Dancing through Time [Karawari tribe of the Sepik river-valley, New Guinea]

p. 17 spirit-snake

"People say that the village has the shape of the huge snake which lies beneath it. This wakin (snake) is the essence ... of the village; it is its protector ... . The snake has to be firmly pressed down by all ancestral female spirits, who are represented on round masks on men’s houses ... . This snake can ‘see’ what the people do... . Men refer to this snake only in the men’s houses ... . Its real name means ‘strong’ and ... it is the most awesome secret which is seldom whispered even in the men’s house."

p. 26 hunter’s spirit-guide

"People say that the personal spirit of a man wanders around the bush before the hunt and finds the place where the pigs are. The spirit later guides the hunter.

{cf. Siberian & South American tropical-forest hunters guided by a spirit to their prey.}

Hunters in general do not eat the meat of the pig that they have killed".

{some South American tropical-forest hunters likewise do not}

p. 56 soul & spirit

wambun ‘insideness’ (knowing, understanding)

angin-dar-kwan ‘watcher of light’ (shadow, mirror-image) = angin ‘beam of light’ + da ‘to hold’ + kwan ‘carer, someone who looks after somebody’.

"When this spirit leaves a person at death, it is not called ‘watchman’ any more but wundumbunar if male or wunduma if female".

p. 61 soul & spirit in Avatip

term in Avatip

corresponding term in Karawari

mawul (understanding)


kaiyik (spirit)


p. 125, fn. 13 sexual privacy

"Everyone would feel ashamed if the parents saw their sons having sexual intercourse. For this reason people often cough when passing the sleeping places of others."

p. 133 sexual overtones in conversations

"Men make gestures of copulation, touching and ‘kissing’,

saying who has ‘male genitals’ (payangusim), ‘penis’-polite (using), ‘penis’ (aruwa), ‘testicles’ (panyang), and who ‘vulva’ (yawi)."

pp. 133-4, fn. 16 metaphors for genitalia

p. 133, fn. 16

metaphors for ‘penis’

yuwan (tree)

pandipinam (blunt adze)

ingrayn pamin (root of pandanus)

p. 134, fn. 16

metaphors for ‘vulva’

pandim (turtle’s tail)

yimbuk (mountain)

samindi (‘big-mouth’ fish)

injin (little fish-basket)

kayapi (back of canoe)

kayam (pool)

wiminin (Malay-apple fruit)

usim (small pool)

"shells ... having holes in the middle"

p. 144 primordial deities



elder brother

Sungwi (Moon)

younger brother

Simari (Sun)

their mother


their father


pp. 145-146 myth about the sun-god




The 2nd brother (the Sun) was born as a frog ["kriak, a large frog" (p. 144)] : the spirit-woman Kandingrimay cooked that frog;


but the frog not only survived that cooking alive, but also shone brilliantly evermore thereafter.


"the younger brother Sun is lower and the elder Moon is higher up.

And because of this the light of the Moon is not as strong as the light of the Sun."

p. 176, fn. 13 origin-myth for flutes

"in the distant past there were not flutes in a men’s house but only birds which sang during the initiation rituals. But on one occasion these birds pecked the boys to death, ate them, and left only skeletons. ... But the spirit of the flutes gave dreams to a man, telling him how men could make these sounds themselves. ... From then on, ... whenever men play flutes the women ... fear that the birds have returned and will eat their boys".

p. 178 myth of origin of men’s house through a visit to divine namesake underwater

"Long ago, ... a man called Uringgay ... went to wash in the creek. His namesake, a water spirit, pulled him down under the water and ... initiated him. The spirit showed him how to build a men’s house"

pp. 184-85, 187 myths about gods who are repraesented as posts in the men’s house




"because Simasa [M] slept with Yakuras [F] at the place of spirits, a sakima (a female bush-spirit) who lived there took the place of his lover. During intercourse her vulva changed into the head of a snake, bit his penis and killed him.


[depiction of Simasa & Yakuras] "Under the floor, the carving on the post portrays sexual intercourse. This time there is a headless female body ..., while the bodyless [sic] penis ... has entered her vagina."


"Kikriynwapanma ... is ... a pregnant woman ... . ... While she sat there the smell of sago grubs entered her vagina. ... She opened her legs and the smell permeated her vagina. And the snake smelled the scent of sago grubs. It got up from under the bed ... . It ate all the grubs and slipped into her vagina."

p. 189 slit-drums as idols of deities

"The large, immobile slit-drums (yimbung) have their own names ... and are regarded as beings in their own right. People say that these spirits used to live under the water ... . They had their own villages under the lakes, their own men’s houses; they performed all sorts of rituals ... . ... Drum have a body ... . One end is designated the head (lit. ‘chin’) ... . Just under the ‘chin’ and emerging from the main body is a solid ... pouch ... . This is called a ‘fish-basket’, where the spirit keeps its food. The slit at the top of the body of the drum is referred to as its ‘mouth’. ... On either side of the drum the patterns depict its intestines and lungs ... . ... On top of the head the two ‘breadfruit seeds’ indicate the spirit’s eyes."

p. 219, fn. 21 flirtacious forms of address used in songs

"they call women ... white cockatoo (andima), cassowary (awanma), red parrot (kawinjima) ... .

Men are referred to ... by terms used for different species of fish. ... .

... a boy can be called a ‘lizard’ ... .

A woman who has many children is referred to as ‘female crocodile’ (mambayma),

a young girl who urinates a lost in front of everyone, ‘turtle’ (yuwanbak)."

pp. 222-223 spirit of the village




"the village itself is ‘covered’ by aring, ... a mosquito bag ... .

The large spirit-snake which lies under the village ... ‘follows’ the villagers wherever they go. ...


People say that if the spirit-snake moved away, ... the whole village would be destroyed."

Borut Telban : Dancing through Time. Clarendon Pr, Oxford, 1998.