Marind people

The Marind or Marind-Anim are an ethnic group of New Guinea, residing in the province of South Papua, Indonesia.

Marind people
Marind-Anim people
Marind-Anim men dressed for ceremony, south coast Dutch New Guinea. c 1920s.
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 Indonesia (South Papua)
Marind family within the Trans–New Guinea phylum of Papuan languages, Indonesian language
Christianity (predominantly), indigenous beliefs
Related ethnic groups
Indigenous Papuan peoples of Western New Guinea and Papua New Guinea, other Melanesians


The Marind-anim live in South Papua, Indonesia. They occupy a vast territory, which is situated on either side of the Bian River, from about 20 miles to the east of Merauke, up to the mouth of the Moeli River in the west (between Frederik Hendrik Island and the mainland; east of Yos Sudarso Island, mainly west of the Maro River (a small area goes beyond the Maro at its lower part, including Merauke).[2]

A map showing New Guinea language groups. The Marind-speaking area is highlighted in red.


The territory of the Marind tribe consists of a low-lying, deposited coastal area. This area is for the most part flooded in the wet season. The hinterland, which is situated somewhat higher, is intersected by a great number of rivers. Originally, either sago or coconut palm trees were planted, though stretches of bamboo could also be found.


Mostly during the 20th century, Marind culture underwent major changes. The Dutch colonial administration forbade head hunting and ritual homosexuality, and also the rites in which many men had intercourse with one woman. These rituals spread newly introduced sexually transmitted diseases such as granuloma and others, which led to a marked reduction of birth rates among the Marind population.

Thanks to the efforts of the Missionary of the Sacred Heart Petrus Vertenten, the Dutch government was alerted about the critical situation of the Marind, who due to the spread of the disease and their own particular practices were now risking extinction.[3][4]

Christian missions and the introduction of schools to assimilate the people to western culture also resulted in major changes in Marind culture.[5]

Jan van Baal (1909-1992), a Dutch social anthropologist who worked among the Marind, wrote in the early 1980s that traditional Marind culture was gone.[6]

The Marind languages form a small family of the Trans–New Guinea language phylum.[7]

Traditional culture

Kundu drum of the Marind-Anim people.
Kundu drum and Dema costume
Papua ceremonial drums and Dema costume of the Marind-Anim people. The drum would be used to accompany the action of the Dema actors, who were dressed as Demas, the "ancient beings who created the world" (Caption from text, left photo).

Traditionally, the social structure of the Marind was characterised by a clan system. The Marind tribe was also divided into two halves, so-called moities, each consisting of several patrilineal clans, so-called boans. These clans were further divided into subclans.

People lived spread out in several extended families. Such an extended family derived its origin from a mythological ancestor. Ancestor veneration had a characteristic form here: these mythological ancestors were demon-like figures, they featured in myths, and acted as culture heroes, arranging the ancient world to its then recent state, introducing plants, animals, cultural goods.[8] They often had the form of plants or animals; there was a kind of totemism, but it was not accompanied by a regular food taboo of the respective animal or plant.[9] Totems could appear both in artefacts[10] and myths.[11]

The word for such an ancestral spirit being is dema in the Marind languages. The material similarity of this word to “demon” is incidental. Each extended family keeps and transfers the tradition. It is especially the chore of the big men of the respective family. The influence of these big men does not go beyond their extended family.[8]

In the past, the Marind were famous for their headhunting, which was always aimed at other tribes.[12] This was rooted in their belief system and linked to the name-giving of the newborn.[13] The skull was believed to contain a mana-like force.[14][15]

From the 1870s to around 1910, the Boigu, Dauan and Saibai people, along with neighbouring Papuan peoples, were being harassed by thugeral "warriors" from the Marind-anim. In literature dealing with the period, these people are generally termed 'Tuger' or 'Tugeri'.

The Marind-anim are also notable for their sexual culture. Ritual intercourse (otiv-bombari) with women would take place on the day of a girl's wedding, when after the ceremony she would have sex with her new partner's male kin before having sex with her husband. This ritualistic intercourse would take place during other times as well, such as after the woman has given birth.[16] The Marind-anim were also famous for their form of ritualized homosexuality.[17]

Marind culture was researched by several ethnologists and missionaries. For example, the Swiss Paul Wirz, the German Hans Nevermann,[18] and the Dutch cultural anthropologist Jan van Baal, who was the Governor of Netherlands New Guinea from 1953 until 1958.[19]

The Marind languages form a small family of the Trans–New Guinea language phylum.[20]

See also



  1. "Marind in Indonesia". Joshua Project. Retrieved 2014-09-18.
  2. Nevermann 1957: 225
  3. Nederlands Historisch Genootschap. Bijdragen en mededelingen betreffende de geschiedenis der Nederlanden Volume 120, Issues 3-4. Royal Netherlands Historical Society. p. 655. Retrieved 5 December 2021.
  4. Kultuurleven Volume 17. 1950. p. 231. Retrieved 5 December 2021.
  5. Editor(s): Jan Sihar Aritonang and Karel Steenbrink: "Christianity in Papua", in A History of Christianity in Indonesia - Studies in Christian Mission, Volume: 35, Brill, 2008.
  6. Jan van Baal; The dialects of sex in Marind-anim culture. In: Gilbert H. Herdt (Hg.): Ritualized homosexuality in Melanesia, page 128. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London 1984
  7. Baal 2007: Marind-anim, Orientation (see online)
  8. Nevermann 1957: 12
  9. Nevermann 1957: 13
  10. Unknown photographer 1920s (see postcard image online)
  11. Nevermann 1957: 86, 202/note 108 (= Die Taube und die Enten)
  12. Nevermann 1957: 9
  13. Nevermann 1957: 111
  14. Nevermann 1957: blurb
  15. Nevermann 1957: 112
  16. Keesing, Roger M. & Strathern, Andrew J. (1998), Cultural Anthropology: A Contemporary Perspective, 3rd. edition, p. 120
  17. Jan van Baal; The dialects of sex in Marind-anim culture. In: Gilbert H. Herdt (Hg.): Ritualized homosexuality in Melanesia, pages 128-166. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London 1984
  18. Nevermann 1957: 7
  19. Van Baal 1966. A comprehensive standard work on Marind-anim culture.
  20. Baal 2007: Marind-anim, Orientation (see online)


  • Chao, Sophie (March 2021). "Children of the palms: growing plants and growing people in a Papuan Plantationocene". Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Wiley-Blackwell on behalf of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 27 (2): 245–264. doi:10.1111/1467-9655.13489. ISSN 1467-9655. S2CID 233585936.
  • Van Baal, Jan (1966). Dema. Description and Analysis of Marind-Anim Culture (South New Guinea). The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.
  • Van Baal, Jan (2007). "Marind-anim". World Culture Encyclopedia. Advameg Inc.
  • Corbey, Raymond (2010). Headhunters from the swamps: The Marind Anim of New Guinea as seen by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, 1905-1925. Leiden: KITLV Press and Zwartenkot Art Books.
  • Nevermann, Hans (1957). Söhne des tötenden Vaters. Dämonen- und Kopfjägergeschichten aus Neu-Guinea. Das Gesicht der Völker (in German). Eisenach • Kassel: Erich Röth-Verlag. The title means Sons of the killing father. Stories about demons and headhunting, recorded in New Guinea.
  • Unknown photographer (1920s). "Marind-Anim men dressed for ceremony, south coast Dutch New Guinea". Old photographs (postcard). Oceania Ethnographica. A fabulous image of warriors with their drums; the man on the left holds an extremely rare type of carved wooden fish totem.



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