Abor - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Abor religion is characterized by a belief in a host of spirits ( uyu ), both beneficent and malevolent. Of these, the Epom (offspring of Robo, father of evil spirits) figure prominently. They are the adversaries of human beings (who are believed to be the offspring of Robo's primordial brother, Nibo) and are said to induce accidents. The souls of those who have not been properly buried or who died unnatural deaths become urams (evil spirits who join the Epom in combat against humanity). Other notable evil spirits include the nipong (spirit of a woman who dies during pregnancy) and the aying uyu (lowland evil spirits whose assaults are directed against men and women of all ages). Among the more important benevolent spirits, Benji Bama (controller of human destiny) must be noted, and each natural force is believed to possess a spirit that must be held in check through proper personal conduct and the performance of certain rituals. In addition, the Abor believe in several eternal beings (e.g., Seti, the earth, and Melo, the sky) who were in existence before creation and are removed from the affairs of humanity. These beings belong to a higher order than the spirits, and they figure prominently in Abor creation myths.

Religious Practitioners. The Abor have two categories of religious practitioners: the epak miri (diviner) and the nyibo (medicine man). Through the use of incantations, herbs, divination, and spiritual discernment, they determine which spirits are responsible for their misfortune and appease these malevolent forces through the invocation of a familiar spirit. This spirit possesses the body of the practitioner and assists the soul of the epak miri or nyibo in locating the spirit that must be appeased and in arranging for a suitable propitiatory act of the individual who has been afflicted. The nyibo establishes contact with the world of spirits by recounting creation stories, while the epak miri utilizes dance and song. No special social significance is attached to either office, though the epak miri is allowed to wear special beads on ceremonial occasions.

Ceremonies. Ceremonial activity accompanies the major events in the human life cycle and is also associated with affairs of state, the life of the moshup and rasheng, subsistence activities, warfare, and health care. Song and dance are of great importance on these occasions. The epak miri, who is also the guardian of tribal myths, histories, genealogies, and other traditional lore, is the central figure during these ritual observances.

Arts. In addition to those artifacts manufactured by the Abors that have a utilitarian or ornamental purpose, tattooing is also practiced by many groups. Abor oral literature includes a number of myths, legends, folktales, traditional ballads ( abangs ), religious ballads ( ponungs ), and political narrations ( abes ). The recent introduction of writing has contributed to an increase in this literature. While musical compositions are few in number, dance is a highly developed art form among the Abor.

Medicine. In traditional Abor thought, sickness is believed to have its basis in the malevolent activity of forces in the spirit world and treatment consists of the ministrations of the epak miri. It is his or her job to ascertain from the spirit world which spirit has been offended and how expiation is to be made.

Death and Afterlife. It is believed that life continues beyond the grave, in a land where each of the uyus has its individual abode. When one dies, his or her soul is taken to the domain of the uyu who was the cause of death. An individual enjoys the same status and life-style that he or she had while alive. For this reason the deceased is provided with food, drink, possessions, and other tools and provisions to ensure comfort in the afterlife.

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