Fulfilling the Goals: Fertility of Land and Women

Among these communities, fertility of land and women stand for prosperity. From the forest’s thin soil, an abundance of crops was and is difficult to achieve. Agricultural success depends on human labor to cut into the forest with simple tools each year creating fresh fields. The strength of numerous men was critical for the varied tasks. Women contributed by planting the fields and producing children for labor and future defense.

These village populations were assailed by tropical and foreign diseases, accidents, and local strife. Given the resultant losses, concerns for the fertility of women were acute. Nevertheless, marriages, arranged by elders according to rules relating to kinship ties and gifts of valuable goods, deliberately sidestep sexual desire. Frequently young women were married to older men with means from elsewhere. The young wife would move to the husband’s village to live among his other wives.

At a large festival, guests from other villages were invited to perform one or more of their family masked spirits. Visits of a week or longer offered both men and women opportunities to make their own choice, discreetly, of sexual partner. One such occasion occurs during the festival ritual when small groups of married women enter the dance clearing with a few coins to ask the masked spirit for the blessing of fecundity.

Typically the women approach an admired cra van dancer or a graceful, attractive masked singer, who by its seductive manner, imitating the charm and flirtatious style of women, wins female admirers. These maskers (informally called the “adultery spirit”) usually display painted faces, attractive headdresses, and the fine costume of a singer or dancer. While offering her coin gift, a woman may accept a later tryst. The amused and benign attitude of the spectators toward this normally serious kind of moral violation indicates that in this special time period, such lovers, like the festival itself, make positive symbolic assurance of festival goals.

In this complex festival, each age group takes an active part in fostering the wellbeing of the community. It also provides individuals with opportunities to develop talents, social skills, and positions of high regard. It teaches respect for the rules and cooperation, all of which goes a long way toward fulfilling the festivals’ stated community goals.

The final masker, wearing the white-shell head-dress, bent with age and wisdom. Photo by Monni Adams.