Mountain Arapesh - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Mountain Arapesh cosmology was not tightly integrated. The elements of the universe were viewed as either "given" or as the vaguely defined creations of walinab spirits, and they were believed principally to be influenced by ancestral spirits, walinab, and magical forces. The principal supernaturals were the walinab spirits and the ancestral shades. The giant walinab were responsible for rainbows. Lesser walinab occupied waterholes, bogs, and declivities and occasionally appeared as monstrous, two-headed snakes or lizards or as deformed animals. Each patrilineage was identified with a walin spirit that was believed to associate mystically with the group's ancestral shades and guard its lands against trespass and transgression.

Religious Practitioners. Since knowledge of many magical and ritual practices was widely diffused through the Community, there was limited opportunity for the emergence of formal religious or magical specialists. The main exception was the patrilineage with the traditional right to act as incisor in male initiation, though an individual or patrilineage occasionally gained a temporary specialism in some novel, Imported ritual practice.

Ceremonies. The main ceremonies were associated with the life cycle, the wareh (tambaran), and feasts for exchange partners. Birth, preadolescent growth, initiation, marriage, menstruation, and death were observed for both sexes in rites varying in complexity from the simple taboos associated with preadolescent growth to the elaborate, interlocality male initiation rituals. Tambaran rituals, involving a noise-making device represented as a being, were staged during male initiations or when an important man had been insulted by a wife or young relative. Large ceremonies were also held to feast buanyin or gabunyan as a return for previous feasts, to "pay" for initiation services, to celebrate house construction, or to purchase elements of the tambaran complex.

Arts. Although most graphic, plastic, and ephemeral art was imported, the Mountain Arapesh produced plaited armlets and belts, dogs'-teeth decorations, ornamented spinning tops, masks, painted sago-bark panels, and slit gongs. Songs appear to have been the major ephemeral productions.

Medicine. The principal cause of sickness was sorcery performed on a victim's exuviae, though ancestral spirits, walinab, pollution by females or the young, protective magic placed on property, and infractions of ritual and taboo were also frequently blamed.

Death and Afterlife. The soul ( mishin ) was believed to survive death as a white spirit that departed variously to the ocean, its patrilineage's walin or borderlands, or to old bread-fruit trees. After relatives had been summoned on the slit gongs, the corpse was mourned formally for up to a day and then buried in a grave at the center of the hamlet plaza, under a little house containing some food and the deceased's Personal property. The bones of particularly esteemed Individuals were later exhumed and, in the case of males, used magically to acquire the deceased's special abilities.

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