Gods Ghosts and Men in Melanesia – extract II

There’s a lot of fascinating things in this book and not a few really weird beliefs being described (not the least is the ritual of penis blood-letting, where you insert [..] you put salt and then [..] okay you get the gist, ouch). But of course for the purpose of this blog I’m copying the parts that I find inspiring on a fantasy world-building perspective.

(The Kamano, Usurufa, Jate and Fore, R.M. Berndt)

Existing alongside the notion of a specific land of the dead, as well as independantly of it, is the suggestion that for an undefined period after death a ghost may communicate with living kin through dreams, either voluntarily or in response to a request from the dreamer: chewing himeru bark before sleep is said to be a way of getting in touch with the dead, to seek their advice or help in personal problems.


The major deities are viewed as eternal and indestructible. They assume different manifestations, are called by different names, but are still essentially unchanging. Although they may be killed, this means merely that they assume another shape. The same applies to some of the partly anthropomorphic inhabitants of the bush and jungle. But ghosts and characters in the secondary myths, including giants, ogres and apparitions of several kinds, appear to be almost as vulnerable as man is himself.

(The Mae Enga of the Western Highlands, M.J Meggitt)

Among many western clans, small pools figure in ritual intended to placate ancestral ghosts. Hidden in dense forest is a pool which clan members regard as the locus of the power of the ancestors. Women and children should not approach the site, lest they fall ill, and clansmen may visit it only on ritual occasions. In some clans men believe that a huge, invisible python, representing the ancestors, dwells in the pool. which itself is invisible to outsiders. Hence, a clan victorious in war makes no attempt to utilize the pool of the defeated clan.


The Mae also assume the existence of a class of anthropomorphic demons, distinct from human beings and from ghosts, that inhabit caves and waterfalls. These creatures in a sense embody the dangers and inhospitality that the Mae, who are gardeners and inept bushmen, associate with the dense forests of the high mountains. They are not connected with particular social groups but constitue a broad category whose members are not consistently differentiated in terms of functions or individual spheres of activity. The forest and everything in it comprise their estate, so that human exploitation of sylvan flora and fauna is essentially a trespass, likely to anger the demons.


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