Ningerum - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Religious beliefs center on men's cult ritual, which concerns itself with celebrating the ghosts of dead male relatives. Ningerum also believe in a variety of Culture heroes (called "ahwaman"), bush spirits, and powerful essences, all of which are felt to have power (for good or bad) over human endeavors. They also believe in manipulation of the natural world through magic for both positive ends (success in hunting, gardening, and feasting) and for destructive ends (sorcery). The Montfort Catholic Mission has had catechists in a few villages since the late 1960s and the Evangelical Church of Papua has sponsored a few teachers since the late 1970s. Missionization has proceeded slowly and has had little impact on Ningerum religious beliefs.

Religious Practitioners. Men's cult leaders officiate over rites to celebrate the exhumed bones of the dead and release their spirits. Ningerum also have a variety of different kinds of healers. There are no shamans or general-purpose "medicine men." Typically each healer knows only one or two different ritual therapies, each suitable for specific problems.

Ceremonies. The most important ceremonies are the major pig feasts and the men's cult feasts that often accompany them. Public feasts are held in specially constructed feast compounds, containing a large feast house and a long plaza flanked by sleeping quarters for as many as 700 guests. Feasts may take more than six months to prepare and are held by a clan segment about once a decade. The public purpose of these feasts is to redistribute pork, but for the host families these events are an opportunity to celebrate the dead and to promote the host group's prosperity. Men's cult feasts resemble the public feasts in form, but they are also associated with male initiation in addition to pork redistribution and celebrating the dead.

Arts. Ningerum art is focused on decorating the human face and body for a variety of dances and ceremonies. They have few carvings or plastic arts, although formerly they carved and painted hand drums and probably had large painted shields. They have a variety of traditional songs and dances, many of which use drums or other simple percussion instruments.

Medicine. Traditional medicine includes a variety of ritual treatments aimed at attacks by ghosts, spirits, and sorcery. Assault sorcery is believed to be incurable, but projection Sorcery is cured by removing substances that have been magically projected into the body. Curing rituals aimed at ghost attack often promote community cohesion. Few treatments involve herbal remedies. Government-sponsored aid posts have been available since the late 1960s and are regularly used by Ningerum people when sick, but they are often used in conjunction with traditional treatments.

Death and Afterlife. Ningerum believe that at death the soul leaves the body and stays near its living relatives, whose lives it continues to influence for many years. Ghosts punish harmful action toward their living kin with sickness and can punish their living relatives if the ghosts are neglected. Death is never attributed to the work of ghosts. Deaths of the very young, the old, and the infirm are explained as due to weak physiology; for those in the prime of life, death is always considered to be the work of various kinds of assault sorcery.

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