Usino - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefe. The secret ritual names of the mythological culture heroes and heroines are owned by patrilineages and are used in ritual for warfare, hunting, planting, harvesting, feasts, and magic: these secret names give rituals their power. Ownership of these names is the most valuable kind of ritual knowledge, but secret names of bush spirits—those who protect parish land as well as the mischievous and Dangerous wild men and women spirits—may also be invoked by patrilineages for protection and healing. Access to spiritual power is unequal; early missionaries burned some of the sacred names, rendering them ineffective, so some lineages lost this powerful knowledge. Additional secret names were lost when elders died before passing the names on to younger members. Also, some people have greater success in attracting the favor of spirits. Although Usino cargo cults ended in the 1970s, a strong cargo bias still underlies relationships with Europeans. Lutheran concepts of God have been added by some to the spiritual belief system, but traditional belief in spirits remains universal.

Religious Practitioners. Any man who seeks success in planting, hunting, and exchange must attempt to control the spirit world by giving gifts to the spirits and invoking their Ritual names. Most men inherit or buy a few names and rituals and occasionally observe taboos, in order to achieve material well-being, but there are also several kinds of ritual specialists in Usino. One or two specialize in dance ritual, making the dances ritually powerful so as to enhance intergroup Exchange and to attract potential mates. Two other men Control rituals for planting and harvesting. Other men control Rituals for male initiation, but female initiation, last conducted in 1975, was performed by specialists from outside Usino Because that ritual knowledge had been lost.

Ceremonies. Rituals are associated with nearly all activities: dances, initiations, warfare, hunting, curing, gardening, rainmaking, love magic, canoe and wooden bowl making, slit gong and drum making, feasts and exchanges, weddings, deaths, and births. Dance ceremonies, with singing and drumming, accompany most weddings and formal redistributive feasts. Public oratory and exchange of food and valued trade items mark most exchange ceremonies. Funerals are characterized by the ritual drinking of kava. Most sacred are the male cult ceremonies, including male initiations—which involve seclusion of initiates, physical trials, and dancing—from which women are excluded. Female initiation follows first menstruation, just prior to marriage. Male initiations are performed every few years. Hand-washing ceremonies end Ritual seclusion for mourners and cleanse them of ritual pollution.

Arts. Artistic endeavors include the carving of plain wooden bowls and drums, with minimal decoration. Some spears are decorated and net bags are dyed with simple designs. Dancing and ceremonial body decorations exhibit the most artistic elaboration.

Medicine. Minor illness is often traced to intragroup conflict and supernatural intervention (such as attacks by ghosts), but serious illness and death are generally attributed to sorcery from the mountains. Many illnesses are explained by soul loss, and curers are called upon to locate and retrieve the soul. In the past, two curers divined the causes of illnesses and treated them, but both men died without passing on their knowledge. Usino people now rely on a Garia healer, related by marriage, and the government health center.

Death and Afterlife. Ghosts of the deceased ( gob ) are said to roam the village and, if offended, cause illness. A hand-washing ceremony following the mourning period Ritually buries the ghost. The ghosts of those who die violently, kenaime, may be especially dangerous, so control of them through spells and secret names is important for healers and big-men. Eventually gob disappear, some say to a mountain village. Traditionally the spirits of the dead offered no assistance to the living, but during the cargo cults of the 1950s and 1960s people went to their parents' graves and asked for their assistance in acquiring material goods.

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