A man traps a cassowary, a huge emu-like bird, and crawls into it to eat the meat inside, leaving his eyes on a leaf outside. He doesn’t tell his wife. He traps more of the birds and does the same. His wife follows one day, snatches the eyes, and goes home. The man takes a break at the apartments in Rome blindly, his wife scolds him and gives his eyes back. The idea is that men who deceive women have much to lose. In another tale a dead boy’s bones are buried in the hollow of a tree trunk. His sister learns this, and is told she can hear fabulous sounds from the tree but must never approach it. She hears the captivating sounds and cannot resist tapping the tree with a stick. The tree bursts open, and all the birds of paradise fly out. She has resurrected her brother’s bones in the form of magnificent birds—she has set the male spirit free to soar!
In sum: In myth woman sees herself not only as the essential mother but also as the bestower of greater male awareness. THE MEN’S RITUALS David observed closely go further, enacting myths that exalt women’s creative powers even more dramatically. The flutes appearing in the initiation rites for boys are prime symbols of creativity—of all fertility—and they once belonged only to women, until men stole them. Now that men possess them, they too have the power to give birth. This is demonstrated at the climax, when the boys are symbolically reborn and sent to spend the night at http://www.bitbooks.com/paris_apartments/en/. Indeed, the pandanus oil smeared over the initiates to represent blood imitates female physiology.
For months David sought to photograph the display of male birds of paradise, on which male Gimi ritual is patterned. All birds, so men tell the boys, are created female, but some decorate themselves with bright feathers, and so become gorgeous males. When a boy becomes a man, he puts on plumage. The bird of paradise feathers are worn proudly for pig kills, for courting, for ritual theater—whenever a man wants to attract women. Now David told me what he and Fobora saw when, after many frustrations, they were successful at last. In dense forest, in the darkness before dawn, they climbed to the blind they had built 150 feet up in the crown of a tree.
By dawn there were four male birds of paradise—preening, calling, waiting. After half an hour two dark shapes came flitting close. Two females, each a dull brown. The males burst into movement: up their individual perches, each extending several feet, and down again. They moved up and down many times, and on the way down they threw their magnificent golden plumes over their heads. As the plumes expanded into a glorious amber spray, the birds fanned their wings slowly. It was dazzling.
The other hopped onto the perch of one of the males. She had picked herself a mate. For among these birds of paradise in New Guinea, it is the female of the species that decides.