The Asmat of New Guinea: a case study in religion and magic

United States, 1983

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Episode number 20 of Series “Faces of culture”.
Creation legends enable cultures to grasp the ungraspable. In the creation legends of the jungle tribe of the Asmat in south central New Guinea, the universe spilled from the decapitated body of a great spirit. Hence head-hunting and cannibalism became central to their religion, as did the appeasement of spirits who inhabited the trees. Rituals such as these gave the Asmat a sense of control over the unpredictable, but in the modern world, where cannibalism and vengeance is not allowed, their rituals cannot be properly completed, leaving a sense of anxiety, which finds its expression in tobacco addiction and social alienation.

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Harry Ratner


Ira R. Abrams

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Coast Community College District

Holt, Rinehart and Winston



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United States
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