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The Puyuma

Puyuma New Year Celebrations

The Puyuma “New Year Celebrations” are actually a sequence of festivals and rituals held in the Bashefan (“eight communities”) from December 24 to January 2, including the Basibas (“Monkey Ritual”), the Mangayau (“Hunting Ritual”), and the New Year Festival. The celebrations mark the end of the year and are a time of driving out the old, unclean and inauspicious to welcome a new and prosperous cycle of seasons. The festivities are kicked off with a ritual to expel evil spirits. On the night of December 24, the youths of the tribe strip to the waist, paint their faces with ash and go from house to house to drive out bad spirits and ill luck.

Puyuma Basibas “Monkey Ritual”

The Basibas is a coming-of-age ceremony for the Puyuma youngsters. Before entering formal manhood, the boys have to undergo a strict physical training regime, as well as instruction in hunting and building. It is symbolic of their responsibility for the future of the tribe that the first major activity of the New Year Celebrations is devoted to the young men. Only after the Monkey Ritual can the Mangayau be conducted.

Traditionally, monkeys (which had been caught and brought back to the village by the youngsters as part of their initiation) were killed for the ritual, but nowadays straw effigies are used instead. The “burying” of the monkeys then follows, with the intention of warding off evil from the young men while also building their courage and determination. Another important meaning of the Basibas is to teach the youths obedience and respect for their elders, as well as a general understanding and reverence for the tribe’s hierarchical structures. To this end, another rite of passage is also performed, the “instruction with the stick”, or “spanking of the bottom”. Puyuma parents consider youngsters who haven’t gone through this ritual to be “rotten wood”, or good-for-nothings, and only after their buttocks have received a sound beating are the boys viewed as young men with a bright future.

Puyuma Mangayau “Hunting Ritual”

The Mangayau is the single most important Puyuma ritual in the entire year. All youngsters on the verge of manhood participate in the Hunting Ritual. Its origins lie in the days of headhunting, when the men would set out to avenge themselves on other tribes by taking the heads of their warriors. Since headhunting has become a thing of the past, today’s Mangayau is purely a hunting festival—but other activities are also included, such as comforting recently bereaved families and coming-of-age ceremonies.

Puyuma Magamut

Just as there is the Basibas for the teenagers and the Mangayau for the young men, so there is the Magamut (“Completion of the Weeding”) for the Puyuma women. Every year in March, when the women have finished weeding the millet fields and dry rice paddies and a lull in field work ensues, the Magamut is held to thank the women for their hard labor. It’s an opportunity for everybody to relax and participate in numerous customary activities. These include the following:

Praying for Prosperity

The female shamans grasp chains of glazed beads stringed on strips of sandalwood and pray for good luck and prosperity.

The Slow Run

Following a leader called the “Guiding Bell”, the women run slowly along the streets of the settlement to reach the designated place where the men of the tribe have placed the vine known as zangav (the Puyuma name for Piper betle, the leaves of which are used elsewhere to wrap betel nuts). The men have collected the leaves of this vine the day before as a customary gift to the women to congratulate them on finishing the weeding work.

Picking up the Zangav Leaves

Carrying the zangav leaves, the women run back to the activity center, a tradition that symbolizes the tightly-knit community and joint hearts and minds of the women who always work in unison.

Chanting Ancient Songs

While running slowly through the village, the women chant age-old songs and ballads.

Training Physical Strength

The women, still running, return to the Palakuan (“Men’s Meeting Hall”) in several groups to receive specially prepared tokens.

Heralding Good Fortune

Now running in two neat files, the women, still clasping the zangav leaves in their hands, return to the village to participate in the great feast.

Conclusion

The next day, the zangav leaves are divided equally among the women, which they take back home to share with their family for good luck.

Puyuma Millet Harvest Festival

The Millet Harvest Festival is mainly a male affair, with each family making their own contribution. The main attraction is a “Giant Swing” which is erected on the village square. Going on the swing provides both entertainment and is a ritual way of praying for a good harvest. Some say that the higher the swing goes, the better the harvest will be in the coming year.

Puyuma Mulaliyaban “Sea Offering”

For this occasion, the women brew millet wine and make millet cakes. Very early in the morning, the tribespeople go to the shore and the officiating shaman recites a prayer in the direction of Orchid Island to express the tribe’s gratitude for the Gods’ benevolence, and express the hope for future bumper crops and rich catches of fish.