This is the next blog post in my series about the recent cultural event I documented. The first blog post gave a photographic overview, the second highlighted the traditional martial arts here, the third was about kayori singing, and this fourth post will explain the next portion of the mopopoadat ceremony that takes place at a nearby river.
After the participants and leaders sing kayori all night long (as detailed in my pervious blog post), they are able to rest for a few minutes before the next event begins – going down to the river. The “initiates” (for lack of a better term that’s what I’m calling them for now) are traditionally not allowed to touch the ground at all, except for the special designated area during kayori. As they leave the ceremonial home, they are carried on the shoulders of their family and friends for the journey down to the river.
Once we got there, it took quite a while to get all 89 participants set up and ready to go. They ended up doing everything in shifts since there were too many initiates to do everyone in one batch. You’ll see all this in the video but I’ll give a quick summary of what takes place here so you’ll know what you’re watching:
- All the initiates kneel or sit in the shallow river. A cultural leader scoops up a pail of water, blows on it, and then sprinkles it on the initiates all the way down the line.
- A cultural leader takes a husked coconut and splits it over the initiate’s head using the back (blunt) side of a machete. The coconut water pours over the initiate.
- The leader then tosses the two halves of the coconut into the river behind the initiate. How the halves land is said to predict the length of the initiate’s life, but only the leader knows what it means and the information is never shared with anyone.
- The parents or supporting relatives scoop out some of the coconut flesh and scrub it all over the neck and face of the initiate.
- The initiates bathe and wash all the coconut off.
After this it takes a while for everyone to get back into their nice clothes and back on people’s shoulders, but once they are ready the procession back to the village begins. Along the way, another interesting thing happens: they are met by an “enemy.” A guard and the enemy mock fight in front of the procession for a while, and eventually the enemy is defeated and the procession is able to return to the ceremonial house. The initiates march around the house three times before being allowed to enter.
I was very thankful to have a good tripod with me to keep the video stable, especially since I was walking around in the river for much of the shooting. Also thankful my tripod has a built in level! Here’s my setup:
Here’s the video (about 7 minutes long, and I just couldn’t get it any shorter!):
I have piles of questions I need to ask just about this one portion of the mopopoadat ceremony. Given the focus of our work, I specifically need to ask about some of the possibly animistic beliefs that still exist behind some of these practices. There is a wealth of deep symbolism and meaning here that I would hate to see lost but we always must be careful in how we apply what we learn about a culture. Many more questions need to be asked so we can find what is appropriate and useable and what isn’t; this is why research is such an essential part of our work! If we just start encouraging things to be used without asking questions first, we could do more harm than good.
Most of all, I was excited to see a traditional ceremony like this when I have been repeatedly told for the past 2 years that this culture is mostly lost and doesn’t matter to anyone anymore. I would say the crowd that turned up for this mopopoadat is evidence to the contrary.
About the questions: I like to be open in our research, so I’ll post a partial list of the questions I have after observing this event. Feel free to post more questions in the comments if you see other things I should be asking about!
- Why do initiates step on axe head and then 2 leaves?
- What kind of leaves are they, and what are they for?
- What does the axe head mean?
- Why must they step on it with their right foot?
- How is the river and/or spot in the river chosen for the ceremony?
- Why does the cultural leader blow on the water?
- Does he say anything when he does it?
- Why split a coconut over each person’s head? What does it mean?
- Why smear each person with coconut flesh, and what does that mean?
- Who is allowed to smear the person with coconut?
- What is the significance of throwing the two halves of the coconut into the water?
- Does how they land mean something?
- Why march around the house 3 times? Someone told me it could be 7 times.
- Meeting an enemy – who/what is he, and who/what challenges him?
- What does that battle symbolize?
- Why does it take place on the way back from the river?
- What are their weapons and shields? What kinds of branches are those and what does that mean?
- On the trip to and from river, should participants not touch the ground? Why were some allowed to walk when most were carried?
Okay, and…. GO! Please feel free to share your thoughts!