Document Type


Department (Manual Entry)

Dept. of Anthropology


Since Read's (1952) classic study of the nama cult of the Goroka area, ethnographers in the Papue New Guinea Highlands haved focused considerable attention on what I shall refere to as a "sacred flute complex" around which men's cults are organized. The flutes have been seen as acore symbol of male hegemony, and their associated riges and dogma as key factors in the perpetuation of "antagonistic" relations between the sexes, for which that region has long been known. In specific cases ethnographers have provided ingenious and persuasive analyses of the symbolic aspects of sacred flutes (e.g., Herdt 1981, 1982; Gillison 1983) but the particularistic nature of these analyses has obscured the degree to which the phenomena they describe are instances of a much wider pattern. Despite significant variation, which includes a clear regionsl component, certain themes can be identified in the complex which not only link together a large number of Highlands societies, but also suggest historical connections with other cults involving wind instruments in New Guinea. The purpose of this paper is to survey the sacred flute complex as it occured traditionally in the Papue New Guinea Highlands, to identify these common themes, and to establish a comparative base from which other analyses can proceed.