Tracking the Ancestors

On their Journeys along the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea

This rich ethnography, a thoroughly revised version of a book published in 1991, presents long-term and new research findings on the Nyaura (or West Iatmul) people, a society on the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea. Nyaura mythology centres around the primeval journeys of their ancestors who – accompanied by powerful, versatile crocodiles – formed the landscape and founded settlements; it is expressed and stored in numerous long song cycles and visualised in unique knotted cords. These songs express the Nyaura’s worldview, their thoughts on the social order, and the concept of the person.

In this comprehensive monograph, the author also explores a range of current and fundamental questions from the cognitive sciences regarding the memorisation of these hundreds of songs, thus linking anthropological data with cognitive science findings. Neuropsychologists share their reflections on learning, memorising and remembering. Studies on the historiography of the Middle Sepik, on the altered concept of personhood as result of religious change, and on the dualistic structure of ceremonial music round off the monograph.