Ceremonial houses of the Abelam-Papua New Guinea
Architecture and ritual - a passage to the ancestors
Citable Link (URL):http://resolver.sub.uni-goettingen.de/purl?gs-1/14201
First published (peer reviewed)
Crawford House Publishing [Printausgabe], 2016
The ceremonial houses of the Abelam people (East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea) rank as architectural masterpieces. The impressive buildings with their richly painted façade are built on a triangular ground plan. They often reached heights of up to 30 metres, towering above even the tallest coconut palms. They were constructed completely without nails, all elements being held together with the aid of vines and liana ropes; they were built by communal labour and reflected the strength of the respective community. Outside the ceremonial cycle they served as repositories for sacred carvings but during initiations they became the place of stupendous ritual installations. The novices entered the house through a low, tunnel-like entrance before they were confronted with dramatically staged cult images inside. Following this revelation they were led out through a narrow exit at the back on to a small, hidden ceremonial ground where they remained in seclusion for several weeks. Up to the mid-1980s, knowledge concerning the construction and meaning of ceremonial houses was passed on to the next generation by means of practice (learning by doing). However, since then the Abelam have converted to Christianity and turned their backs on traditional belief and knowledge: they no longer build ceremonial houses and initiations are a matter of the past. This book is part of the author’s Habilitationsschrift originally published in German in 1989. She presents an extensive description and analysis of Abelam society at a time when the people were still building ceremonial houses, staging initiations and sacrificing pigs. Thus, this work presents a cultural record of what on longer exists.