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Cultures of the Pacific

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  • Pages: 8
  • Word count: 1899
  • Category: Culture

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While Western influences are noticeable in Papua New Guinea among the Gebusi such as conversion to Christianity, introduction of Christian norms and values into the day to day life of the contemporary society, embrace of the cash money economy, schooling (formal schooling) and other activities like the disco, the Gebusi, nevertheless, resisted some western influence by clinging tight to their traditionally established cultural practices such as spirit séances and witch-hunting. These form an essential part of the characteristics and features of these people who are found in the Pacific Melanesia.

Characteristics of the Traditional Gebusi Society: Political and Social Order

The Gebusi comprises of around 25 clans which are in turn composed of members that are either directly or indirectly related to each other. The Gebusi political leadership and social order is enormously dispersed (decentralized). The leadership has no secular positions like recognized headmen, war leaders, or senior elders. Bruce Knauft, (2009) notes that adult men among the Gebusi are not competitive as well as democratic and egalitarian. He adds that the men are rather diffident as opposed to being boastful and therefore general consensus is the method mainly used in arriving at decisions. The society is made of small communities or settlements which act as effective political units especially during occasions of feasts and fighting events. There are diverse clan affiliations among these communities which are well recognized.

In the social order spectrum, an adult male status to a Gebusi man is conferred through single-stage initiation and consequent marriage. There is no inequality exhibited between the wife givers and the wife-takers. Therefore, they exchange food gifts equally in any current relationships and this is regardless of whether there is a balance or an imbalance of women in the marriage between the two families. To affirm the tight social bonds within and between settlements, food gifts are given and these are accompanied by subsequent exchanges which are done in a fashion that is not competitive at all. The Gebusi respect gender relations as a defining dimension of the society and therefore male members of the society have a prerogative role of presiding over rituals and feast giving occasions. Besides, men also preside over other functions like the bow-and-arrow fighting and other societal rituals.

In terms of social control, the Gebusi settlement communities do not engage in warfare frequently. There is however systematic raiding upon them from their neighborhood (particularly the Bedamini). Moreover, fights occasionally erupt but they basically sprout from sorcery attributions.

In the social association of the society, Gebusi men would rather declare their sexual arousal than keep it secret or hide it. In addition, they sometimes exaggerated this and the senior men in the community joked in disregard of the sensitivity people would associate with such matters. They would announce publicly the sexual encounters they had with other men or women. However, this publicity is much a thing of the past than it is for the present practice (Knauft 2009).

Government decline started to be felt in areas like Nomad where important institutions like the government offices, health facilities, school, police post and airstrip closed down.

Important Rituals among the Gebusi People

Traditionally, the Gebusi people identify with a number of rituals which form an integral part of their life and act as an important defining factor to the society’s continued heritage. Ritual dances and spirit séances are not uncommon among the communities in the settlements. Though there are salient differences in the rituals practiced by the Gebusi as compared to those practiced by other communities that inhabit the Pacific society of Melanesia the Tangu and Gebusi shared one practiced reciprocity sister exchange.

Another ritual that is firmly embedded in the society among the Gebusi is the curing rituals and the traditional curing dances that go along the curing events. During these occasions of the traditional curing dances, the dancers are dressed in traditional attire that is symbolic of the spirit world. To the Gebusi, there two spirit worlds: the upper spirit world and the lower spirit world which must be evoked during the curing dances. Though Christianity was introduced into the Gebusi society by the missionaries, the Gebusi could not abandon their traditions completely for the church but brought in parts of their traditional ritual costuming and mixed it with the Christian fashion to come up with a new blend of Christian-tradition mixture. This is always evident when there are important functions that bring together many people and which sometimes call for welcoming of guests. The church (catholic is the dominant religion in areas like Gasumi and Kiunga). The church leaders encourage the blending of the Christian practices with the long-standing traditions (Knauft 2009).

Surprisingly, when there was an external influence from the missionaries some years back, some of the rituals that were traditionally appealing to the Gebusi seemed to wane. This trend was broken and most of the rituals are back and well practiced as a normal way of life. This shows the mode of resistance employed by these people against external influence on their traditional culture. For instance, though the ritual of witch-hunting was rampant in the traditional days of the Gebusi, it waned for some time but then it resurfaced and it is commonplace. They don’t spare a man suspected of sorcery; neither do they spare a woman suspected of the same.

Ritualized sex among Gebusi men was part of their day to day life and young men were initiated through “secret meetings” where they taught men talk and secrets. During these rituals the Gebusi conducted insemination of boys as a part of traditional ritual of revealing the secrets to the boys at initiation. During the ceremonies, the men inseminate boys orally or through anal sex (male-male sex) after which they rub the semen on the skins of the boys being initiated.

Belief in sorcery and shamanism is very rampant and this is why murders occur of people suspected of practicing it. The ritual that catches a lot of attention is that of intricate male initiation rites. The sexual practices that accompany the rites are of complicated nature. The males being initiated (they were generally mid-teenage or late-teenage) underwent sexual engagements with the older men where they orally consumed the older males’ semen. During these initiation rites, the men wore wa kawala costumes.

Basic Subsistence Economy of the Gebusi Society

Fundamental societal conditions that affect the family level of the society have tremendously changed due to societal dynamics in the Gebusi society. These dynamics were triggered by the colonial powers and other influencing agents like the Christian missionaries and business entities. Due to increased urbanization in the island, the Gebusi people now live in modern houses in a modern world where the economy is basically a cash market economic system. Prior to the coming of the colonialists the Gebusi people depended largely on gathering and hunting where the entire society depended on the hunters and gatherers for food. Hunting and gathering is thus part of the abandoned culture among the Gebusi people. The market economy that was born out of the influence of the colonialists became all the society depended on to generate income for survival and continuity. Traditionally, the Gebusi used to practice subsistence agriculture though the introduction of plantation farming changed the mode of land use. Today, the Gebusi comprise an amalgamation of agriculturalists who engage in small scale farming (banana plots make a bigger percentage of land use), pastoralists and foragers (Knauft 2009).

In trade, the Gebusi carried their trade sporadically and with much opportunistic perspective where they traded in tobacco, cuscus-bone arrow tips, dogs’-teeth necklaces and red ochre. These commodities formed a commodity exchange system where the Gebusi exchanged with the Tangu people.

In the traditional economic setup of the Gebusi society, there was a clear- marked boundary between the activities that were carried out by men as compared to those carried out by the women. This formed a system of division of labour. Men would be restricted to hunting, cutting down of trees, constructing houses and making weapons. Making ritual decorations was also a preserve of men in the society. On the other hand, women would process the sago palms, handle the task of weeding, fetching firewood, and carrying the produce from the garden. Harvesting the produce was a preserve of women and they also made string bags bark cloth, string skirts and sago baskets. 

The Nature of the Impact: Historical and Present Day of Western Societies

How the Gebusi conformed to the Western Influence

In the early days of the missionaries, one major achievement made by the missionaries was to win converts out of the Gebusi people into Christianity. Many of the Gebusi were converted into Christianity and became Catholics. To that point, catholic churches (missionary centers) were set up where people went for worship. While the church was busy converting, another force was acting in the Gebusi society creating an n influence din the way of life among the youth and even the old. Discos were introduced into the society which changed the mode of enjoyment from the traditional kind discotheques.

Schooling also transformed the society and market introduction of market activity played a role in changing the way the people of this society transacted. Such activities formed a formal order in the society which needed a particular way of doing things that is organized and predetermined; for examples sports leagues would be organized and it would be known that these events would take a given regularity. Nevertheless, the influence created by these features is limited.

The initial major center of influence to the culture of the Pacific came from the Christian missionaries and churches who acted as the chief agencies in the spread of literacy. In addition, they influenced the local culture to employ the use of language for critical and aesthetic appreciation. Language would also be effectively employed for recreational purposes. The government educational systems ultimately took over from the Christian churches as agents of literacy. Even though literacy became one of the main approaches to changing the people’s cultural way of life into a new culture, literacy itself had limited impact. At present, the formal governance systems seem to be failing as the Gebusi are seen to be headed back to the rainforest life.  Presently, most sports fields are engulfed by grass and are no longer an attraction to the sporting activities.

Resistance of the Gebusi to Western Influence

Though the missionaries came with a different mode of life which is based on Christian tenets, the Gebusi have not inculcated the whole thing. Thus, they have ensured that part of longstanding traditions (like body decorations and ritual attire become part of their religion). And surprisingly, as Knauft (2009) notes, the leaders of the church have had no other option apart from allowing these longstanding traditions to find their way into the Christian practices coming up with a people-friendly blend.

Examining the cultures of the Gebusi people, therefore, one discovers that the cultures are as diverse and they are tending to the original practices that were practiced before the advent of the western influence.

Works Cited:

Knauft, Bruce “The Gebusi: Lives Transformed in a Rainforest World” McGraw-Hill: March, 2009

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