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Ritual and Social Life

Ritual activities permeate the social life of communities in Papua New Guinea.  In the past the rituals were indigenous, although elements were quite freely borrowed or passed on between groups across linguistic and political boundaries.  Following contact with colonial powers and missions from overseas, forms of Christianity have been established in almost every corner of the country, often founded initially on a rejection of indigenous ideas and values but later incorporating more of these ideas and values back into the new ritual practices. 

Many varieties of Christianity have been introduced over time:  for example Catholicism, Lutheranism, Presbyterianism, Methodism, and Charismatic and Pentecostal versions.  These last became very popular in the 1990s with rumors of the impending millennium.  They continue to be popular because of their emotional appeal and their connections with ideologies of prosperity and modernity.  The Catholic and Lutheran churches were brought to Mt. Hagen in the 1930s, to Pangia in the Southern Highlands in the 1950s; and missions of different persuasions came to Lake Kopiago in the Duna area in the 1960s. 

The advent of the churches did not mean the immediate demise of all indigenous ritual practices.  In Mt. Hagen, for instance, the Female Spirit ritual performance continued to be diffused northward from its southern origin points through the 1970s and 1980s (see materials on this performance in A. Strathern and P. J. Stewart 1999 ‘The Spirit is Coming!’ covering Hagen, Pangia, and Duna areas).  We have discussed religious conversion at length in P. J. Stewart and A. Strathern eds. 2009 ‘Religious and Ritual Change: Cosmologies and Histories’, Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press.


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