Aesthetic Realism
A New Perspective for Anthropology & Sociology

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Selection 4 
Oksapmin Society and World View 
by Arnold Perey, Ph.D. 
Columbia University, 1973
Note: for this website I am reprinting short selections of my doctoral dissertation and giving a descriptive heading to each excerpt. - A.P.

Opposing Forces on the Terrain:
Opposites in the Physical Environment

Hot and cold, wet and dry, high and low are talked about in Oksapmin when the crops are concerned. Their relation is changeable, dramatic, and terrifying. How long the rainy season will last, how long the dry time will stay, is never known in advance. How intense the rain will be, how merciless the sun, is never known. How many cold days will come one after another is not known, though a person's life may depend on the answer. One rainmaker, for example, said messengers have come to him from one parish or another bearing the knotted grass as a sign, and have begged him fervently: "Please, it has been dry so long. The ground is cracking. The sweet potato and taro are dying. We don't have enough food. Please, make the rain come." 

     As a tropical montane area, Oksapmin is a place where the heat of the tropics and the cold of the mountains mingle.

The Population: Devastation and Freedom

     The structure of the Oksapmin population, in terms of age and sex, reflects the history of Oksapmin: the famine which seems to have gone from the 1930s almost to the 1940s, the recuperation from the famine, the first contact with Australian whites beginning in the 1950s in Telefomin and the epidemics and deaths from that, and the recent rapid recovery. 

     In asking elderly people of Gwe parish about this famine, and taking down the names of those who lived and those who died in it, I learned that about half the people of Gwe did not survive. And this vacated a great deal of land. 

     On the whole we see this famine, killing so many people, has made for increased freedom of movement on the land.

Steadiness and Change as One

     The houses of Oksapmin are rectangular and relatively small, on the average ten to fifteen feet long and ten feet wide. Floors and walls are made of the very heavy bark of the "wild" pandan, used in such a way that every house is insulated from the cold by a "dead air" space: double thickness walls, and floors somewhat off the ground. Roofs are shingled with the leaf of the wild pandanus in such a way that a protected gap, to let out the smoke and keep out the rain, runs down the ridge-pole. 

     The house is a stable microcosm with respect to temperature and general dryness. It maintains a fairly steady temperature while the outside has cold nights, cloudy or hot days, wet afternoons. It keeps one dry during the long, cold days of rain.

Sweet Potato and Taro: a Drama of Change and Continuity

     Sweet potato and taro, together, fill out the yearly food supply. Taro is sensitive to wet and dry, so taro gardens are planted both on the mountainsides, where they will flourish only if there is much rainfall, and near rivers where they will flourish if the weather is dry. The Oksapmin farmer transplants young taro from mountain to river, or river to mountain, depending on the rainfall to keep the supply of food as continuous as possible. 

     Sweet potato is resistant to dry weather and will keep during the dry season. It will not rot even if there is too much rain, and so it is a durable crop. 

     There is, then, in Oksapmin a drama of sweet potato and taro. It is a drama in which, accompanied by the feeling of suspense, sweet potato and taro become abundant and scarce, take each other's place and are kept apart. 

     There is a feeling in Oksapmin that sweet potato and taro are opposites. Sweet potato is associated with ordinariness and dryness; while taro is associated with water, and the sacred or unusual. 

     For instance, taro is the food eaten not only every day or ordinarily, but in rituals and when consuming the flesh of men. Sweet potato is only for ordinary eating, and is also fed to pigs; taro is not.

Animal Sources of Food Represent Wild and Domestic, Large and Small

     Animal food is obtained by hunting, gathering, and the raising of domestic pigs--Sus papuiensis. The pigs belonging to a person, in the main belong to him by virtue of his having fed the pigs sweet potato taken daily from the gardens belonging to him and in which he worked. Tree marsupials are taken by men in the mountain forest. Although it is taboo for uninitiated young men to hunt this kind of game, they do so, and they eat the meat secretly. Insects are taboo to men but certain kinds eaten by children while others are reserved for the women. Small mammals are caught in the grassy areas by girls, small boys, and aged men. It is done mainly by sitting beside the animal's runway at a strategic point, and waiting for it to run into one's hand.

Supplication and Demand
Contrary Emotions in the Self Are Made One in a Planting Ritual

     The first sweet potato is planted with magic--the following words are said: 
          Simukwe mookmook 
          Chimukwe mookmook 
          Ababkwe mookmook 
          Gutkut Gutkut 
          Mookmook Mookmook 
          Mookmook Mookmook 
          Mookmook

     Part way through this incantation, the soil is loosened with thrusts of the digging stick, and the last word mookmook, meaning abundance, is whispered intensely, repeatedly, while the digging stick is thrust repeatedly into the soil. This incantation was tape recorded by me, and one can hear in the tone of Iaulit's voice--the owner of the garden--whispering, and one can see in the simultaneous thrusting of the digging stick, supplication and demand at once. [Note: This incantation was recorded on tape.]


Iaulit of Oksapmin conducting garden magic as to initiate the planting
of sweet potato vines. The garden plot (toghwan-langa) belongs to him.
This plot is namedYuwan-tongnot ("Yuwan stayed here").

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Aesthetic Realism, the philosophy founded by Eli Siegel in 1941, is taught in classes, public seminars & presentations, and consultations at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation in New York City. Nationwide outreach includes speakers from the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, consultations by telephone outside New York City and internationally, and the work of the Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company. The Class Chairman, Ellen Reiss, teaches the classes for Aesthetic Realism associates and consultants in which I study. I am proud to say that as a consultant on the Foundation's faculty I teach anthropology, teachers' workshops, and am an instructor in consultations for individuals who want to learn the aesthetic way of seeing the world and themselves.  More links are provided below so you can find out more.
 
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