How are (were) art and myth interconnected in Ilahita Arapesh culture - Sample Essay

 

When the men are initiated into the Tambaran, they have to create works of art, paintings representing nggwals. In this process the artists spirit is incorporated into the painting as Tuzin (1980) here so clearly states: “Arapesh art is imputed to be the materialization of the artist’s own spirit” (Reader, p. 177) and he furtherly suggests that the painting and the artist have the same identity: ” … , the mystic relationship between man and Nggwal goes beyond mutual dependency and arrives at the deeper symbolic level of mutual identity”.

(Tuzin 1980: 178). Art becomes then the material evidence that myth exists, it is the exact manifestation of myth and religious ideas that lie in the spirits of these different men. Myth is art and art is myth just as the spirit of the artist is the piece of art and vice versa. To illustrate these ideas more clearly, there is a myth that illustrates this. This is the myth of the cassowary bird or Nambweapa’w. This myth is so important especially because it is so manifested in the way that people behave and thus also in art.

The story of Nambweapa’w holds a very unique place in Ilahita Arapesh society: ” All in one, it exhibits their sense of themselves as human beings, moral actors, residents of an illustrious village, and custodians of a shrine of universal importance; all in one, it projects their fondest wishes and fondest dreads. “(Tuzin: 1997:71) The story of Nambweapa’w is the story of a cassowary bird that goes and bathes with other cassowaries. They take of their skins to do so. The First Man sees this and takes the skin from one of the cassowaries. They then become husband and wife and have children.

The youngest son, however, tells his mom where she can find her skin back. She takes her skin back and kills her husband. Her children, all of alternating genders, are bitten by insects that give them each a different language. Her children represent the different cultures that are existent upon this earth. The cassowary mother takes away her magic and power because her children, except for her youngest son, do not appreciate the Edenic life she has given them. The youngest son leaves to a far country and when he comes back he will bring paradise with him. The art that is created all revolves around this myth.

The cassowary bird is the supermother, the ancestor of them all. This is manifested in the Nggwall paintings that are created by the novices. As stated by Tuzin (1980): “The sex of the figure is somewhat ambiguous: the black triangle on the lower abdomen implies femininity,… “(Reader p. 176). This relates back to the fact that the cassowary mother initially did not have a sex and her husband created her a vagina. The shell necklaces involved in the painting also relate back to the cassowary bird because in the tale her necklace is stolen to get her to her husband.

The tribal houses in which all the art is dicplayed constitute of different figures, on top there are the nggwals and in the middle you have the cassowary bird with her children that are of alternating sexes. The fact that the cassowary mother is in the middle indicates her importance to the culture: everything revolves around her. As stated by Tuzin(1980): “Nambweapa’w provides the key to the symbolism of the fai?? ade as a whole”. (Reader p. 181). Art shows us what the tale of Nambweapa’w has done to the culture.

The importance of the youngest son is manifested through art just as the balance that has to be created between male and female. Women are in fact considered more powerful. The cassowary mother’s is stolen, and therefore her magic and femininity is stolen. Once the youngest son returns and reunites all the cassowary birds’ children, that magic femininity and power will also return amongst the Arapesh. Women are considered more powerful amongst the Ilahita Arapesh and this is also represented in the art of the Tambaran, since there is always a balance present between male and female.

The tribal houses include a female foot (Nambweapa’w) and a male foot. The feminine is greatly honored because it is considered the magic that has created everything. One of the statues/ totems that clearly illustrates this is one of the nggwal and the pig. As said by Tuzin (1980:182): “The interposition of Ngwall between mother and child as the ultimate nurturant source, the implied equation of semen and breast milk which arrogated to the masculine principle functions and prepotencies naturally associated with femininity. “.

The feminine and the masculine always have to be kept in a balance. Arapesh art and Arapesh myth are in fact not two separate entities, the one exists because the other exists and they keep each other alive. The Arapesh Ilahita are very spiritual people, always trying to remain in contact with the supernatural. Their myths are exercised through their every day lives and their works of art. Their works of art convey the message of their belief in the supernatural and mythical. Art and spirit are one and the same thing; just as art and myth are thus mutual identities.

It has to be noted that I have written this essay on the grounds that The Tambaran cult hasn’t fallen yet. When the Tambaran cult does fall, art and myth relate slightly differently, because of the crisis of masculinity involved.

Bibliography 1. Tuzin, Donald F. (1997). “The Cassowary’s Revenge”. University of Chicago Press, Chigago. 2. Kottak, Philip Conrad (2002). “Anthropology: The exploration of human diversity”. Mc Graw Hill, New York. 3. Tuzin, Donald F. (1980) ” The voice of the Tambaran: Truth and illusion in Ilahita Arapesh Religion. ” University of California press.