A<isa’s Gifts [Mekeo on the St. Joseph River in Central Province of Papua]




its meaning



"spirits" of "the dead", called by the man of sorrow "to attack someone" living



"Dreaming, or dreams’



living ‘body"



"dream-self" ["reflection in ... water, ... or a dream image" (p. 117)]



waking "thoughts" (as distinguished from dreaming)















"ritual", "magic"; "clever, wise"; "cleverness, wisdom"









"ritual power"



"heavy" (viz., risky rituals)



"light"-weight (viz., non-risky rituals)



"dream diviners"



"old person" (indicative of respect)



"worn out" (e.g., clothes); "formerly"




p. 342, n. 11:1 ritual languages

"most spells for ugauga sorcery are in Mekeo, but with substantial parts in the ancestors’ languages ..., whereas many spells relating to the faifai water spirits were in Waima language, and many hunting spells were in Bush Mekeo, as the knowledge had originated among these groups."





"the faifai ... water spirits ... inhabit the river, creeks, pools, and swamps ... . They are said to resemble people with straight long hair, white skins, and pale eyes (revealing their underwater origin)".


"Each time she closed her eyes, she saw a procession of horrible apparitions with huge teeth, distorted faces, and bulging eyes ... identified ... as Aisomo and Kopomo, A>aisa’s companions".


"He often heard the muttered voices of spirits near his house and the rapping sounds they made inside the house at night. ... he had occasionally in the past seen processions of spirits coming up from the river to the village – the spirits of those killed by crocodiles".

customs, summons, encounters




"the bodies of the dead were buried under houses" dwelt in by the living.


"equipment for divination ... consisted of a medium-sized cowrie shell (logu – this technique of divination is also termed logu {cf. [Yoruba] diLOGGUn ‘cowrie-shells for divination’}) and ... a short stick ... wrapped in a strip of cloth.


fishing "medicines" : "the bones and scales of various sea fish, which are used in the preparation of a charm ..., which would be floated down the river ... on a coconut husk. ...

After setting the coconut husk in the river, the practitioner ... summons the presence of the myth people. ... He recites the list of names {litany} and then burns pieces of bark cloth, circling the smoke in front of him {cf. waving of censer during high mass} to summon the spirits. ... [As explained by the practitioner,] "You mention their names and ... then you burn bark cloth so that they will come – like straight in the night to tell you in a dream ... . ...


"polo (which is also the word for "ball")" {cf. "Keteb, the sight of whom kills kills men as well as animals. He rolls like a ball". (LB, p. 419)}


When the adept summons these entities, ... they come to him in a dream."


[substances used in rituals :] "the blood of black animals is used because the sky must become black with clouds before heavy rain can fall. The vine stalk ["which, when crushed, releases much watery sap"] ... like rain ... was used by the myth hero. ...

The substances used to attract the water spirits include the blood of reptiles and a large fish ..., and the dried flesh of a special swamp creature ... that features in the myth of a widow who found water and fish to feed her children. Among the plant ingredients is a special vine that the widow in the myth employed as a rope to pull fish out of a spring."


"spells that are sung to call the fish" : "They address the fish as people, telling them to bring all their relatives to the feast that is held up river; they are told to paddle their canoes up the river, to paddle by day and paddle by night. Here the images conjured in the spell are visualized by the adept in his dream."


"kua rituals" involve "a firefly and a fly ["the blue fly" (p. 225)]".


"On a short walk through the bush we might see the vine the old woman in the myths used to pull out fish from the firs river and the tree that furnished the firewood in which little A<aisa, the myth hero, was found by the old woman Epuke – the same tree that became A<aisa’s canoe when he stole the women. A handsome stag fern was once the woman from whom Amue {cf. AMUEs^a tribe on the Huancabamba river in Peru`}, the dog, stole fire; another plant is a "medicine" to make dogs fierce for hunting."


[regimen of a "man of sorrow" :] "the rituals of ugauga ... required that the practitioner eat each day ... plantains heated over a fire with grated ginger or chili to make them "hot." One could drink only hot liquids, and ... wash ... only in hot water".


[the reason for "men of sorrow with distinctive facial painting" :] "the real reason was so that he would be identified in the diviner’s dreams when people were trying to identify the man of sorrow responsible for causing their sickness."


huge "scorpion (aipa)" is for "charm used to protect property. This ... was placed under the steps of your house". {cf. Scorpion-men who guarded entrance to abode of Utnapis^tim (Ziusudra) in the Epic of Gilgame^s}


[contents of the ugauga polo :] "the bones of A<aisa, the myth hero, the bones of A<aisa’s people, A,aisa’s fingernails, and his blood – egeva (literally, "ochre" ...) ... . Also ... a snake-stone used to summon spirit snakes, dried human brains, ... human skin ..."

LB = Louis Ginzberg : Legends of the Bible.

dreamings by feuapi etc.




"A great many Mekeo dreams begin with the dreamer diving down under water. {this is the usual [Nahuatl, Aztec] beginning of a dream of visiting Tlalocan} This is always an indication of visiting the faifai’s abode, and whatever beings are encountered there will be interpreted as faifai spirits. Such dreams are almost all related to sickness and recovery {dreams of visiting Tlalocan are employed in curing ailments} since the faifai spirits are believed to capture ... the dream-selves of human beings thus causing illness and death."


"For Mekeo, dreams are also a focus for conscious reflection on certain important existential convictions. ... For ... many Mekeo, dreams are a medium whereby the individual perceives a "truth" beyond any cultural tenet or imposed belief or "collective representation.""


[autobiographical account, by woman feuapi :-] "When people are sick, ... then I lie down to sleep that night, and I go in search of their dream-selves. I go to the faifai water spirits’ place; I go down into the water. They make ladders that go down. ... I go down [into the water] and I go along until I see the house where the person has been put. ... I take the dream-self and I bring it back. Then I give it to the sick person".


[continuation of that account by same woman feuapi :-] "Perhaps the sick person ... were very painful -- ... a snake was crushing him. It had wrapped itself around and around him completely, and he just stayed like that. {cf. Mithraic idols of leontocephalous god Khronos with snake wrapped permanent around that god; and similar imagery in Kemetian depictions of the netherworld} ... That night my dream-self, I got up and took that knife, and I went down [into the water] and searched. When I saw the snake I cut it up, I chopped it up. Then my dream-self made a fire {inside the water?} and I put the chopped up parts of the snake on the fire and burned them. Then I took the sick person’s dream-self and I brought it back. ... I rested a little and then put it [the dream-self] into the sick person’s body."


[further revelations by the same woman feuapi, concerning responses by the feuapi to her requaests to them (in dreams) to release patients’ dream-selves:-] "Sometimes they allow her to take the dream-self without any fuss, but often they refuse, sometimes insisting that the victim is now married to one of them and must stay there. ...

She also described the apagapaga auni>i, other spirits found in the bush. These spirits cause sickness by carrying the dream-selves of unsuspecting victims to the tops of tall trees where the spirits live. The captured dream-self is stranded there and [the shamaness] must climb the tree in a dream to rescue the victim."


[The same shamaness] "only dreamed after she performed healing or divination rituals. ... she did occasionally dream without ritual inducement, then shortly after she would learn that the person she had seen in her dream was sick."


[Account by another, amateur, unsuccessful shamaness lacking the finessed effectuality of a the more expert shamaness :-] "after treating a sick child she dreamed she was successful in bringing back the dream-self of her patient and returning it to the mother, but just as she did no, it managed to run off again."

"She also recounted dreams occurring when she herself was seriously ill; they were of water-spirit lovers luring her away to live with them."


[feature common to all the shamanesses :] "All three women [shamanesses] reported dreams in which they dive into the water to seek out the lost dream-selves of sick people."


[A shamaness] "consented to describe the medicines (fu<a) she used to induce dreaming; they had been revealed to her in a dream by the faifai water spirits themselves."


[dream by authoress, after night viewing the contents of ugauga polo :] "The dream was of finding myself at the top of a massive tree, thousands of feet rtall – something like a great pine tree -- ... . I sat there at the top, watching jet airliners fly past below ... ."


[initiatory dream into shamanism, as recounted by native shaman; likewise dreamt after viewing ugauga polo :-] "he found himself at the top of a coconut palm. He managed to get part of the way down, then fell."

visits to Tlalocan are described in :- Timothy J. Knab : The Dialogue of Earth and Sky : Dreams, Souls, Curing and the Modern Aztec Underworld. U of AZ Pr, Tucson, 2004.

{This Mekeo praedilection of females (rather than of males) to perform this sort of dream-shamanry is matched, by the same gendre-avocation not only among the Nahuatl-Aztecs, but also among the Iban of Borneo (whose guides for the souls of the dead into the underworld are always shamanesses).

Rescue of souls of the dead from high places by the rescuer’s climbing in the dream is, however, known among modern urban male shamans, with the difference that the modern urban male rescuer is obliged to catch the soul of the dead, who must fall from a height above the level of the climbing rescuer.}

various myths




"A<isa was {cf. [Skt.] is.a ‘shaft of carriage’; Is.a ‘son of 3rd Manu’} found by an old woman, Epuke, who picked up a dried branch from the ground while collecting firewood. She took it home ... to find ... inside it a small boy. ...

A huge mountain grows up under the canoe in which the women spend the night, leaving them stranded there. {cf. "women ... like the new moons" at mt. Sinay (LB, p. 399)} ... The men come ..., but as they begin to throw their spears ... at him {cf. "when the men saw no ... forthcoming from the women, they drew off their own" (LB, loc. cit.)} , A<isa, from the top of the mountain, strikes them down with his powers. ... At last, he relents and brings the men to life again ... .

A<isa now ...


creates the roles of the man of kindness (lopia auga), of the spear (iso auga), of cinnamon bark (faia auga), and of sorrow (ugauga auga)."

"Isapini {cf. Io^SeP} visits his brother ... small boy {cf. young brother of Io^SeP} ... A<aisa. Whereupon A<aisa ... decides to kill Isapini’s son, his own namesake, A<isa, through ugauga sorcery ... . Isapini retaliates by killing A<aisa’s son, his own namesake Isapini, with ... mefu sorcery. ["Mefu ... operates by binding the bowels of the victim, ... making defecation impossible." (p. 333, n. 2:4)] The grieving A<aisa leaves Mekeo carrying the decomposing body of his son ... and makes his abode at Kariko {chief KARIKa from Manu<a island in Samoa (T&T); and KeRaKi tribe in Papua}, a hill on the coast toward the west, ... where he is still believed to dwell with the shades of the dead."


"mythological heroes ... include Foikale {cf. the FOI tribe}, Lainapa, Gava (the moon), Foame, and ... led to the origin of numerous love charms, spells, and potions; for example,

Afugo and Agai originated ritual to induce incestuous desires,

Afilako was a beautiful girl who became a plant that is used as a love charm,

Goemau was a man who became a snake that is used as a medicine to induce sexual desire,

Taitai and Piu are the planets Jupiter and Venus, who meet in the sky ... and are separated lovers,

Lako Fagupi was a man with an enormously long penis, and

Veke was ... a beautiful girl, and the pool she washed in became the source of various potent medicines to arouse female desire."

"There is A<aisa’s ritual for dogs and for hunting, and there is ...


Isapini’s ritual for hunting. There is Foilake’s hunting ritual, there is Ougo’s (a giant pig), and similar rituals of other mythological figures ... such as Oini, Piauviki and Alokene, Oiso<i Lauga, Omeome, and Niopiopi."


"the story of the first fish trap (ogopu)" : "Every night the trap climbs out of water onto the bank and dances and sings a song. The man spies on it, hear the song, and learns".


[myth of "origin of a ritual to stop the rain" :] "an old woman who wanted to stop the rain falling ... tried to climb a tree, and her dog began to follow her. To discourage him she twisted his ear, ... whereupon the rain suddenly stopped."


"I say ... A<aisa’s name, and the names of his people – Oipau, Kalokau, Ofaofa, Aisamo, Kopamo".


"According to the myths, ugauga was first taught by Muki (cicada), one of A<aisa’s messengers, to the people of Bebeo village and was used to cause death by snakebite. A young man was bitten by afi (death adder) and a young girl by augama (taipan)".


"According to the myth, A<aisa became a tree and carried away the women of his village. {cf. the Kiowa & Crow myth of "a magically growing tree lures the heroine into the sky" (AK-CA)} This happened at night, so when the women woke up they did not know where they were. (The tree is mentioned only in esoteric versions; in public versions, ... a mountain grows up and carries A<aisa and the women away.)"


"When A<aisa threw down from the mountain the various stones and implements to be used in the rituals of secret knowledge, he also threw down the imala of a dead human being, instructing the people at the bottom not to drop it or let it touch the ground. Foolishly, they ignored A<aisa’s warnings and let it fall. Whereupon A<aisa declared that if they had caught the imala, human beings would not have [had] to die, but merely change their skins like a snake and thus renew themselves. ... (The imala, which was said to be like a great stone, broke into pieces ... .)".

T&T = "Tangiia and Tutapu" JOURNAL OF THE POLYNESIAN SOCIETY, Vols. 28-29 (1919-1920) http://www2.hawaii.edu/~dennisk/voyagingchiefs/tangiia.html

AK-CA = Robert H. Lowie : "Alleged Kiowa-Crow Affinities". SOUTHWESTERN JOURNAL OF ANTHROPOLOGY, Vol. 9 (1953), pp. 357-368

STUDIES IN MELANESIAN ANTHROPOLOGY, 12 = Michele Stephen : A’isa’s Gifts. U of CA Pr, Berkeley, 1995. [commonly believed to be a water-spirit (p. 256), authoress was wife of John Stephen (p. x)]