Tauade - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. The relationship between the "wild" ( kariari ), and the "tame" or domesticated ( vala ), is fundamental to the worldview of the Tauade. The forest is represented in myth as the antisocial opposite to village life, but it is not merely the destructive alternative to the social order—and it is the source of life and of creativity in general. The Tauade have no beliefs in any kind of god, but their elaborate mythology is concerned with the culture heroes, agotevaun, who are supposed to have inhabited the country and carved out the valleys before the first human emerged from a rock. The agotevaun were preeminently figures belonging to the wild, with superhuman powers which they used to kill and torment humans, but they also instructed humans in Ceremonies, customs, and the making of artifacts. In Tauade myths, women are portrayed as the inventors and sustainers of Culture through fire, cooking, betel nuts, string bags, and the useful arts, while men are portrayed as basically destructive. Each natural species of plant and animal is sustained by a Supernatural prototype, often in the form of a rock, and if this prototype were destroyed the species would die out. The bigmen are thought to partake in some aspects of this power, which emerges in generation after generation to sustain the people. In traditional times, when a big-man died his body was placed in a sacred enclosure, hidden from women, in which a bullroarer was swung. The same enclosure was also used for the initiation of boys, if suitable numbers were ready for it. Seclusion lasted for three or four months; the boys were fed special food to make them tough. They danced inside the enclosure and were beaten with nettles to make them fierce. The cult of the dead was extremely important. Bodies of bigmen were placed in elevated baskets within the hamlets to rot, while the bodies of ordinary people were buried. When decomposition was complete and the bones and skulls were collected, a great feast and dance was organized and the bones of the dead were carried in the dance to honor the ghosts. The bones of big-men were then deposited in the branches of oak trees and those of ordinary people in one of the clan bone caves. The Tauade also believe in a number of spirits, almost all of which are malevolent and which inhabit streams, rocks, trees, and other natural features.

Religious Practitioners. Some men are supposed to be powerful sorcerers, but there is no social category of sorcerer or diviner. Some use is made of magical substances and spells, but the practice of magic is not an important aspect of Tauade life.

Ceremonies. The elements of Tauade ceremonies include: the killing of pigs; the distribution of pork and garden produce, especially yams, taro, and pandanus nuts; speeches; and dancing (when guests from other tribes are invited). Small ceremonies are held within the tribe for various rites of passage, especially at death, but the largest and most important ceremonies are the large pig killings organized by the whole tribe to honor their dead. These rituals are arranged by the big-men, who invite many other tribes (often hostile). Thus there is a strongly agonistic quality in these occasions, as the hosts try to impress their guests by their generosity, the splendor of the dance village and men's house, and the speeches of the big-men (in the native language, "to make a speech" is literally "to boast"). Dancing that lasts all night is a feature of such occasions, as a means by which hosts and guests compete in displays of stamina, and the ceremony concludes with the slaughter of large numbers of pigs. Elaborate platforms are built for the speeches, and the dance villages for these occasions may have more than seventy houses, with a very large and decorated men's house.

Arts. The use of feather ornaments in dances is the only significant expression of visual art among the Tauade. Singing is also a prominent feature of dances. They are familiar with a large variety of string figures, which are a very popular form of amusement.

Medicine. Traditionally, plants were used as abortifacients and for the treatment of some diseases, and there were also a number of magical remedies.

Death and Afterlife. Tauade believe that a person consists of flesh, energy or strength, and a soul, which becomes a ghost after death, while flesh rots and energy disappears. The world of the ghosts in some accounts is a reversal of the world of the living. Their food stinks, they sleep in the day and wake up at night, and so on. Ghosts are encountered in dreams but not apparently in waking life. There is no belief that the ghosts of big-men and rubbish men go to different places after death.

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