Nissan - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefe. Islanders are Catholics who regularly attend church and village chapel services. Many also believe in and ritually interact with various local supernatural entities including spirits of the dead and nonhuman bush spirits. Dangerous supernatural power ( barang ) is associated with women's menstrual blood and with several societies of magicians who derive barang from the spirits of the bush. Islanders consider bush spirits to be malicious, especially when not under human control. A pantheon of these and other nonhuman spirits associated with dance magic ( buai ) and masked dance performances ( dukduk and tubuan spirits) are the center of much attention in the context of dance competition at mortuary feasts. Although not malicious, spirits of the dead sometimes interfere in human activities. People also invoke the dead in rituals of divination and in magical rituals as former experts who assist the living magician.

Religious Practitioners. Practitioners of Catholicism include foreign-born priests and sisters as well as local catechists. Many adults also practice magical rituals in which they manipulate words and objects symbolizing desired ends. Magical knowledge is widespread on Nissan and is associated with virtually every important activity or event. Certain bodies of magical ritual belong to trained specialists. They are members of village-based male societies of weather magicians and also of dance magicians. These latter perform the buai rituals introduced after World War II from New Ireland and the Gazelle Peninsula of New Britain. In the past, societies of grand sorcerers also existed.

Ceremonies. The most elaborate ceremonies on Nissan are associated with pig feasts that villages or hamlets stage under the direction of their big-men. At these feasts the hosts feed visitors pork and other delicacies; big-men make speeches; and villagers exchange large sections of pork with one another in order to discharge obligations arising out of the deaths of close relatives and in so doing validate Inheritance claims, including ones to headmanship itself. Feasts are scenes of ritual competition between villages. Weather magicians of the host group work publicly to guarantee a sunny day for the feast, while the magicians of rival villages, including the guest villages, surreptitiously summon rain clouds. Host and guest villages also perform choral line dances; in preparation for these performances, magicians act to ensure the success of their own dances at the expense of those of rival teams.

Arts. Traditional songs and stories continue to be Important to islanders. Contemporary art focuses on dances introduced from New Ireland and New Britain. Islanders adopt or create their own versions of foreign dance songs, dance movements (accompanied by the beating of hourglass drums), and dance costumes (masks, wooden dance sticks, and wooden headpieces).

Medicine. Islanders attribute illness to natural causes as well as to sorcery or malicious spirits. Numerous magical cures exist to treat illnesses as do corresponding rituals of Sorcery to cause them. Islanders also use Western biomedicine; they consult local medical orderlies.

Death and Afterlife. Islanders once dropped the weighted bodies of their dead into the sea. Nowadays, the dead receive Catholic burial in village cemeteries. A series of ceremonies once followed a death in order to effect the transition of the deceased to the afterworld. The final mortuary feast and minor celebrations preliminary to it continue to be held Primarily to honor the dead and to dismiss formally their claims upon village society.

Also read article about Nissan from Wikipedia

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: