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ETHNONYMS: Berik, Bonerif, Kaowerawedj, Kwerba, Mander, Soromaja


Identification. The Tor River (as it is called in the Berik language) promotes a sense of cultural if not linguistic unity, with the groups living along its banks conscious of being "People of the Tor," or "Torangwa." The term "Tor" will be used here to refer mainly to the Berik, Bonerif, and Mander peoples and, to a lesser extent, their Kwerba neighbors on the Apauwar and Mamberamo rivers to the west.

Location. The Tor River arises in the Gauttier Mountains of the Sarmi Subdivision of Jayapura Division in northern Irian Jaya, and it empties into the Pacific Ocean about 25 kilometers east of the town of Sarmi, at about 1°50 S, 139° E. The Upper Tor is a region of foothills, plains, and tropical rain forest, where the river is too braided and filled with debris for canoe travel. Farther downstream, the Middle Tor is a rugged region giving way to the Lower Tor, where the river meanders through sago swamps. In these lower regions people can use canoes for transport, but in the Upper Tor watercourses are used whenever possible as footpaths. Large areas of this region of about 2,200 square kilometers are never visited by the widely dispersed and seminomadic populations.

Demography. In the late 1950s, the Tor Basin was estimated to be home to about 1,000 people, with perhaps twice as many Kwerba living immediately to the west. While reliable figures are not currently available, recent estimates suggest small if any increases since then. Indeed, one of the striking features of the Tor populations is that between the 1930s and 1960 a very low birth rate combined with 35-40 percent infant mortality to produce a serious depopulation problem, which was compounded by extremely high ratios of males to females in all tribes of the region and which threatened extinction for many groups. There is still no explanation for the high degree of masculinization of the population.

linguistic Affiliation. Most of the languages spoken in the region constitute the Tor Family of Non-Austronesian languages, with Kwerba a member of its own separate family. Throughout the area Berik is used most and has become a lingua franca of the district.

History and Cultural Relations

Nothing is known of the prehistory of the Tor peoples apart from oral traditions that indicate that many of the people have immigrated there during the twentieth century from the Lake Plains area of the Idenburg River to the southeast. The combination of a very difficult physical environment and depredations by the Wares and other groups to the east and south have resulted in continual fissioning, extinctions, and migrations. The Tor groups had almost no contact with the Western world until the Dutch administration and missionaries began development and conversion attempts after World War II. Since Irian Jaya became a province of Indonesia, almost no new information about the Tor has become available; the description provided here is based almost entirely on the situation in the late 1950s.


All of the Tor peoples are seminomadic, but villages are maintained as semipermanent residences and are the centers of social and religious life. Usually a village consists of eight to twelve houses built on piles, with a cult house in the center of the settlement. The houses are arranged in a straight line if located on rivers or ridge tops, or in a circle if in a forest clearing. In addition, branch villages, containing about four houses, are found all over the territory; these are used for Sexual intercourse (which is forbidden in the main village), as refuges from sorcery fears, and as temporary residences during sago processing.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. More than 90 percent of the Tor diet consists of sago, which is never planted but grows wild in extensive groves in the Middle and Lower Tor. The ideal meal consists of sago and fish, with the latter obtained by bow and arrow or through damming and poisoning of rivulets (not the Tor itself). Collecting of shellfish, larvae, worms, slugs, eggs, greens, wild fruits, and bread-fruit is very important, whereas hunting of wild pigs, cassowaries, lizards, rats, opossums, and birds makes little contribution to the larder. Pigs are raised from wild piglets caught in the forest; though they are hand-fed sago, they forage freely for most of their food and when fully grown are killed for feasts. Some rudimentary gardens are made near rivers but they are widely dispersed; bananas and pawpaws are grown but, with no fences, are subject to the depredations of pigs. Recently corn, yams, and beans have been introduced and are grown in gardens around mission settlements and schools. The only potential cash crop is dammar, a resin collected from the foot of Agathis trees. The Tor peoples use dammar for illumination at night, and the Dutch government encouraged its production as a source of cash in the 1950s. The Mander people are the main producers of dammar, which is then transported to the Lower Tor and coast by Berik people for sale to Chinese and coastal traders. The dammar, which is used in the West for varnish and other products, has been virtually the only source of money and Western goods for the Tor.

Industrial Arts. Apart from canoes, which are made and used only on the Middle and Lower Tor, houses are the only large objects manufactured. Clothing for both sexes consists of crushed-bark aprons, supplemented with fern-fiber abdomen shields for men. Knotted net bags, rattan headdresses, and ceremonial figures are also made, and men carve arrows as a group project on a fixed schedule. Tor sago spoons and forks are regarded as models of wood carving.

Trade. Barter is conducted only between tribes with close social relations, and even then it is largely a matter of Individual ties. "Silent trade" is also engaged in between enemy groups. Products circulating in the region include dogs, arrows, pork, drums, cassowary quills, shells, and charms, with poultry entering the trade system in recent decades.

Division of Labor. No occupational specialization exists, with the division of labor based simply on sex. Men engage in trade, wood carving, house building, hunting, and fishing, and they also conduct religious ceremonies. Both sexes collect wild foods, but this is mainly a task assigned to women, who also tend the pigs. When gardens are made, it is the man's job to clear the forest and both husband and wife may share the planting tasks, although this would be true mostly for older men. Women have primary responsibility for the food supply, and sago processing is exclusively a female task, beginning at about the age of 8. Sago processing is always done by groups of women while men hunt in the forest, Usually alone but sometimes in groups of bachelors.

Land Tenure. Except in sago groves (which are exclusively allocated to women) all members of a tribe, irrespective of age or sex, have equal rights to collect, hunt, fish, garden, and live on its territory. These rights are permanent as long as one visits the territory. Usufruct rights may be granted to People outside the tribe only if all agree to the extension. Planted fruit trees or gardens, however, belong to the individuals responsible, though rights in them are usually shared with Siblings and spouses. Again, usufruct rights may be given to friends, kin, or visitors.


Kin Groupe and Descent. Kinship is all-important to the Tor. They feel safe only among kin, because kin are believed never to perform sorcery against relatives and also cannot refuse to share food. Descent is traced bilaterally (though in Kwerba communities patricians can be found), and, in the small populations characteristic of the region, virtually everyone is related to everyone else in the tribal community.

Kinship Terminology. At least three distinct types of Kinship terminology systems are found in the region, though kin terms are typically extended to friends and the situation is complicated by the existence of many different paths by which kin connections may be traced. The most widespread system is that of the Berik, who do not mark sex but attend principally to relative age except in the case of mother's brother; they also employ Hawaiian-type cousin terms. The Mander do not extend parent or child terms, and they use Iroquois-type cousin terms. The latter are also used by Kwerba, who otherwise show a strong tendency toward a Generational system and distinguish between the sexes.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriage, viewed as an economic institution, is indispensable to the status and very survival of a male. By the time he is considered marriageable, at about age 23, his mother is usually dead and his sisters are married; without a wife he has no source of sago, for which he is expected to reciprocate fish and pork. Young women generally marry when they are age 17 to 22 after complex negotiations, especially involving the elder brothers of the pair. The ideal arrangement is sister exchange (although the "sister" may be any kinswoman younger than the male giver), and in principle all four parties must agree to the union, with the potential bride being free to refuse. Especially given the demographic situation in recent decades, the exchange is not usually immediate and simultaneous, but if it is not the groom must periodically give gifts to his wife's elder brothers. In contrast to the ideal, however, elopement and "love marriages" based on personal attraction are frequent; elopement with a wife deserting one man for another is the only way, apart from death, by which a marriage may be dissolved. Again because of the masculinization of the population, about 30 percent of the men are unable to marry and become permanent bachelors. Despite this fact, polyandry is not allowed (although any woman may have sexual intercourse with her husband's brothers), but about 20 percent of the men are polygynous. These, however, are nearly always older men with old wives, who would be destitute without viable sources of sago; indeed, polygyny is regarded as a sign of weakness on the part of a man. A strong preference for tribal endogamy (marrying classificatory Siblings and cousins) results in about 90 percent of marriages taking place between members of the same community. In cases of village exogamy, the ideal is for the couple to reside virilocally, but given the need for access to sago, uxorilocality is about equal in frequency.

Domestic Unit. The nuclear family is clearly distinguishable throughout the region, but two main forms of household are found. Among the Mander the nuclear family forms an independent unit, with its members residing all in one house (including older cowives, though usually not younger ones) and sharing gardening and child-care tasks. In the other groups, the "domestic family" or "fraternal joint family" is the domestic and economic unit, usually with brothers and their families sharing a house and gardens and moving together in the nomadic food quest.

Inheritance. A person inherits rights to territory from both father and mother, and usually before death rights to sago or fruit trees are bequeathed to one's children or siblings and dogs are given to the sons or younger brothers of their male owners. Otherwise, at death all of a person's possessions are destroyed: a man's arrows are broken and burned; pigs are killed and the meat fed to dogs; and fruit trees are cut down.

Socialization. Among the Mander, who have access to the most sago, children are looked after by men while their wives are off processing sago. Elsewhere, women who are currently in the village look after all of the children while some of the working women are working in sago groves and men are hunting in the forest.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The village is the largest and most important social group and is virtually synonymous with the tribe: it is a named territorial group with fixed boundaries, which acts as a political unit and, despite its small size (seldom more than eighty-five people), usually consists of ail of the speakers of a given language; given its strong tendency towards endogamy, it may also be considered a deme. There is considerable rivalry among all Tor tribes, with each thinking itself superior to all others. In recent decades, bachelors have emerged as a distinct social grouping, living together in their own house in the village or wandering together in the forest. New functions of the bachelors' group include conducting barter across tribal boundaries and organizing festivities. Increasingly bachelors have been attracted to European centers in search of work.

Political Organization. Territorial groups (tribes) are autonomous, though usually they are on either friendly or enemy terms with others. Tor communities are egalitarian, with no hereditary leadership; men achieve status and influence through their demonstrated economic skills or cleverness, traits that are more important than age in the power Structure. The Dutch administration appointed headmen of Villages, and recently in mission settlements non-Tor teachers have become community leaders. Perhaps because of their overwhelming importance in the food quest, women are the main determiners of public opinion; it is common for a wife to threaten to desert her husband if her wishes are not heeded.

Social Control. Community opinion is the only real form of social control. If ridicule and physical conflict prove to be insufficient sanctions, ostracism may lead to voluntary or involuntary banishment.

Conflict. Nearly all quarrels occur in the context of disputes over women. While they may begin between Individuals, obligations of kin to assist each other soon turn them into conflicts between villages. If conflict is not resolved through ritual purification or gift exchange, it can be a main source of community fission.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Apart from ghosts, the Tor cosmos includes two main types of supernatural beings: those who were never human; and those who were but who have gone to Heaven without dying first. Among the former are personifications of the sun and moon, and Oetantifie, the omnipresent, omniscient originator of world order. In the view of the ethnographer Gottfried Oosterwal, he is the "power in the background" for the Tor, ever threatening to punish human beings, especially by causing floods and reducing the world to chaos. The other beings are culture heroes, usually localized by tribe, who live in the sky and are mainly friendly and benevolent, assisting people in fishing, hunting, and healing, though there are also malevolent demons.

Religious Practitioners. Apart from healers, the only practitioners are adult men who conduct ceremonies and, increasingly, bachelors who play major roles in organizing and carrying out feasts.

Ceremonies. Life-cycle ceremonies are held for females only at birth and death; for males, these two rituals are Supplemented by initiation into the men's cult and a "coming to manhood" rite. Male initiation occurs at about the age of 14, when youths are forcibly taken to a specially constructed house deep in the forest and secluded for several months. There they are taught the secret of the growth- and prosperity-inducing sacred flutes of the men's cult and instructed in the ways of the forest. Following this seclusion the boys move from their family houses into the bachelors' house to await coming to manhood and marriageability at age 18 to 23. The major ceremony for the community as a whole involves building and inaugurating a new cult house. Over a period of months, each stage in its construction is marked by feasting and dancing. Upon completion, the inauguration ceremony draws people from far and wide who feast together to consolidate and restore friendship bonds. At a special flute feast, the men's secret flutes are fed with pork from a pig especially killed for the occasion, and thus the strength, growing power, and good order of the community are renewed and reassured.

Arts. Rattan figures of fruit bats and the moon are hung in the community cult house, as are carved wooden phalluses intended to arouse women while they dance during associated ceremonies. Both sexes engage in tattooing through burning, and large repertoires of songs and dances are performed during feasts. Each tribe has its distinctive styles of decoration of arrows, sago spatulas, and sago forks.

Medicine. Malaria is endemic in most of the Tor, and pneumonia, filariasis, and yaws are common health problems. In response, bush medicines are used, and mothers Commonly rub their children with saliva as a treatment procedure. Most disease and all accidents are attributed ultimately to sorcery, which is a constant concern leading to fear of any nonkin. Healing specialists have some sex-specific methods: only men engage in bloodlettingand that only with male patientswhile women healers suck out "bad blood" from people of both sexes.

Death and Afterlife. Except in cases involving the very old, sorcery is the first explanation offered for a death. Traditionally, the corpse was wrapped in sago leaves and either exposed on a scaffold or in a tree or buried under its house; after that procedure, all of the deceased's possessions were destroyed and the village abandoned. The shade remaining after decomposition of the physical remains is believed to float in space, with some body parts being luminous. Shades are believed to live together in villages in well-identified locations that are avoided by all people. Life after death is regarded as torture, with constant food scarcity (because sago cannot grow in their areas) driving the shades to prowl in human Villages seeking food.


DeVries, Jim (1988). "Kwerba View of the Supernatural World." Irian 16:1-16.

Eechoud, J. P. K. van (1962). Etnografie van de Kaowerawedj (Centraal Nieuw-Guinea ). The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

Oosterwal, Gottfried (1959). "The Position of the Bachelor in the Upper Tor Territory." American Anthropologist 61:829-839.

Oosterwal, Gottfried (1961). People of the Tor: A Cultural-Anthropological Study on the Tribes of the Tor Territory (Northern Netherlands New Guinea ). Assen: Royal Van Gorcum.

Oosterwal, Gottfried (1967). "Muremarew: A Dual organized Village on the Mamberamo, West Irian." In Villages in Indonesia, edited by Koentjaraningrat, 157-188. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Oosterwal, Gottfried (1976). "The Role of Women in the Male Cults of the Soromaja in New Guinea." In The Realm of the Extra-Human: Agents and Audiences, edited by Agehananda Bharati, 323-334. The Hague: Mouton.



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tor A mass of exposed bedrock, standing abruptly above its surroundings, and typically but not exclusively developed on granitic rocks. It may be formed by selective subsurface weathering followed by the removal of the weathered debris, by differential frost-shattering, or as an end-product of scarp retreat under semi-arid conditions.


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tor Mass of exposed bedrock, standing abruptly above its surroundings, and typically but not exclusively developed on granitic rocks. It may be formed by selective subsurface weathering followed by the removal of the weathered debris, by differential frost-shattering, or as an end-product of scarp retreat under semi-arid conditions.


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tor / tôr/ • n. a hill or rocky peak.


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tor high rock, pile of rocks (esp. in local names). OE. torr, of Celt. orig. (cf. OW. twrr bulge, belly, Gael. tòrr bulging hill).


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Tor ★½ 1964

Medieval barbarian endeavors to free an enslaved village from a band of murderous hoodlums. 94m/C VHS . Joe Robinson, Bella Cortez, Harry Baird; D: Antonio Leonviola.