striking performances. Public oratory depends on metaphor and theatrical gesture; it is subjected to formal (not just substantive) evaluation. While their tunes are repetitive, the courting and mourning songs men and women sing involve poetic improvisation. Women crochet decorative net bags using local and imported designs; even the patterns followed in planting gardens may have an aesthetic dimension.

Medicine. Sorcery exorcism and other curing procedures employ forest resources (leaves, bark) as well as a range of imported substances. In precolonial times, autopsies were performed to determine cause of death, and surgery was undertaken to extract arrows. Nowadays, rural aid posts, staffed by local medical orderlies, link communities with the provincial hospital in Mendi town. However, there are a host of conditions (including pregnancy and childbirth) for which Mendi are reluctant to use these services.

Death and Afterlife. Deaths are heralded by yodeling cries relayed from locality to locality. During the mourning period a feast ( komanda ) is organized, gifts are given to solicit mortuary prestations ( kowar ), which are often made to the deceased's maternal relatives, and community discussion centers around determining the cause. The body is usually interred in the local group's cemetery to keep the deceased's spirit (temo) around to watch over the living. In precolonial times, the skulls of ancestors were kept in special houses where pigs were killed when family members were ill.

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