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ETHNONYMS: Kaja-kaja, Tugeri


Identification. Marind (anim means "people") is the name by which some forty territorial groups (subtribes) in New Guinea identify themselves vis-à-vis foreigners. The traditional culture, especially the religious system, has been dramatically changed through Western contact, although many Western material goods are avoided and the Marind prefer to associate with one another. The description which follows focuses on the traditional culture.

Location. Marind occupy the southeastern coastal area of Irian Jaya (the western half of New Guinea) from the Southern entrance of the Muli Strait southeastward to about 30 kilometers beyond Merauke, with, at some distance from the international border, the enclave of Kondo. Farther inland, they occupy the upper Bulaka River region and all the land east of it to the Eli and Bian rivers, an area usually called the Okaba Hinterland. Marind territory also includes the Bian and Kumbe river valleys and part of the lower Maro with all the land between. The land is lowland, mainly savanna alternating with swamps; in the upper river areas, it is mostly low hills and swamps. Resources include coconuts on sandy ground, sago in the swamps, eucalyptus trees on the savanna, wallabies in the grasslands, and fish in the rivers and sea. The monsoon climate provides heavy rains during the northwest monsoon (end of December until April) and relative cool when the trade winds pass through from June to early October. The transition periods are hot and sticky.

Demography. In 1902 when the area was brought under control, the Marind numbered some 8,000 on the coast and up to 6,000 inland. By 1950 the population had decreased by more than 50 percent due largely to imported diseases. An additional factor was the pacification itself, which ended the kidnapping of children from other groups who were the targets of Marind head-hunting raids. As the Marind were decreasing in numbers long before pacification, the adoption of these stolen children was an important source of new tribal members.

Linguistic Affiliation. Marind is one of the three Languages that together constitute the Marind Family of the Trans-New Guinea Phylum of Papuan languages. Marind has eastern and western dialects along the coast and at least three inland. The upper Bian people speak a special dialect that is classified as a separate language, closely related to Marind.

History and Cultural Relations

The Marind presumably entered their present habitat from the north. In the Middle Fly region live the Boazi, their closest linguistic and cultural relatives. The Boazi are also organized into subtribes, with one key difference: the Boazi subtribes fought one another, while the Marind head-hunting raids were directed at far-off groups, usually sparing non-Marind neighbors. Consequently, the Marind lived in peace practically everywhere, although non-head-hunting conflicts did occur among Marind groups.


In the interior, the scattered location of sago groves leads to dispersed subtribe settlements, rarely numbering more than 50 or 60 inhabitants. The coast offers more favorable conditions, with coconut palms on sandy ridges and swampy areas at the back of the ridge suitable for sago cultivation. Here, settlements take the form of villages with up to 200 inhabitants, with subclans from each of the four phratries present in each. In the settlements, members of different subclans occupy different wards, each ward having a number of men's houses with one or two women's houses nearby. A men's house usually holds six or seven men of the same lineage and an occasional relative. At the back of the settlement are daytime shelters for boys and adolescent males. All houses are huts, set up in one or two irregular rows. When there are two rows, they are set in parallel lines with an open space down the center.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Sago is the staple food, supplemented by coconuts, bananas, and the Products of hunting and fishing. On festive occasions, there is pork from domesticated pigs, and taro and yams grown in elevated garden beds erected for that purpose (coastally), or grown in forest clearings (inland). Such gardens are also used for bananas and kava, the latter being (along with betel and, recently, tobacco) a favored stimulant.

Industrial Arts. The traditional Marind were a Stone Age culture, with a self-subsistent economy except for stone implements such as axe blades and club heads, which were Imported from the mountains.

Trade. Information about traditional trade is lacking. As shells are used for jewelry in mountain societies, it seems reasonable to infer that shells were traded north and stone implements south.

Division of Labor. Most of the daily work is allotted to women: household chores, planting, weeding, harvesting, making sago, and collecting small fish and shellfish. The men hunt, do some fishing, build garden beds, and make forest clearings. They also build canoes, construct fences, and frame the huts, although their main tasks are ritual and warfare.

Land Tenure. The subtribe's territory and fishing grounds are divided between the main clans. Gardens and planted trees belong to individuals and are inherited patrilineally.


Kin Groups and Descent. Descent is strictly patrilineal. Subtribe endogamy prevails, though intergroup marriages do occur, sometimes even between locally distant groups. As an expanding culture with much intercommunity traffic, the local clans and subclanseach with its own totems and Totemic relationshave been arranged as parts of nine, or sometimes ten, superclans, whose names are used for identification and allegiance during intercommunity travel. Analysis of the marriage relations among these clans suggests that they are further arranged into four exogamous phratries, with only one having a name. The four phratries are represented in every subtribe and everywhere they are aligned in pairs into two moieties, "Geb-zé" and "Sami-rek." These moieties play an important role in Marind rituals. In one or two places along the coast and in a number of inland subtribes (on the upper Bian without exception) the moieties are exogamous.

Kinship Terminology. Kin terms are of the Dakota type with ample opportunity to emphasize age differences between members of one generation.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Sister exchange is the preferred form of Marriage, with first-cousin marriage prohibited. In many inland communities, the partners must be brother and sister, a rule which often requires the parents to adopt an exchange partner. Elsewhere, classificatory "siblingship" suffices and even that is not a firm rule, as the preferences of the future spouses are given a certain degree of consideration. First-marriage partners are usually age mates. Polygyny is rare. Traditionally, most marriages were long-lasting, which is surprising, given a number of Marind customs that might have undermined the stability of marriage. These customs include wives' involvement in ritualized group sex and husbands' involvement in homosexual relations with their sisters' adolescent sons.

Domestic Unit. Segregation of the sexes is strict and men may not stay for long in their wives' houses. However, the women's houses stand so close to the men's house that every word can be overheard on both sides.

Inheritance. Land, gardens, trees, and male ornaments and utensils are inherited patrilineally; female ornaments and goods are inherited matrilineally.

Socialization. Girls grow up by themselves, while boys are thought to need extra care. At a young age, boys go to sleep with their fathers in the men's house. As puberty approaches, they are no longer allowed to be in the village or on the beach during the day. They are entrusted to a mentor (the mother's brother) and sleep with him in his men's house. For three to four years, seclusion is severe until the boy passes to a higher age grade that allows for more fun. The passage is a family affair, marked by gift giving between the boy's parents and his mentor. Gift exchange also occurs when at age 18 or more the boy returns to his father's men's house to be married soon afterward. Women, who do most of the daily work and provide more of the daily food, have no say in matters of ritual, though they cooperate in minor rites. Girls are initiated into the Mayo fertility cult at the same age as the boys. Women are sometimes allowed to have ceremonial dances of their own, modeled on the magnificent ones performed by the men, and girls go through age grades like the boys, although the girls' age grades lack social significance.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. As mentioned above under kinship, Marind social organization is based on the ties formed through the structure of subclans, clans, phratries, and moieties spread across the various inland and coastal Communities. These ties are reinforced through the religious beliefs and cult activities discussed below.

Political Organization. Despite the absence of any form of all-encompassing political organization, there was a sense of "belonging together." This sense found expression in the placement of local clan names under the labels of the nine or ten superclans, which were found all across Marind-anim territory. A more important source of solidarity was found in the great cults. The "Imo," followed by a number of inland subtribes and a few communities on the coast, acknowledged a central leadership that was settled on the coast. The "Mayo," the biggest and most impressive of all, lacked such leadership. It originated in the far-eastern coastal region and spread all along the coast where the initiation rites were performed by every subtribe for itself once every four years during a period lasting from six to nine months. In the first year of the four-year cycle the Mayo was celebrated by the subtribes in the far-western communities, the second year in the midwestern, the third year in the mideastern, and the fourth year in the far-eastern.

Social Control. Social control is largely informal. Apart from the leader of the Imo cult, the Marind have no other official authorities, save for the leading men of the men's houses whose influence is restricted and in practice is dependent on their age and personality. A more effective means of guaranteeing modest behavior is the fear of sorcery, which can be committed by or on behalf of anyone who bears a grudge.

Conflict. Disagreements over issues such as women or the use of garden land will usually be resolved if the disputants are members of the same community. If left unresolved, a grudge may be held until an accidental death leads to a suspicion of sorcery, a belief that is alternately the cause and the consequence of the prevailing mistrust between members of different subtribes. Accusations of sorcery often lead to Serious brawls involving bloodshed, although heads are not taken and peace will eventually be restored through pressure exerted by other community members.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practitioners. Today, the Marind are largely Christians: some are Protestants, but the majority are Catholics. While the beliefs and practices have changed accordingly, the past is still remembered and scenes borrowed from traditional rites are sometimes reenacted at festive occasions. In traditional Marind-anim culture, every clan and subclan stood in a specific relation to several of the innumerable phenomena in nature and social life that are relevant to human existence. The clans being organized into the Geb-zé and Sami-rek moieties, these totemic relations were ordered in a system of dual oppositions, with each moiety leading in some areas and following in others. The Geb-zé moiety was associated with male sex, homosexuality, the sun and moon, going east with the southeast monsoon, the daytime, life, dry land and the beach, the coconut, the stork, and the cassowary; its members led the great cults. The Sami-rek was associated with the female sex, heterosexuality, the underworld, going west with the northwest monsoon, night, death, the sea, the swamp and inland region, the sago palm, the dog, crocodile, and pig; its members led the head-hunting expeditions and the great feasts that followed them. All phratries sustain dialectical connections with the opposite moiety, connections which are founded in myth. Thus the dualism of the whole repeats itself in parts, creating a dialectical system of opposites that has a logic of its own. The dramatis personae in myth are the dema, the ancestors of the clans. They play a dominant role in the ceremonies of the great cults and their names are invoked in magic, the minor rites accompanying everyday activities and needs. Such invocation is particularly effective if pronounced by a member of the clan originating from that dema. The belief involves the close cooperation between the subtribes constituting a settlement.

Ceremonies. The major ceremonies associated with the big cults are also initiation ceremonies associated with rebirth and the promotion of life. To that end the mythical history is staged and its main features symbolically represented. Of particular importance is the origin myth with the two central themes of antagonism between the sexes and life originating from death. The myth overtly recognizes the male as superior, while symbolically confirming the real superiority of the female, who produces life by giving birth to the (sun) bird. The life from death theme is symbolized by the coconut (symbolizing the human head) that sprouts when buried and is confirmed by the head-hunting that followed the initiation rites. The Mayo Marind rites also emphasize the female, while the Imo rites emphasize a slightly different theme, particularly the association of the female gender with death and decay, and celebrate male triumphs in warfare. Information on the cults of the Kondo and Upper Bian groups is incomplete.

Arts. The Marind are masters at body decoration. Their dances and ceremonies are a feast for the eye. The decoration of objects is of minor importance, with the exception of carved ceremonial spears and some images used in Mayo initiation rites. Singing, accompanied by drumming, for both ceremonial purposes and pleasure is important.

Medicine. Illness is cured by shamans whose cures are restricted to the extraction of foreign objects supposedly placed in the victim's body by hostile sorcerers. The shamans are often well-versed in mythology and some play a major role in rites.

Death and Afterlife. Death and the dead are of little importance, except among the Upper Bian where they are identified with the dema. The dead are believed to travel underground to the far east, where, like the sun, they will emerge to go to the far west, where, passing the spot where the sun sets, they will go on to the land of the dead which is just beyond. They will return to sit aside at big feasts, but they have no role to play.

See also Boazi, Keraki, Kiwai, Muyu


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Baal, J. van (1984). "The Dialectics of Sex in Marind-anim Culture." In Ritualized Homosexuality in Melanesia, edited by G. H. Herdt. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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