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Lesu, also known as “New Ireland” Pitek, Emily


This entry focuses on the people of Lesu (the name for both village and its inhabitants) around the time of 1930. The village of Lesu is located on the east coast of New Ireland, Papua New Guinea. At this time, the village was the largest social unit within New Ireland, and each village functioned independently. Within Lesu were 15 smaller hamlets, each containing two to eight houses. Cutting across local divisions were two exogamous moieties, the Hawk (Telenga) and the Eagle (Kongkong), which were each subdivided into several matrilineal clans. The clan was the primary economic unit and basis of political structure; important old men formed an informal council that held governing authority. Overall, Lesu religion appears to have been based primarily upon magical beliefs and practices. Although a belief in the afterlife was present, previously human spirits were not particularly involved with the day-to-day life of humans. Ceremonial activity centered around life-cycle events (such as birth, initiation of boys, first menstruation of girls, marriage, and death) and include dances and feasts. Magicians served as religious practitioners, specializing in a particular type of magic such as love, medicine, or rain. Magicians were not involved in a formal priesthood but were instead individuals who were paid for their services and held associated prestige. According to Hortense Powdermaker (1933), the principal ethnographic authority, Lesu religious beliefs and practices are “not embodied in any one institution (such as a church), but [are] instead diffused throughout all of life, and is an attitude as well as behavior” (p. 306). Because religion permeates all aspects of society, this entry considers the religious group to be coterminous with the society itself.

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