Wogeo - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Like many Oceanic groups, the Wogeo distinguish between those things that can be handled rationally—the secular—and those things that must be approached with caution because of their religious nature. Three categories of supernaturals are found among the Wogeo: the culture heroes ( nanarang )—the creators and shapers of the world and the ultimate arbitrators of the rules of daily conduct; the spirit monsters— lewa , whose power is called upon during District food distributions, and nibek, who is called upon during interdistrict festivals; and the souls of the dead ( mariap ), who actually play little part in the affairs of the living. Magic plays a central role in daily affairs, and it is used by headmen to prevent misfortune and bring good luck. Additionally, there is a strong belief in sorcery as a major cause of illness and death.

Religious Practitioners. Headmen are the key religious practitioners and lead the local, distici, and interdistrict Ceremonies, using flutes to call the power of the lewa. The headman's power comes from his proven ability to use magic to provide favorable results for the clan or village, and thus he often has a monopoly on magic used for group activities—such as trading, planting, raiding, etc.—which is passed on to his sons.

Ceremonies. Religious practices focus on the ritual involved in the use of magic. Considerable mystery surrounds the use of sorcery. Much attention has been given to the practice of "male menstruation" in which men cut their penises to make them bleed or "menstruate."

Arts. Music, especially singing and the playing of flutes, drums, and slit gongs, is of ceremonial and recreational importance. Costumed dancing is an important component of rituals. Bamboo flutes of various lengths made from imported bamboo are the primary musical instruments.

Medicine. Illness is generally attributed to sorcery or, less often, to having trespassed on another's property or having failed to incise one's penis recently. In the latter cases, an apology to the property owner or an immediate incision should cure the illness. Each illness is associated with a specific magical system and at least one person in each Community knows the rites for that illness. Thus, people generally know whom to blame for their ailments and from whom to seek relief.

Death and Afterlife. Death is almost always ascribed to yabou sorcery (intended to be lethal rather than simply cause illness or misfortune), and the relatives of the deceased demand an inquest to identify and punish the culprit. However, these demands are short-lived, and in most cases death is ultimately blamed instead on some violation of incest or menstrual taboos by the deceased. When a person dies, the event is announced to the community and spread to other communities by tolling a slit gong. The length and elaboration of ceremonies depend on the status of the deceased, with Ceremonies for a headman being the most elaborate. Gift giving, displays of anger, taboos on touching the corpse and eating, and ritualized wailing all lead up to the actual burial, which is followed by various purification rituals for the relatives of the deceased. While there is the notion of an afterlife, it is not particularly important, as reflected in the little influence ascribed to the spirits of the dead.

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