The Gender of God’s Gifts—Dividual Personhood, Spirits and the Statue of Mother Mary in a Sepik Society, Papua New Guinea

Christiane Falck

A Sepik myth tells of a time in which women were in charge of powerful spirits before jealous men reversed the gender roles by force. Today, the men of Timbunmeli (Nyaura, West Iatmul) have lost control over spirits who have started to act through female bodies. Christian charismatic rituals hint at mythical times, and remind villagers that women are the original custodians of spirits now understood as being spirits of God. While previously, male bodies represented spirits in shamanic rituals and through male ritual regalia, now women are the predominant recipients of God’s gifts. This paper analyzes the current religious practices as onto-praxis in relation to the local concept of personhood and the relational ontology informing the Nyaura’s lifeworld. Building on Strathern, Bird-David, and Gell’s theories about the personhood of humans and things from an anthropology of ontology perspective and adding a gender perspective to the discussion, this paper argues that dividuality put into practice has not only informed the way the Nyaura have made charismatic Christianity their own, but is also central for understanding current events impacting gender relations in which material objects representing spirits play a crucial role.

Research Type(s)
Journal Article
Submitted by Phoebe Nadenbousch
February 28, 2023
Published in
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