Mimika - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefe. Mimika cosmology is characterized by a dual complementary division, following the male-female distinction, with west, inland, and upstream asociated with women and east, coast, and downstream associated with men. The chief mechanism of the cosmos, as of history and social relations, is reciprocity. The adoption of Christianity has greatly altered the rituals that incorporate these themes, though a revival of traditional ceremonies swept through the area in the 1950s.

Religious Practitioners. Male and female elders possess detailed knowledge and conduct the rituals performed by members of their respective sexes.

Ceremonies. Two chief rituals, "Kaware" and "Emakame," are complementary and are considered to relate to each other as male to female. They are said to be the "mothers" of all other ceremonies, which mainly concern rites of passage, marking birth, adolescence (by piercing the nostrils of males), and death. Kaware epitomizes male control of Ritual functions and secrets and of communication with the invisible underworld; Emakame is the paradigm of the female powers of production, reproduction, and erotic life.

Arts. Mimika art mainly functions in ceremonial contexts, as in the shieldlike carvings (produced by men) that represent ancestral mothers and the recent dead. The most spectacular objects are the monumental spirit poles ( mbitoro), which have a clear affinity with the well-known Asmat bis poles. Mbitoro depict two highly stylized male and female human figures, representing individuals of some repute who have died recently, and are placed in front of the ceremonial houses erected for nose-piercing rites. The mbitoro figure recurs in drum handles, and many utilitarian objects are ornamented with carved figures of hornbills and cassowaries.

Medicine. Each type of disease has its own male or female specialist who commands its special formula and method of physical treatment; no general practitioners exist.

Death and Afterlife. It is believed that ghosts and men once lived together in peace, even intermarrying. However, death originated owing to infractions by humans of the rule of reciprocity. The spirits of the dead live in parallel villages in the underworld, where the environmental setting is perfect: no more mud, but beautiful sand and gardens. The male Culture hero who carries the sun as a torch through the sky daily descends to the underworld, following a trail that connects the villages, and rises to the eastern sky in the early morning. Nowadays, God, Jesus, and Mary are also said to have their abode in the underworld. When a person dies, parting from the living takes several years, at the conclusion of which men and women of some repute impersonate the deceased in a masquerade, during which relatives and friends mourn and praise the deceased and finally invite the dead person to depart and to leave the living in peace. The "spirit," localized and fragmented in the moving parts of the body, leaves the body, goes upstream, and then descends to the underworld through a hole under a tree.

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