Gender and Religion

The focus of Mundugumor religion was very practical: people used nontechnical or supernatural means to achieve desired ends or avoid undesired ones. In addition to a large variety of magical spells and taboos, supernatural beings of various sorts were critical in this process. Bush and water spirits occupied the forest; these were associated with particular territories and kin groups, members of which had special relationships with them. They occasionally appeared in the form of an animal (bush spirits usually as cassowaries, water spirits as crocodiles) or human being. These spirits lived in groups similar to human groups, composed of husbands, wives, and children, and it is possible that the ghosts of the dead resided with them as well. These spirits could be helpful or harmful to human beings, and sometimes individuals could influence their behavior for good or ill. They also enforced a variety of taboos associated with their territories. For example, some disliked the smell of sexual activity, and a man or woman who had recently engaged in sex avoided areas inhabited by these beings.

Ghosts of the dead were another category of spirit being. Skulls of dead relatives were kept, and the bones of powerful warriors were scraped and the scrapings eaten by distant male kin as a type of war magic. Ghosts, too, could be influenced by the living; it was possible to invoke the name of particular ghosts as a curse. Funerals for the dead were elaborate for important people, especially big men, and less so for the unimportant.

There was a series of magical techniques that produced a desired end without the clear participation of a supernatural being. Many of these were acquired from other people by men as they conducted trade and warfare, so they tended to be the property of men rather than women. Sometimes they were gender specific because the interest was; men had hunting charms while some women knew curses that could affect the fishing territories of other women.

Apart from death in warfare or from obvious accident or old age, all deaths were the result of sorcery. Although a few Mundugumor people knew sorcery techniques, they rarely used them on their fellows because the required secrecy was too difficult to maintain. So sorcerers from up-river villages were hired if the target were a local person, and anyone, male or female, could hire one to harm an enemy or competitor. The sorcerer needed only payment and some "dirt" (hair, nail clippings, etc.) from the victim. Women did have a specific power not available to men; they could and apparently did put menstrual blood in men's food to cause illness.

We know of two myths that were important. One told of the exploits of Bilishoi, a male who traveled the countryside causing harm to people wherever he went; after his death, he, in the form of his bones, received food from people who continued to fear him. Informants in 1981 likened him to Satan. The second myth was of a woman, Gorinjime, who was driven out of her village after her husband accused her of being a ghost (she had been killed by enemies but her blood coagulated again and she came back to life); in 1981, informants continued to describe her exploits and suggested that she went off America where her descendants and their kin continue to live (McDowell, 1991).

Enneagram Essentials

Enneagram Essentials

Tap into your inner power today. Discover The Untold Secrets Used By Experts To Tap Into The Power Of Your Inner Personality Help You Unleash Your Full Potential. Finally You Can Fully Equip Yourself With These “Must Have” Personality Finding Tools For Creating Your Ideal Lifestyle.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment