Miyanmin - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Today, most Miyanmin are Christian and, possibly excepting sorcery, traditional religious behavior and belief is retained only by the old. Churches have replaced cult houses, schools the initiation cycle. Traditionally, the Miyanmin believed that their world, including the physical world, neighboring peoples, and the land of the dead, was created by Afek or her younger sister. In addition to spirits, the sun and moon were recognized as remote supernatural beings. The Miyanmin also believed in bush demons associated with certain watercourses, trees, habitats, and objects that sanctioned taboo violations, caused sickness, and interfered with routine processes such as arrow flights. They also believed in a mythical rainbow-hued serpent that was responsible for human aggression.

Religious Practitioners. Traditional ritual leaders included shamans or "death seers" and elders. The latter served as arbiters of cult-house rituals, with one of their number serving as its principal keeper. Today, many local groups have indigenous Baptist pastors, one of whom is appointed by the Sepik Baptist Union to serve as circuit pastor.

Ceremonies. Traditional rituals were of three types: initiation; spirit intervention (including mortuary); and demon control (including curing). The initiation cycle consisted of twelve named rituals to advance boys and men through four statuses. Mortuary rites consisted of three phases: the burial wake; the seance; and garden destruction. The wake occurs on the day following the death and is marked by the violent arrival of visitors who either themselves bring the house of the deceased under mock attack or are themselves consumed in a brawl. The tree interment occurs in late afternoon. That night, a shaman conducts a seance in order to contact spirits, establish a cause of death, and set an appropriate course of action. The following day, male kin descend on the deceased's gardens and uproot and destroy a portion of the taro. Shamans also conduct rituals to cure illness, to foresee the course of battle, and to warn individuals of possible Danger. Today, church services are held every Sunday morning and baptism by immersion is carried out when required. Since the "Rabaibal" movement swept the Ok area in the 1970s, small, informal groups have gathered from time to time to receive the Holy Spirit that is manifested in individual trances and the appearance of bright lights.

Arts. Miyanmin art is expressed in personal adornment with paint, fur, feathers, palm fronds, beads, twine, flowers, and cane and in the production and decoration of utilitarian objects in media such as bark twine, wood, and bamboo.

Medicine. In addition to curing rituals, people make use of plant materials to cure sores, staunch bleeding, promote healing, relieve respiratory symptoms, control pain, and act as general tonics.

Death and Afterlife. Traditional practice was to place the dead on tree platforms and recover the bones later for placement in a cult house along with the mandibles of wild pigs believed to have been taken due to the intervention of the deceased's spirit. When people die, they become spirits and move to the land of the dead, which is already inhabited by indigenous spirits and other ancestral spirits who tend to reside with their own kind. The spirit of the newly dead will marry into the indigenous group, have children, and engage in normal activities such as hunting, and in most cases they will have a benign influence on the affairs of the living, assisting in agriculture, hunting, warfare, and the like. Rarely, a person who died angry might reside with another group's ancestral spirits and seek vengeance. Today, most groups bury the dead and hold a simple graveside prayer service.

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