Identification. The Fore people are subsistence-oriented swidden horticulturalists who live in the Okapa District of the Eastern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea. Although they shared a common language, they traditionally had no group name for themselves, no encompassing political organization, and no unifying collective ceremonies. The Fore are well known for being victims of an always-fatal, degenerative neurological disease, called kuru, which medical researchers now believe is caused by an unconventional, slow virus infection of the central nervous system that was transmitted in the past through cannibalistic consumption of those who died of the disease. With the discontinuation of this practice, Fore society is now recovering from the devastating effects of kuru.
Location. Fore territory, centered on 6°35′ S and 145°35′ E, is a wedge of approximately 950 square kilometers, bounded on the north by the Kratke Mountains and on the west and the southeast by the Yani and the Lamari Rivers, respectively. In this mountainous lower-montane zone, altitude varies from 400 to 2,500 meters, although most people live within the altitudinal range of 1,000-2,200 meters. Broad, grass-covered valleys occur in the north, a result of human clearing and cultivation activities. In the south, the tropical forest canopy is broken only by more recently cleared settlement sites as small groups of Fore continue to pioneer in uninhabited areas along their southern border.
Demography. There are approximately 20,000 Fore who are separated by the Wanevinti Mountains into the North Fore and South Fore regions, with the population of the latter being somewhat greater than that of the former. While the overall population density averages 21 persons per square kilometer, the North Fore people live at nearly twice the density as do the South Fore.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Fore language, with three distinct dialects, is the southernmost member of the East Central Family, East New Guinea Highlands Stock, Trans-New Guinea Phylum of Papuan languages. The Fore share territorial boundaries with speakers of seven other mutually unintelligible languages. Recently, linguist missionaries have developed an orthography for the language and Fore now exists in written form.
History and Cultural Relations
The ancestral home of the Fore people is unknown, but linguistic and genetic affinities and vegetative patterns strongly indicate migration routes from the north and east. Australian prospectors first penetrated the highlands in the early 1930s and Australian exploratory patrols entered the region in the late 1940s, bringing with them steel axes, sodium salt, and cloth. In the early 1950s, a Lutheran mission was founded at Tarabo, the colonial government opened a patrol post at Okapa, and various new garden crops, domesticated animals, items of clothing, and other manufactured goods were introduced. Also, subsistence activities began to be augmented by a nascent commercial economy. The first coffee seedlings were planted in 1955, and Fore men began to venture out of the region as migrant wage laborers. In 1957, the Kuru Research Center was opened at Awande to begin intensive study of this disease. Cannibalistic practices ceased about 1960, and since then the annual number of kuru deaths has fallen from about 200 per year to less than 10 per year at present. By the mid-1960s, Okapa had become the regional administrative center and boasted a hospital, school, and several small stores. Elections also had been held for the local government council. Today, most people have access to some formal education, medical care, and other government services, and many have converted to Christianity. The Fore have come to accept a common group identity, and the degree of social isolation and enmity has declined dramatically. They now live as active citizens of the Nation-state of Papua New Guinea.
Fore settlements are relatively dispersed over the landscape with small groups of people living together at the edge of the forest in close proximity to their food gardens. The main residential unit is the hamlet which, in earlier times, typically consisted of one or two communal men's houses and a row of several smaller houses occupied by women and children. An open space with cooking pits separated the two types of dwellings. Behind the women's houses at the edge of the clearing would be one or two small structures where women stayed during menstruation and childbirth. The entire settlement was surrounded by a defensive stockade. Today, the men's houses and stockades are gone and most families live together in one house, often in larger aggregated villages.
Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Fore subsistence is based on a system of swidden horticulture and pig husbandry that is augmented to a small degree by hunting and foraging activities. New gardens are cleared in forested areas using slash-and-burn techniques. After fencing, the plots are planted using a digging-stick technology. The most important crop is the sweet potato, which is the staple food for both people and pigs. Pigs are a major form of wealth among the Fore and successful pig raisers are much admired. Treated like valued pets, pigs live in close physical proximity to their keepers and are fed garden produce daily. Gardens also contain smaller amounts of other tubers (taro, yams, manioc), pitpit (Saccharum edule and Setaria palmifolia), maize, winged beans, bananas, sugarcane, and a variety of leafy vegetables and herbs. In recent decades, many new crops have been incorporated into Fore gardens, including lima beans, peanuts, cabbages, pumpkins, onions, and papayas. Coffee growing is a major commercial venture in which nearly all Fore participate.
Industrial Arts. As with many of their neighbors, the Fore have largely abandoned local manufacture of clothing, tools, and utensils, relying on articles of Western manufacture that are purchased with the proceeds from cash crops. House building and fencing of gardens and interhamlet pathways are the principal male industrial arts; utilitarian net bags, made of hand-spun bark string, are still manufactured by women. Prior to the 1950s, Fore also extracted salt for local use and for trade from the ash of Coix gigantea, an indigenous tall grass. This last industry has been superseded by the introduction of commercial salt.
Trade. Regional trade was always an important means by which Fore acquired goods not available locally. Trade items passed through complex networks of hand-to-hand transactions between established trading partners who rarely lived more than one day's walk apart. In general, stone ax blades came from neighbors to the north and west in exchange for locally manufactured salt, fur pelts, bird plumes, and betel nuts; black-palm bows and arrowheads were traded from the southeast for salt and piglets; occasionally, a few shells were obtained from Papuan peoples two days to the south for tobacco and net bags. However, nowadays most Fore rely on small stores and the periodic market in Okapa to obtain nonlocal goods.
Division of Labor. The Fore define only a few tasks as the exclusive responsibility of men or women. In gardening, men fell the trees while women clear the underbrush and pile the debris for burning. Women then do most of the soil preparation and planting while men build the enclosing fences. The cultivation, tending, harvesting, and transporting of most crops falls to women, but men are free to assist with these tasks if they so choose. Pandanus and tobacco are cultivated only by men as are a few ritually important, red varieties of sugarcane, bananas, yams, and taro. Women undertake the primary burdens of pig tending under the close supervision of men. Childcare again ultimately falls to women although men and older siblings regularly assist. Most food is prepared and cooked by women with men taking major responsibility for obtaining firewood and preparing the earth-oven fires. Women traditionally made all items of clothing and net bags, and men fashioned weapons, stone axes, and some items of personal adornment.
Land Tenure. Land rights are held communally by the male and female members of local clan groups who currently occupy the land and control access to it. Garden plots are allocated for the use of member families, and occasionally nonmembers will be granted temporary usufructuary rights. No Fore land is individually owned.
Kinship is a dominant organizing principle of Fore society. Although genealogies normally can only be recalled to the second ascending generation, all significant social groups are assumed to be based on shared kinship, with the predominant ideology stressing patrilineal connections. Fore kinship, however, is not a simple reflection of actual genetic relatedness of individuals. Previously unrelated newcomers are easily incorporated as kin through various mechanisms of adoption, affiliation, and mutual consent. By fulfilling the obligations of loyalty and cooperation expected of kin, people become "one blood."
Kin Groups and Descent. The Fore conceive of their kin groups as being hierarchically organized and based on recognized patrilineal descent. The smallest unit is called a lounei, or "line." Members of a given line usually reside together in a single hamlet and are an exogamous unit. Several lines together form the next group level, the subclan, members of which live in close proximity to each other and consider themselves closely related; they may or may not be exogamous. The largest kin-based group is the clan, composed of several subclans; the clan is not exogamous. Although members of a clan recognize a common territory, it is not uncommon for some members to reside outside these boundaries.
Kinship Terminology. Fore terminology distinguishes siblings according to sex and relative age and uses the Iroquois scheme for cousin terms. In the first ascending generation, bifurcate merging occurs.
Marriage. Marriage among the Fore involves the relatives of the bride and the groom in a lengthy and complex series of prestations. In the past, this could commence soon after the birth of the female when, following the custom of infant betrothal, she would be promised as the future wife of a young cross cousin. Among the North Fore, this preferred relationship between spouses includes both matrilateral and patrilateral cross cousins, but among the South Fore, patrilateral cross cousins are forbidden to marry. Today, it is more common for a couple to make known their intention to marry and thereby initiate the negotiations between their respective relatives concerning the bride-wealth payment that culminates all marriage ceremonies. The newly married couple resides with relatives of the husband. Many Fore men aspire to polygyny, but the lack of marriageable women caused by the high death rate from kuru means that relatively few men succeed. Although most younger widows do remarry, many men spend long periods without wives. Under these conditions, most marriages terminate with a death, and divorce accounts for only 5-10 percent of dissolutions.
Domestic Unit. In the past, the Fore observed strict residential segregation stemming from beliefs about the dangers posed to men by female menstrual pollution. All men above 8-10 years of age lived communally in large men's houses, and women and younger children resided in smaller separate houses. Today, residential segregation of the household is rarely maintained. Nuclear families, often augmented by elderly relatives or unmarried siblings of the husband or wife, occupy individual houses and are the primary production and consumption units in Fore society.
Inheritance. The Fore inherit land rights and valuables through their recognized patriline. Although women, after marriage, retain rights to land of their natal group, they cannot pass these on to their children.
Socialization. From birth, Fore infants enjoy nearly constant physical contact with parents, siblings, and other caretakers. As toddlers, they are free to investigate the world nearby and often are encouraged in spontaneous acts of aggression. From an early age, girls are expected to assist their mothers in gardening tasks. Young boys form small groups based on friendship and roam hamlet lands exploring, hunting, and playing together. Occasionally, such groups build their own houses and cook, eat, and sleep together. At 8-10 years of age, boys begin their formal initiation into the secret world of men where the values of cooperation, mutual support, and loyalty are reinforced.
Social Organization. Fore society is characterized as relatively egalitarian, meaning that most significant distinctions in social status are based only on age and sex. There is no system of ranked statuses and no social classes. Nonetheless, inequalities do exist. Men dominate the public arena and consider themselves superior to women, who are called "the hands of men." Also, men compete with each other for political influence and prestige with the more successful individuals achieving regional prominence and increased access to wives, valuables, and resources.
Political Organization. The traditional political organization is based on the parish, or "district," which is composed of one or more adjacent hamlets whose members recognize and defend a common territory, share one sacred spirit place, and ideally settle internal disputes peaceably. Parishes are subdivided into "sections" which, in the past, were the effective military units. Parish sections responded jointly to threats and attack and negotiated the settlement of hostilities. Sections, in turn, are composed of "lines," which are exogamous descent groups as well as political units. Although parishes and sections are coresidential groups, rather than descent groups whose composition changes constantly, the tenuous group unity often is reinforced in the language of consanguinity with members referring to themselves as "one blood." All sections and parishes are led by leaders, called big-men, who command the respect and loyalty of their followers by demonstrating superior skill in activities necessary for survival of the group. They initiate and organize most group activities (including warfare), direct economic transactions with other groups, and recruit immigrants to bolster group numbers. A big-man must be a strong, dominating figure, an aggressive warrior, and a skilled orator and negotiator. He also must face constant competition from other would-be leaders who will usurp his authority if he falters. Today, the local political system is complemented by the national system of elective offices and Fore big-men often stand for provincial and national assembly seats.
Social Control. Big-men, as fight leaders and peace negotiators, play an important role in controlling the level of hostilities between parishes. The threat of sorcery also is a powerful means of social control for members of different parishes. Within parishes, unity depends on reciprocity and cooperation among members. Perceived violations of these group norms are publicly denounced by offended parties and often lead to demands for restitution. Actions especially prohibited within a parish are stealing, adultery, fighting with lethal weapons, and sorcery. The imposition of sanctions, however, rests largely on the authority of big-men and their ability to command the cooperation of others. Within households, the structured antagonism between men and their wives can be influenced by the intervention of close relatives and also is modulated by fear that wives secretly may contaminate abusive husbands with menstrual secretions.
Conflict. In the past, interparish warfare was a normal aspect of everyday Fore life. Driven by an ethic that demanded retaliation for actual or suspected wrongs, sporadic raids and counterraids were made into enemy territory to kill those thought culpable and to destroy their houses, pigs, and gardens. Fighting tended to occur between members of neighboring parishes, and at any given time a parish was likely to be at peace with some neighbors and actively prosecuting hostilities with others. By mutual consent, peace could be declared, but the tenor of interparish relations was subject to rapid turnabout.
Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. Fore religion consists of a complex body of beliefs concerning nature, human nature, and the spiritual realm. It is animated by a host of ancestor spirits, ghosts of the recently deceased, and nature spirits. Central figures in Fore cosmology include a sacred creator-spirit couple who emerged from a swamp in South Fore and traveled through the region, leaving humans and many useful species of plants and animals along the way. They also provided fundamental teachings for acceptable human existence emphasizing the themes of fertility, strength, cooperation, and loyalty that are expressed in myths and ritual activities. This couple exists in many manifestations among the Fore, and they make their presence known most frequently by giving their voices to the playing of sacred flutes on all important ceremonial occasions. Ghosts and nature spirits are capable of causing illness or misfortune when offended and of rewarding respectful behavior by ensuring abundant gardens and wild resources. In recent decades, many Fore have been evangelized by Christian missionaries.
Religious Practitioners. There are no specifically religious specialists among the Fore although some people, both men and women, are known for having superior knowledge of and access to the spirit world. Chief among these people are curers and sorcerers who are able to manipulate spiritual powers to their own ends.
Ceremonies. The most important ritual complex among the Fore revolves around the initiation of boys into manhood. Young boys are removed forcibly from the care of their mothers and taken to live with men. During the initiation stages, which last several years, they are taught the rationale and techniques of nose bleeding, cane swallowing, and vomiting designed to promote growth, strength, and fertility and to protect their health from the polluting powers of women. They also are instructed in the proper beliefs, behaviors, and responsibilities of adult Fore men. At puberty, young women also are secluded briefly, undergo nose bleeding, and are informed by older women of their new responsibilities. The Fore also hold periodic pig feasts once or twice each decade, often in conjunction with initiations. These are the largest social gatherings in the region and are highly competitive political events.
Arts. A major focus of Fore art is items of body adornment, including feather headdresses and shell headbands and necklaces. Traditionally, men also carved wooden bows and arrows and war shields while women fashioned clothing and knitted net bags with intricate geometric designs.
Medicine. Fore attribute most serious illness, including kuru, to sorcery, but lesser ailments may be caused by witches, ghosts, and nature spirits or may result from abrogation of social rules and expectations. Curers rely on preparations from the local pharmacopoeia of medicinal plants, incantation, bloodletting, and divination. Local curers, called "bark men" or "bark women," treat relatively minor illnesses, but sorcery-caused sickness requires the attention of powerful and widely known "dream men" who always live in a distant parish and may be non-Fore. These men perform acts of divination and curing using information gained in dream states induced by ingestion of hallucinogenic plant materials and heavy inhalation of tobacco smoke.
Death and Afterlife. Death is marked by extended mourning rituals, public display of the corpse, and the giving of gifts by paternal relatives to the maternal relatives of the deceased. In the past, the body commonly was eaten, especially by women, children, and the elderly and the remains were buried in an old garden site of the deceased. Human flesh was thought to promote fertility and regenerate both people and gardens. The Fore no longer practice mortuary cannibalism, and each line maintains a common burial ground for its dead. The spirit of the deceased is thought to remain for a time near the grave site and finally to move to one of the known spirit places to continue its afterlife indefinitely.
See alsoSambia, Tairora
Gajdusek, D. Carleton (1977). "Unconventional Viruses and the Origin and Disappearance of Kuru." Science 197: 943-960.
Hornabrook, R. W. (ed.) (1976). Essays on Kuru. Faringdon, U.K.: E. W. Classey.
Lindenbaum, Shirley (1979). Kuru Sorcery: Disease and Danger in the New Guinea Highlands. Palo Alto, Calif.: Mayfield Publishing Company.
Sorenson, E. Richard (1976). The Edge of the Forest: Land, Childhood, and Change in a New Guinea Protoagricultural Society. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
DAVID J. BOYD
fore / fôr/ • adj. situated or placed in front: the fore and hind pairs of wings.• n. the front part of something, esp. a ship.• interj. called out as a warning to people in the path of a golf ball.• prep. (also 'fore) nonstandard form of before: we'll be harvesting corn 'fore the end of the month.PHRASES: to the fore in or to a conspicuous or leading position: his persistent effort brought this issue to the fore.