Papuan mythology

The Papuans are one of four major cultural groups of Papua New Guinea. The majority of the population lives in rural areas. In isolated areas there still remains a handful of the giant communal structures that previously housed the whole male population, with a circling cluster of huts for the women. The Papuan people are Melanesian people composed of at least 240 different peoples, each with its own language and culture. Sago is the staple food of the Papuan supplemented with hunting, fishing and small gardens.

Papuans may be related to the Iatmul on the Sepik River and to the Asmat and Marind-anim farther west along the coast. There the cultures share concepts of village “big men”, great longhouses, huge dugout canoes, headhunting and, in some areas, cannibalism.

Ancestors are important, but not necessarily revered in Papuan culture. The important quality is called “imunu”, the power that pervades things, including ritual objects. Imunu is personified in the masked ceremonies. Most representations are of humans or ancestors, not plants or animals. Traditional cultural ceremonies on a large scale existed into the 1950s, but declined as Christian missionaries converted the villages.


The Christian church has been extraordinarily influential. Most Papuan people regard themselves as Christians. The largest denominations are Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran and United Church. Pantheistic beliefs are also widespread and traditional rituals are important in Papuan culture. For example, people who live in danger of crocodile attacks are likely to give crocodiles an important role in their culture, while farming communities often place greater emphasis on the weather, accordingly celebrating fertility and harvest. Placating the spirits of ancestors is a dominant theme in traditional beliefs while the fear of sorcery and witchcraft is also widespread. Most Papuans manage to create a personal theology that seemingly blends Christianity with the finer points of their traditional religion.


Papuan art forms are as diverse as they are distinctive. In a country where language varies from village to village, it can be expected that artistic expression will differ in style just as dramatically. Pottery, weapons, carvings, basketwork and musical instruments are produced by different people in different places, according to their traditional skills and beliefs. Most provinces specialize in different kinds of weaponry. Bows and arrows are traditional in several areas. Shields have a decorative and spiritual role just as important as their defensive purposes. Gope boards are believed to possess the spirits of powerful warriors or to act as guardians of the village. Before hunting or war expeditions, the spirits were called upon to advise and protect the men. Story boards are a modern version of the fragile bark carvings villagers used to make. The boards illustrate incidents of village life in raised relief.


  • Papuan Gulf Map. [1] 2000

External links

List of religions and spiritual traditions

While religion is hard to define, one standard model of religion, used in religious studies courses, was proposed by Clifford Geertz, who defined it as a

[…] system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic."

A critique of Geertz's model by Talal Asad categorized religion as "an anthropological category." Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the universe. They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws, or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature. According to some estimates, there are roughly 4,200 religions in the world.The word religion is sometimes used interchangeably with "faith" or "belief system", but religion differs from private belief in that it has a public aspect. Most religions have organized behaviours, including clerical hierarchies, a definition of what constitutes adherence or membership, congregations of laity, regular meetings or services for the purposes of veneration of a deity or for prayer, holy places (either natural or architectural) or religious texts. Certain religions also have a sacred language often used in liturgical services. The practice of a religion may also include sermons, commemoration of the activities of a god or gods, sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trance, rituals, rites, ceremonies, worship, initiations, funerals, marriages, meditation, invocation, mediumship, music, art, dance, public service or other aspects of human culture. Religious beliefs have also been used to explain parapsychological phenomena such as out-of-body experiences, near-death experiences and reincarnation, along with many other paranormal and supernatural experiences.Some academics studying the subject have divided religions into three broad categories: world religions, a term which refers to transcultural, international faiths; indigenous religions, which refers to smaller, culture-specific or nation-specific religious groups; and new religious movements, which refers to recently developed faiths. One modern academic theory of religion, social constructionism, says that religion is a modern concept that suggests all spiritual practice and worship follows a model similar to the Abrahamic religions as an orientation system that helps to interpret reality and define human beings, and thus religion, as a concept, has been applied inappropriately to non-Western cultures that are not based upon such systems, or in which these systems are a substantially simpler construct.

Marind people

Marind or Marind-Anim are people living in South New Guinea.

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