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Taro and arrows: order, entropy, and religion among the Telefolmin Jorgensen, Dan


This thesis examines the theme of order and entropy in the society, religion, and life of the Telefolmin people of Papua New Guinea, with an emphasis on the interpretation of secret rites and myths of the men's cult. Based on research in Telefolmin in 1974-5, the thesis draws upon the perspectives of Turner, Wagner, and Burridge. In the Telefol view order is a contingent construction which men maintain in the face of the world's drift toward entropy, corresponding to the concept of 'biniman' the process of dissipation and decay, 'becoming nothing'. The struggle against entropy informs several sectors of Telefol life, ranging from marriage practices to food tabus. A major strategy involves the segregation of antithetical acts and states, summarized in the polarization of nurturing and killing, which forms the major axis of the cult division between Taro (gardening, etc.) and Arrow (hunting, warfare, etc.). The anchoring point of the Telefol world is the men's cult house, which youths enter through a series of initiations. The rites are examined in detail, accompanied by an account of secret myths revealed in initiation. Analysis of the logic of secrecy shows that the multi-layered revelatory process illuminates principles of Telefol order while at the same time negating them. Thus the initiatory process highlights the dissonances of Telefol culture, calling "first principles" into question. This extends even to the notion that secret knowledge is capable of making reality transparent, a point underscored by the transcendental role of Magalim, a spirit embodying the notion of entropy. The thesis concludes by suggesting that Telefol religion comments on the possibilities of knowledge, men's hopes, the meaning of human action, and man's nature. Far from escaping life's ambiguities, men encounter them forcefully in Telefol religion. This implies that the anthropology of religion should be prepared to do no less.

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