Mundugumor - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefe. The Mundugumor acknowledged the existence of a variety of unseen but controllable forces in the universe. Much of their religious activity centered around trying to affect or control these forces. As a result of missionary activity, today the majority of people adhere to the Catholic faith but acknowledge that some of their old beliefs still remain. The Mundugumor pantheon was not a complex one. Most prominent were a variety of water and bush spirits that were associated with particular tracts of land. Spirits of the dead also were recognized. Mythical persons were able to tap into different kinds of unnamed power contained in the universe at will.

Religious Practitioners. There were some people who were more adept at dealing with these forces than others: curers, diviners, some ritual specialists, but none of these positions was recognized and permanent. Individuals also owned (inherited or bought) their own means of control—spells, charms, and so on—and by a variety of magical acts attempted to harness the forces postulated by them.

Ceremonies. There were many ceremonial and ritual activities, including acts to ensure good gardening (especially of the long yam) and to ensure safe life-crisis passages. Initiations focused on admitting young men (and sometimes women) to view sacred objects; each such object had its own separate ritual initiation.

Arts. Mundugumor art was predominantly concerned with the sacred and efforts to control it. Sculpture and painting were the main media, and the style was affected by the mainstream art of the Middle Sepik region.

Medicine. Curing rituals focused on ascertaining the cause of the illness—sorcery, soul loss, taboo violation, etc.—and attempting to correct the situation.

Death and Afterlife. Death that was not the result of obvious natural causes such as warfare was usually attributed to sorcery. After death, a part of an individual's nonphysical essence left the body and became a ghost who inhabited areas associated with the patrilineal clan. Mortuary rituals were designed to care for the body and release the ghost from the village.

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