Symbolism & Ritual in Irian Jaya (tribes all located in northern Irian Jaya)


pp. 29-47 Phil Fields : "Of Paradise Lost : Orya myth".

pp. 39-40 spouse-swapping


Walking Stick Religion (agama tonkat [in Indonesian])


"the walking stick ... dute is the term men use to refer to the husband of the woman who becomes his sexual partner."

39, fn. 10

"There have been other similar movements ... near Jayapura. These are popularly called Towel Religion (agama handuk) and The Simpson Religion (agama simpson). ... they also involved adultery."


"Sex became viewed as the door (symbolized, in fact, by the vagina) through which paradise would be regained. The cult therefore encouraged men to trade wives, i.e., to have sexual relations with each other’s wives. This trading of sexual favors ... was only between pairs of families, ... adherents are now very secretive concerning cult activities and teachings."


pp. 49-75 Phil Fields "I, too, Am a Man". (Orya)

bow magic

p. 64 Orya


"his bow magic partner was the wife of his ... partner (eijone)."

"draw a bow on the ground around the silkworm raising building" (R&LS, p. 251)

"while touching her vulva, he waved a cassowary bone knife

... the meaning of touching the vulva would be to appropriate ... the vaginal fluid that had the power. The man rubbed the fluid on his body, and especially over his eyes where it was believed to improve the ability to see".

"small green caterpillar, about an inch long, with its head disappearing into the vagina of Hine Nui Te Po: A hideous feminine giant, about eleven feet tall, sleeping on the ground with her legs splayed carelessly. She has the body of a human female, with seaweed for hair, eyes made of green stone, and the mouth of a barracuda." (GRR)

"a "caterpillar that glistens" {glistening silk?} ... entered the vagina of Hine Nui Te Po, a goddess" (NDLSC, p. 219).

R&LS = JOURNAL OF CHINESE RELIGIONS, # 31 (2003), pp. 245-255 Daniel L. Overmeyer : "Review of Religion and Local Society".


NDLSC = JOURNAL OF NEAR-DEATH STUDIES pp. 211-236 Gregg Lahood : "An Anthropological Perspective on Near-Death-Like ... Spiritual Crises".


pp. 77-101 Janet Bateman : "Iau Social and Spirit Worlds".

























where 1 is high and 4 is low.

p. 83 spirits

"The Iau word for a spirit being is sae6".

"In contrast to humans, ... they never sleep."

"After death, the dead travel on a path through the spirit world to the river separating the world of the dead from the world of the living. At the bank of the river, the dead call across to their relatives in the house of the dead on the far bank of the river. In response, the relative brings a canoe across the river to get the dead person."




"all created beings were originally located inside a big, long tree trunk. ... The humans who had been next to wild pigs inside the tree later became very successful hunters of wild pigs. On the other hand, the humans who had been next to cassowaries became successful hunters of cassowaries."


"a companion spirit relationship between a man and the spirit connected with a particular so7 tree. {cf. the Buddha’s tree-of-enlightenment}

The companion spirits for women were the spirits of breadfruit trees." {cf. the Hawai>ian breadfruit-goddess}


"The di4si8 ceremony is initiated by spirits in the form of a vision ... The vision is given to a man who becomes known as the ‘father’ of the di4si8 spirits." {cf. the Norse DISIr goddesses}


"Traditionally, when a spirit speaks through a Iau medium, it ...

passes on spirit complaints of wrongs people have done to the spirit (e.g., stealing his food, killing his pigs).


It requests offerings of food (e.g., breadfruit, sago, water) which are eaten on its behalf by the medium. {this is Manichaean}


It passes on information about alliances between human and companion tree spirits" {this is Daoist}.


"Some other spirits known to possess people are catfish spirits {cf. Kemetian, Ijaw, and Kic^e`} and rock spirits. The Iau say that when a rock spirit enters a medium and makes he presence known, the whole house shakes because the spirit is heavy. {cf. Siberian & Ojibway shaking of houses by spirits in se’ances} He makes a strange stopped-up sounding noise in the throat of the person he enters. ... there was a reported rock spirit named y5 be4 ‘White Ear’ which inhabited a large rock in the river running past the village."


"The pig spirits request payment in the form of the wild pig’s intestines cooked in sago which the man gives to his domesticated pigs of eat on the spirit’s behalf."


"The Iau say that ashes are like moonbeams ... The youngest child in a family can take ashes from the fire and throw them in ... the direction from which the moon rises." {cf. the moon (candra-mas) carried atop his head by S`iva, who is covered with bhasma (ashes).} ["The cuscus (sv9di9) is considered to be the same as the moon spirit" (p. 94).]


"a tree spirit that always appears as two, a blind old mother {cf. [Maori goddess] Mata-kerepo (‘eyen blind’)} and her daughter, who can be found fishing in the river near their tree. The young daughter chases hunters who inadvertently come into her territory and disturb the blind mother. The daughter chases them all the way back to their house, throwing bones at them."


impromptu drama enacted by the young men in a village :- "A favorite topic is the goings-on between humans in a house at night and spirits hiding there to play tricks on them." {poltergeists}


"The o8di7 spirit ... lives ... in vines up in the trees, or on vines along the ground. It has very long, sharp fingernails and jumps from place to place. {cf. lemur or monkey?} It throws rocks at people, drops down on people’s shoulders {as in tale of Sindbad in 1001 Nights – orang-utan?} and scratches their arms and faces, or cuts them on the throat. This spirit becomes angry when people walk under its vine, pull on or take its vine ...

There is an o8di7 spirit near Faui that is reported to throw rocks at people when they are defecating."

pp. 93-95 the 8 classes of spirits



spirits (of animals or the like)



afflict humans because the owner hath not shared his kill with others in the house.

bv6ti9 ‘cuscus’

i7fv7 ‘long-tailed lizard’

si3bv3 ‘cockatoo’

te7 ‘species of eel’

fay8 ‘crown-pigeon’



afflict people because a forbidden combination of foods hath been eaten.

dv5 ‘catfish’

kei8 ‘species of turtle’

sv9kay4 ‘species of eel’

bo6-4 ‘species of fish’

dai3 ‘cassowary’

sv9di9 ‘cuscus’



are antagonistic due to sexual intercourse or to menstruation.

dav2 ‘crocodile’

ai6 ‘species of turtle’

sei3 ‘hornbill’

ka9bi9sa3 ‘species of marsupial’

sa8di9 ‘species of marsupial’

i7fv7 ‘long-tailed lizard’ [again!]


"If a man eats these meats before having sexual intercourse with a woman, he will be afflicted by the spirit." [However, eating sago-grubs can obviate this waiting-period (p. 93).]


"This class of spirits also afflicts women who eat these meats while menstruating. The cures for afflictions by these spirits use the squeezed juices of various barks and leaves."



"spirits (male or female, depending on the sex of the animals they inhabit) ... appear to a man in the form of his wife or to a woman in the form of her husband. {cf. Zeus appearing to Alkmene in the form of her husband Amphitruon, in order to seduce her} The spirit tries to persuade the human to have sexual intercourse with it. {cf. Indra endeavoring to persuade A-halya the wife of Gau-tama to have sexual intercourse with him.} If the human does so, he or she will die after ... discovering ... that he or she has been deceived."

"In such a case, the person must not enter the house upon arriving back at home but must ... kill ... the pig". {cf. swine as repraesentative as sexual activity in Chinese symbolism}



used in sorcery :- sa8di8 ‘tree-kangaroo’



"are irritated by the victim when is ... sits on them"

tv9 ‘sago’

sv8 ‘deformed sago’



"are encountered when the victim enters their territory inadvertently."

baui6-4 tae7-8 ‘species of tree’

si5 ‘species of tree’

o8di7 [p. 92]



"Along the path traveled by the dead to the final abode live two spirits.

One spirit consumes the spirits of the dead if he can, but

another rescues them".

p. 93 how incompatible foods mutually interfere

".... the eating of food means that the spirit inhabiting that item is somehow ingested. ... If, while these spirits are still in the body, they are brought into contact with the spirits of food and items abhorrent to them, ... the spirits of these foods fight each other."

pp. 96-97 by3 sae6 ‘corpse spirits’ {BY3 = [Skt.] BHUTa}


ghosts of the dead


"The Iau believe that when a persons dies his heart ... continues living."


"The spirits of the dead talk to us at night. They say our name. They reach up through holes in the floor and touch us at night."


" widow was moving from one house to another. Her husband’s skull was hanging in the doorway of the house. ... So, as she went out the doorway ..., his skull jumped over and bit her, clenching its teeth on her vulva and hung there. Unable to ... make it let go, she was forced, finally, to go on her journey with the skull still attached to her vulva."


"When the dead person’s spirit arrived at the house of the dead, his relatives there had a big feast for him. As he was eating pork at the feast in the house of the dead, ... his ... living relatives ... knew that he was feasting with his dead relatives in the house of the dead."


"a child who died was not well received by its mother in the house of the dead. ... So, she threw a hornet’s nest at him. When the hornets stung the child in the land of the dead, his body back in the land of the living began to swell. This story gives ... why a corpse swells."

p. 99 "Grandfather Tales", which tell of origins




"a man tricked his wife into thinking that he was going to have sexual intercourse with her and then inserted red hot rocks into her vagina. When in desperation ... she jumped into the river, the steam that was produced by the red hot rocks became the first clouds."


"men had no fire until a man placed kindling material on his wife’s vulva. As a result, the kindling material burst into flame, thus creating the first fire."


"women were, originally, the ones ... who performed the secret rituals of the di4si8 ceremony rather than the men. ... the women, instead of the men, occupied the spirit house, played the flutes, had homosexual relationships, and commanded the men ...

the women ... fail to share ... their fish with the men, and they ... beat the men mercilessly ... Finally the men ... make an agreement among themselves to each kill the other’s wives. After they have killed them, they stick the bloodstained arrows upright in the sand. From the bloodstains grew the first pandanus, a tree with very oily, large, red fruit." [fy7 ‘pandanus’ – p. 100]

p. 100 grooming and ornaments worn by sexually-seducing animal-spirits [= 4th class of spirits, on p. 95]


its grooming / ornaments

to8 ‘domesticated pig’

"with the sides of the head shaved and white in color with a top tuft of hair."

dv5 ‘catfish’

"has a white moustache (like its whiskers)."

bo8du8 ‘bird-of-paradise’

"has many ... white string bags hanging down its back (like its beautiful feathers)"

tav6 ‘brush-turkey’ {cf. [<ar.] T.A>US ‘peafowl’}

"has very long points on its nose ornaments."

p. 100 breadfruit

"When the male so7 tree spirit demands food offerings from his Iau male companion, he asks for breadfruit. The Iau say that the breadfruit represents the heads of women". {symbolic of fellatrices?}

"the original breadfruit tree which was cannibalistic and ate men who climbed up to get its fruit." {symbolic of fellatio?}

p. 107 marriage of praepubertal females

"a girl may marry before her first menstrual period, and ... this was not unusual".


foods forbidden to women at times during their reproductive cycle

Bauzi (in the Mamberemo r. basin)

Mpur (in the Bird’s Head paeninsula)

pp. 4-5 during menstruation

bahe ‘taro’

p. 106 during menstruation


ubo bozda ‘red sweetpotato’


ket ‘sugarcane’

[pineapple (p. 105)]

doho ‘pig’


bihi ‘cassowary’


aizo/lokea ‘opossum’


bekmo ‘lizard’


zou ‘jumping rodent’

kiriir rodent

kisi ‘tree-kangaroo’


vama ‘species of fish’


fuma " "


fa`ua` " "


zila tam " "


o ‘egg’ (of gogahe ‘bush-hen’, of bihi ‘cassowary’, or of mok ‘lizard’)


p. 9 for 2 or 3 days before having sexual intercourse

mok ‘lizard’


p. 15 during praegnancy (with danger for foetus)

mok ‘lizard’

p. 109 during praegnancy (with danger for foetus)


tam ‘turtle’ (abscess on thigh)


betum ‘red snake’ (infections of ears)


toi ‘victoria-crowned pigeon’ (drool)


moliba ‘crayfish’


bihi o ‘cassowary egg’ (abscesses)

[cassowary (susceptible to witchcraft – p. 110)]

tuha ‘hawk’

menap ‘pike fish’

parts of a doho ‘pig’ : bila ‘intestines’; veam ‘liver’; fako ‘eyen’; veiso ‘brain’; stomach

cheeks of a pig

pork broth (birth-marks)

large type of cooking-banana

p. 21 immediately after giving birth : while nursing (with danger for foetus)

fetba ‘turtle’ (weepy-rash in groin)

p. 113 immediately after giving birth : while nursing (with danger for foetus)


louba bird (drool)

catfish (shaking chills)

cassowary egg (abscesses)

leaves of pusera tree (sick)

feli ‘species of rodent’ (sores over body)

kotoo rat (seizures)

tuha ‘hawk’ (lose weight)

menap fish (shaking chills)


pp. 1-28 Joyce Briley : "Controls of Red and White".

pp. 102-114 Carol J. Kalmbacher : "Being a Mpur Woman".

p. 8 Bauzi :- foods forbidden to men immediately before and after sexual intercourse

bouzi ‘species of fish’

alibohe ‘catfish’

doho ‘pig’

p. 9 Bauzi :- waiting after killing an animal in hunting, before having sexual intercourse




10 days

crocodile or turtle

20 days

p. 108 Mpur terms for sexual intercourse, ranked from very rude to polite in this order :







INTERNATIONAL MUSEUM OF CULTURES, Publication 33 = Marilyn Gregerson & Joyce Sterner (eds.) : Symbolism and Ritual in Irian Jaya. Cenderawasih U. (Jayapura), 1998.