Gender and Religion

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In principle, members of both sexes can acquire basic magical knowledge, establish bonds with the supernatural, and carry out ritual functions. Everybody learns simple techniques for daily use: for instance, the casting of spells (jampi) to enhance the effects of herbal medicine; or honorific words and specific behavior taboos to propitiate the spirits of the first humans while sailing, and thereby crossing and disturbing their sacred sites and areas at sea; or the right way of providing offerings to the spirits of the sea in order to obtain a good catch; or to call the spirits of the ancestors during the annual commemoration ceremony, and "feed" them with incense, rice, cigarettes, and the like. Besides this, there are elaborate procedures, like divination, which are mastered by religious experts, who are usually male.

Among the gods and spirits of the sea and the littoral who have a special relationship with the Orang Suku Laut, and among those of the land who are dangerous for the people of the sea, there are some of human appearance or a mixture of human and animals, and of either male or female sex; these may feel attracted by humans of the opposite sex whom they sometimes try to kidnap. However, in the case of other spirits, for instance those associated with natural phenomena like the rainbow or thunder and lightning, gender affiliation is not an issue. Also, in the world of gods and spirits there is no hierarchy, with the exception of the supreme deity of the sea who is a kind of Neptune, and, like the representatives of the Orang Suku Laut jointly traveling or settled groups, is male.

Certain mythical beliefs substantiate the far-reaching gender equality in Orang Suku Laut society, for instance, the origin myth; or the narrative that explains how people once learnt the way of giving birth which is still common today.

According to the Orang Suku Laut origin myth (in the version of the Orang Mantang), there is no male or female creator who made mankind and nature, but humans are the origin of everything. In the beginning, there were already the sea, two islands, and an Orang Suku Laut couple, a male and a female, who had a child (whose sex is not mentioned). Because of an offense this child was cut into pieces which were thrown into the sea, and out of these pieces islands, mountains, trees, and everything else came into being, and this is why today there is still wood that will bleed like a human if it is chopped. At that time, mountains also had human characteristics; for instance, those on the islands of Bintan and Lingga are brothers who once fought each other and had a feud. Also, the first animals, which in former times spoke the human language, are descended from the first humans; others came into being later as a consequence of sexual intercourse with humans, males as well as females.

Other phenomena of the natural environment are still like humans, the most striking example being the sun with its male characteristics, who in the course of solar eclipses tries to capture and make love with the female-like moon, which must be freed by humans by beating metal objects to protect the world from everlasting darkness.

One of the reasons why birth is not an exclusively female responsibility, but sometimes also involves the presence and active assistance of men (see section on pregnancy and birth), is illuminated in the following narrative. In ancient times, males rather than females became pregnant and gave birth to children. To be able to do this, a man's abdomen had to be ripped, and consequently every man had to die while giving birth for the first time. Later on, females were asked to bear the children because, it was argued, women have vaginas. However, the females, who did not know any other way but the male way, also had to die in childbirth, up to the time when they observed the monkeys on the shore giving birth to their young. From them they learnt how to give birth in the way that is common these days.

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Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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