Academic journal article Oceania

Note on the Reincarnation Beliefs of the Gumini People of the Simbu Province of Papua New Guinea

Academic journal article Oceania

Note on the Reincarnation Beliefs of the Gumini People of the Simbu Province of Papua New Guinea

Article excerpt

The Gumini people live in the south-east of the Simbu Province in the Highlands of New Guinea. (Brown 1972) They speak one of a variety of mutually comprehensible dialects of Kuman, the main language of the Province. They see themselves to be culturally distinct from the Kuman speakers in a number of important ways. This contrasts with the view of many expatriates who tend to see the similarities rather than the differences in Simbu tribal cultures. I am unaware how widespread the reincarnation beliefs of the Guminis as described in this article are among the other peoples of Simbu or neighbouring Provinces.

Traditionally Gumini people believed that only some people were reincarnated, but were unable to predict who would be and who would not be reincarnated. Nor could they explain why some people were reincarnated and others not. It seemed to be arbitrary, depending upon whether an appropriate living person became available for the spirit of the deceased to enter.

When reincarnation took place, the spirit of the deceased was transferred into the body of a living person of the same age, and probably, perhaps always, of the same sex. Age would be an approximation as no birth records were kept. The people to whom I spoke were not sure whether reincarnation only took place between people of the same sex but this would seem likely. Until I asked they had not, it seemed, given any thought to the matter.

If a young man died, his spirit might be transferred to the body of another young man. This young man would be a stranger to the family and kinsmen and women of the man who died. A stranger would have no existing genealogical or social relationships with the kin group of the deceased person prior to the recognition of the reincarnation.

Reincarnation did not have to occur immediately after death or, alternatively (I am not sure which would be correct) it might not become known until after the time it was believed to have happened. I knew a woman who, several years after the death of her son, was still waiting, hoping, that a man would come along, a man of approximately the same age as her son was when he died. A stranger whom she would recognise as the reincarnation of her son.

The people of Papua New Guinea, and the Guminis were no exception, lived, and still do to a large extent, in a world full of spirits. Many, but not all, of these spirits are those of deceased ancestors and kinsmen, but are not identified individually. In rural life these spirits were, and still are to a very large degree, closely integrated into the lives of the living. There is an absence of any sharp distinction between the human world and the spirit world. In the urban situation the influence of spirits on Gumini migrants is widely felt even among people who are devout Christians. This is partly a consequence of towns-people maintaining close links with their rural kinsfolk and vice-versa. There is a continual coming and going of people, mainly men, between town and country in spite of the high cost of air fares; flying is the only means of transport between Port Moresby and most of the major mainland towns, including Kundiawa, the only town in Simbu Province.

The Guminis believe that spirits can, and do, but not in large numbers, travel from their home area to other parts of Papua New Guinea, to places where other Guminis are living. They do not travel to Australia. This may be because there are few, if any, Guminis living in Australia. More important, for Guminis living outside Gumini, is the belief that the spirits of the people, into whose area they have migrated, will have harmful affects upon them if they offend these local people or other people in the same town who have a reputation for strong and aggressive spiritual powers.

Ancestor spirits are believed by the Guminis to be benign, always provided that time honoured rituals are carried out at appropriate times. It is believed that these rituals give the ancestor spirits, and incidentally themselves, pleasure. …

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