Siwai - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Creation myths surround the great historic spirits, primarily "the Maker" ("Tartanu") who brought life to earth. There are many spirits ( mara ) associated with particular areas, kin groups, or men's houses, which are believed to have positive and negative qualities, but no systematic religious behavior related people to these spirits. Although mara are still feared, Christianity has generally replaced traditional beliefs and most Siwai are at least nominal adherents of either the Catholic or the United church. In the last two decades there have also been some revival movements.

Religious Practitioners. There was no set of ritual practices or priesthood, though both mumis and sorcerers ( mikai ) were believed to have some ability to control the spirit world.

Ceremonies. A ceremonial cycle marked most significant stages in the life cycle. Betrothal was marked by the exchange of strings of shell money and marriage by magical rites to ensure the well-being of the couple. Baptisms were held four or five weeks after the birth of a child. Little if any ceremony marked the achievement of adulthood. The most elaborate ceremonies accompanied cremations and ceremonies to mark the end of mourning periods, which were accompanied by the exchange of pigs, shell money, and other goods.

Arts. Singing and dancing mark memorial ceremonies Especially. Women's songs and dances are distinct and performed separately from those of men. Large slit gongs in men's houses are beaten in unison at various stages in the preparation of ceremonies. Men's dances are accompanied by panpipes and wooden trumpets and women's dances by a wooden sounding board.

Medicine. Diseases were attributed to a number of sources but usually to the action of malevolent spirits or the breaking of taboos. Curing techniques consisted of ritual precautions and the use of herbal medicines of many kinds. Both women and men might have knowledge of medical skills, and there were specialists in areas such as bone surgery. Sorcerers would ward off or drive out evil spirits and cause them to avenge particular incidents. Western medicine is now sought, especially for more recently introduced diseases, but traditional herbal medicines remain in use.

Death and Afterlife. In exceptional cases death was also attributed to sorcery or mara, but, especially for the old, it was usually considered to be quite normal. At death the soul was traditionally believed to leave the body and set out for one of three abodes: "Paradise," a lake in northeast Siwai, the abode of fortunate ghosts; or "Kaopiri," a legendary lake in the north for those who have not been adequately mourned; or "Blood Place," for those who died in fighting. Such beliefs have been largely replaced by Christian beliefs concerning Heaven and Hell.

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