Gods Ghosts and Men in Melanesia – extract III

Another tribe, another researcher, this part is particularly packed with gameable content! Also, kilyakai sounds great for a monster’s name don’t you think?

(The Kyaka of the Western Highlands, R.N.H. Bulmer)

Traditional Kyaka cosmology includes the following categories of spirit-beings, here listed in approximate order of significance in their influence on the affairs of living men: ghosts of the recent dead (semangko), nature demons (kilyakai), the Fertility Goddess (Enda Semangko), ancestral ghosts (semangko) who are generally equated with forest spirits (epalirai), sky beings (yakirai), Komba Ralingki, the “stranger ghost” whose bone is the object of a fertility cult performed by one Kyaka great-clan, a female forest spirit (Yama Enda), cannibal ogres (kewannambo), and minor nature spirits or semi-supernatural animals beings, including tree spirits, echoes and snails. Certain birds and animals are believed to have special properties and their killing, handling and consumption either are restricted or involve restrictions on persons performing those actions.


The Kyaka have no traditional beliefs in a creator deity. Nor do they personify the sun and the moon or the forces of anture, except the rainbow (pwiya), which is believed to be a great serpent in the forest. With the exception of the sky beings, the non-human spirit-beings are only of local significance.

The most important are the kilyakai, nature demons who live in and around streams. These small and ugly creatures are entirely malicious. They steal and injure pigs, shoot with arrows men who enter their water-side preserves, so as to cause malaria, and steal babies from net-bags, left unattended, substituting their own horrid offspring who grow into half-wits, deaf-mutes and other monstrosities.


Sky beings (yakirai) are believed to be responsible for storms and thunder and lightning, and to kill men, if the ghosts remove their protection. They are not conceived as ghosts or ancestors.


Less important in the Kyaka cosmology are puck-like tree spirits (ningkyapen), echo spirits (palinda), and snails (kyanggaroli, yama), whose bite is believed to cause serious sickness.


Cannibal ogres (kewanambo) figure in Kyaka folklore but are not met in everyday life, though Europeans were once placed in this category.


Eastern Kyaka also believe in the Yama Enda (Sickness Woman) a female spirit of the forest who appears to lone men as a beautiful female woman, and seduces and kills them. She is generally thought to be a Metlpa spirit, with special power over forest game.


Most magic consists of spells with associated rites known jointly as pipu or nimungka. Divining techniques, except that by a spirit medium, also fall under this heading. Most pipu also involve paraphernalia, such as leaves and stones and twigs and pianted arrows in techniques to banish water demons, coleas juice and pork fat on skewers to cure “poisoning”, ashes rubbed on pigs to make them grow fat, special powders and leaves in love magic, and special stones greased and rubbed on the skin to bring luck.


The sorcery stones which are waved are highly valued; they are small prehistoric figurines or club-heads or natural stones of curious shapes. Before use a pig is sacrificed and the stone smeared with its blood and grease, and invocations (nimungka) made over it. The sorcerer mounts the stone on a stick or quill and, from a place of concealment, waves it in the direction of his victim.


It is significant that Kyaka nature demons (kilyakai) are specifically associated with watercourses, which are the most hazardous feature of the natural environement and take a frequent toll of human life, and with the lowlying bush and garden areas on river banks, where malarial and other infections are commonly encountered. The forest, in contrast, is tought by Kyaka only to be dangerous to persons unfamiliar with it. It is appropriate that forest spirits are not kilyakai but epali rai, ancestral ghosts, who on the whole protect the interests of the legitimate owners of the bush and menace intruders.

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.

Gods Ghosts and Men in Melanesia – extract I

I haven’t opened my rpgs notebooks for a few weeks now but I am in the process of reading this fascinating classic of anthropology. I’ll keep here a few interesting tidbits I want to keep record of for later use.

Introduction (P. Lawrence, M.J Meggitt)

Spirit-beings fall into three categories. First, there are autonomous spirit-beings such as deities and culture heroes. Some deities are both creative and regulative : they are thought to have been responsible for the whole or parts of the cosmic order, still to live in or near human society, and still to intervene in its concerns. Others are only regulative: they are attributed no real creative role but are said to be important in human affairs. Culture heroes are only creative: after establishing the cosmos, they left human society and took no further interest in it. Second, there are autonomous spirit-beings who have no creative or regulative functions: tricksters, demons, and pucks who wantonly cause annoyance or harm. Third, there are the dead, who can be subdivided into the recent dead (ghosts or spirits of the dead), and the remote dead (ancestors, ancestral spirits, or ancestral ghosts). Totems belong to either of two categories: first, putative totemic forebears of named unilineal descent groups; and totems from which no descent is claimed but which named descent groups adopt as heraldic badges or emblems because of supposed association with them in the past.

(The Huli of the Southern Highlands, R.M Glasse)

The founding ancestors, both male and female, are rather aloof from human affairs. People regard them more as deities than as human ghosts, and refer to them loosely as dama. Specifically they call them dama agali duo, “half deity-half-ghost”. Thus, conceptually, the ancient ancestral ghosts are intermediate between the deities and the recent ghosts have the power to dissuade the deities from assaulting their descendants.


The Huli conceive the dama to be invisible deities possessing supra-physical powers. Dama control the weather, causing too much rain or too little. They attack humans, sometimes capriciously, causing sickness, infertility or death. At times they punish certain offences, or cause suffering at the bidding of sorcererers. Most dama are capable of causing both good and evil, but a few, such as Korimogo, are wholly malicious.


A number of the greater deities, such as Ni, Lindu, Hone, Dindiainyia and Helabe, are associated with stone objects owned corporately by every parish. Other major dama, such as Kepei, have several hut-like temples each of which is the centre for the rituals of a group of seldom connected with particular objects. A few of the greater deities, such as Korimogo, have no local or object associations at all, except in so far as their evil power emanates temporarily from the body of a person they have slain. The victims of Korimogo are buried with special precautions; the dead man’s fingers- and toe-nails are removed and their positions reversed to confuse the deity and thwart his attacks on people living in the vicinity.