Orokaiva - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefe. The traditional beliefs of the Orokaiva, though in many respects vague and locally variable, focused primarily on the "spirits of the dead" and their influence on the living. The Orokaiva had no high god. Formerly, they were animists, believing in the existence of souls ( asisi ) in Humans, plants, and animals. The taro spirit was of particular importance and was the inspiration and foundation of the Taro Cult. The Orokaiva have been swept recently by a series of new cults, indicative of their religious adaptability in the face of fresh experience. Mission influence is strong in the Northern District. Religious training is provided almost exclusively by the Anglican church, although mission influence has not totally eradicated traditional beliefs, producing an air of mysticism about the resultant religious system.

Religious Practitioners. Orokaiva shamans, or "taro men" serve as healers, weather magicians, and sorcerers.

Ceremonies. Dances are held often, sometimes accompanied by music, singing, and drums. From time to time, bigmen sponsor large redistributive feasts, featuring pig sacrifices and food distribution. Activities associated with the taro cult (the "Kava Keva" cult) are the major ritual activity. The Taro Cult began about 1915 and soon evolved into ritual practices meant to placate the spirits of the dead ( sovai ) who control the taro crop. Thus, it is both a fertility cult and a cult of the dead. Taro men lead the ritual which includes choral singing, drumming, feasting, and violent shaking movements.

Arts. The Orokaiva decorate all manner of artifacts with abstract and representational figures. They are especially fond of music and in the past produced wooden drums and pipes, conch and wooden trumpets, and Jew's harps of bamboo.

Medicine. Illness and misfortune are attributed to the sprits of the dead, to the actions of sorcerers, or to natural causes such as an accident or the weather. Since illness is generally seen as caused by a foreign element entering the body, most cures used by curers (those who have sivo, or special power and knowledge) are designed to extract the foreign element. These methods include producing noxious odors, rubbing the affected area, and extracting a foreign object by sucking.

Death and Afterlife. The Orokaiva believe that upon death the human soul is released and becomes a sovai. Initially, the sovai roam the village, but they ultimately depart to special places of the dead, such as rock outcroppings and stagnant pools of water. Sovai often chastise errant kin by bringing upon them misfortune, illness, and even death. Death is appraised with particular realism, although it is still considered to be ultimately the result of supernatural causes.

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