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Rabu, 05 Januari 2011

Uppu Lii, Fulfill the promise; Analysis of a Wewewa ritual


Among the Wewewa, who inhabit the central highlands of West Sumba, every event, indeed every sensation out of the ordinary — the colour of an animal, the fluttering of eyelids, the unanswered cry of a rooster, a sickness, an accident, a death — is to be deciphered as a sign of the invisible. This exchange with the ancestors and all the supernatural forces (marapu), this consultation, is part of the fabric of Wewewa daily life. There are, of course, special occasions for this intercourse with the invisible: occasions when the Wewewa, deciphering the meaning of the signs and attempting to reply to them, carve out of time and space a particular moment and place dedicated to performing a ritual. Such a ritual appears as the means of communication codified for and by the ancestors, one of its principal characteristics being the use of ritual speech (panewe tenda). This language is the human response to the specific language of presages, signs and dreams that the invisible adopts to enter into contact with the living.

Thus, in this society, social life is strongly ritualized. The knowledge and the analysis of ritual become means to study both the 'functioning' of the group and the values or key ideas around which is organized a vision of the world common to all those who consider themselves members of this particular society. The question arises, however, to what degree the study of a single ritual can permit access to the 'entire society' and to its underlying values. We will attempt to reply to this question through a study of the ritual known as uppu li'i, or 'fulfillment of a promise', a promise with the particularity of having been neglected by the person who made it and transmitted it to his descendants at his death. This 'debt' (wutta) is discharged in the course of the uppu li'i ritual, performed, most often, under the pressure and the accumulation of untoward events appearing as re- peated signs that ancestors or the supernatural forces concerned are angry.

The uppu li'i ritual well illustrates the value attached to signs sent by the ancestors, not only through the importance accorded the divination and the reading of omens at appropriate moments during the rite, but also through the attention devoted to every incident taking place during its perform- ance. These are immediately commented on. The interpretation of all these signs, which could lead to an immediate or delayed response, provides us at the same time with information on other key. ideas that structure relations between the living themselves, and between them and their ancestors.

In this way, the description and the analysis of the uppu li'i ritual will allow us to determine certain values that are at work. We will then attempt to make a synthesis, and consider to what degree these values are both operative and meaningful in the framework of the society as a whole.

On Friday, July 29, 1988, in the 'field village' (wanno oma) of Parai Nggeloka, in the house of M.K., a member of the Nggollu Katukku lineage, the rope divination (urrata mowala) took place. This ritual attempts to unravel the reasons behind a whole series of ill-fated events occurring in M.K.'s family and discover what spirit is displaying its anger. The man who manipulates the ropes (kalere mowala) used for questioning the spirits is N.K., a member of the Umba Koba Winni Lere lineage. It is he who regularly officiates as diviner for all the houses affinally related to his own lineage.

Discussions begin between N.K. and the head of the household accom- panied by several members of his patrilineage to decide how the ritual will be conducted. Once they have come to an agreement, a chicken is offered to the spirits to inform them of the ceremony that will take place. A reading of the omens by examining the chicken's duodenum (ai manu) indicates the spirits' approval. Following the meal, the divination is performed in the male part of the house, near the divination post (pari'i urrata). Plates of areca nut rounds and a coconut recipiënt filled with hulled rice are placed on a mat in front of the main, seated, participants. N.K. begins by throwing some rice towards the door, towards the back of the house, then towards the hearth to attract the attention of the spirits, and he addresses them using ritual speech. Once he has assured himself that all the spirits are there, he initiates a dialogue with them. He gives an account of the misfortune that has arisen and seeks to determine which spirit is angry, retracing step by step the path that led to the present situation.

The divination technique consists of folding and partially winding three ropes around the index finger and the middle finger of the left hand. Their manipulation forms various figures that are interpreted as responses by the spirits to the questions asked. With his right hand, the diviner grasps the end of two strands among the six that dangle; he joins to each of them the end of another strand and then frees his left hand. If all the ropes are linked and the unfolding figure resembles a sort of portico, this is the sign that the response is positive and that the question was well formulated; 'the spirits have entered into the corral' (tama nggollu dana). If two of the cords are folded back and separated and the third cord falls on the mat ('put aside on the mat': bondala teppe deta; or 'left and right separated': zaikara wello kawana), this is the sign that the response is negative. In this case, the question must be asked again, and perhaps an offering must even be made to appease the spirits and obtain a positive response. Three other figures furnish more ambiguous replies falling between the affïrmative and nega- tive answers. 'Small snare' (lore and), where the three ropes are held together but one of them forms a circle into which one of the other two ropes enters, signifies that the goal is near, but the reply is not yet con- vincing. 'Mother snare' (lore beina), is a figure differing from the preceding one in that the two other ropes enter into the circle formed by the third rope. It means that the reply is even less positive, and that the search must be oriented towards another cause. 'Rejected' (weitaka), where two ropes
hang, each held at one end, and the third is folded back by itself, indicates that the response is negative and the spirit called upon has not received what the diviner has transmitted.

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