Wovan - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefe. Wovan religious life, as one finds Generally on the northern fringe of the highlands, focuses on the spirits of the dead. The spirits (souls) of deceased relatives are rarely far away. These spirits inhabit stagnant water pools and large trees but venture into the village during the Ceremonies surrounding initiation. Animal and forest spirits also affect the fortunes of humans, particularly in relation to the hunt.

Religious Practitioners. The Wovan do not appear to be overly concerned with the supernatural on a daily basis. They lack religious specialists and concede that the Kopon to the east possess more powerful sorcery than they do. A few men are regarded as having influence over the weather. Most, if not all, adult men are familiar with spells and incantations that protect them and their children from attack by malicious ghosts. Men's most important religious and ritual obligations revolve around the initiation of young men.

Ceremonies. The Wovan have an elaborate set of initiation rites through which all males must pass. The first of these takes place when the boy is about 5-7 years old and the last may occur when he is already in his forties. Adolescent ( hamo ) rites are the most elaborate in this ritual calendar and take several days to complete. All such rituals are accompanied by the ceremonial distribution of pork and by dancing.

Arts. Arrows, drums, combs, and Jew's harps are decorated by abstract designs. Considerable energy is devoted to body decoration during festivals and dancing celebrations. All dancing is accompanied by singing and drumming and some Wovan men have gained reputations as being particularly inventive songwriters.

Medicine. Witchcraft and sorcery are pervasive as sources of illness and other misfortunes, though the Wovan deny that they are particularly adept sorcerers or shamans. The use of stinging nettles, medicinal herbs, and tobacco are important among Wovan shamans, who are able to treat some illnesses effectively. Serious illnesses require the intervention of specialists from among the Kopon people to the east.

Death and Afterlife. The Wovan conception of the soul is complex, consisting of both a shadow and a life force. These things have very different careers after death. The shadow departs to life in the land of the dead—a place of uncertain location accessed through pools of water and in which the order of the world is largely inverted. The life force remains close by and continues to have an impact on the lives of living human beings. It is these spirits who are placated by the performance of male initiation rituals that form the core of Wovan Religious life. These spirits also assist men in hunting. Death, Except in the case of the elderly or in the case of violence, is never accepted as the result of anything other than supernatural forces.

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