Sio - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Ancestral ghosts who served as patron deities of the men's clubhouses and forest-dwelling spirits figured prominently in traditional beliefs. The ghosts were vengeful beings who, although they could be placated by the sacrifice of pigs, inflicted illness and death for transgressions of social rules. Spirits, whose usual form was that of hairy dwarfs but who also manifested themselves as animals or inanimate objects, were capricious in their behavior toward humans. Sometimes malevolent, causing mishaps, they might also reveal themselves to humans, in dreams for example, and offer magical knowledge in return for the observance of certain taboos. An otiose creator deity named Kindaeni is said to have created the universe. Magical knowledge and techniques were brought to bear in all areas of life, whether in growing crops, conducting a love affair, trading, healing, controlling the weather, or protecting against theft.

Religious Practitioners. Esoteric knowledge of myths, particular magical and divinatory techniques, and the like was highly valued, and many men possessed exclusive knowledge that they had inherited or sometimes purchased. Generally, the big-men who headed the clubhouse groups were specialists in yam magic, and their wealth in valuables allowed them to hire sorcerers.

Ceremonies. The rainy season of the northwest monsoon heralded the major ceremonies that were associated with male initiation and the large-scale distribution of food and pigs by which big-men (male clubhouse leaders) competed for status.

Arts. Dances performed on all major ceremonial occasions incorporate drums, singing, and elaborate headdresses and body ornamentation. Carving and painting skills are most notably demonstrated on the prows and planks of canoes, but most artifacts are decorated in some fashion. Musical instruments and noisemakers include wooden hand drums, conch trumpets, and bullroarers.

Death and Afterlife. The souls of people recently deceased were believed to remain in the village where they could cause accident and injury. Some months after burial, the souls were ceremonially induced to depart for the abode of the dead, a series of coastal bluffs several miles to the southeast. Supernatural causation was considered to be a factor in all deaths. If sorcery was suspected, as it often was, divination was used to identify the community of the sorcerer.

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