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The Great Kod of Pulu: Mutual Historical Emergence of Ceremonial Sites and Social Groups in Torres Strait, Northeast Australia

  • Ian J. McNiven (a1), Bruno David (a2), Goemulgau Kod (a3) and Judith Fitzpatrick (a4)

Abstract

Communal ceremonial sites and social groups often share mutually reinforcing and structuring properties. As a result of this dynamic relationship, ceremonial sites and social groups exhibit ever-emergent properties as long-term works-in-progress. Ceremonial kod sites featuring shrines of trumpet shells and dugong bones were central to the communal ritual life of Torres Strait Islanders. Continuously formed over the generations by ritual additions, these shrines were linked to ongoing maintenance, legitimization and cohesion of totemic clans and moieties that formed the structural basis of island communities. As such, understanding the history of kod sites provides an opportunity to investigate the historical emergence of ethnographically-known social groups in Torres Strait. This mutual emergence is investigated archaeologically at the kod on Pulu islet which is owned and operated by the Goemulgal people of nearby Mabuyag island. Multiple radiocarbon dates from shell and bone shrines and an underlying village midden indicate that the kod, and by association the Goemulgal and their totemic clan and moiety system, emerged over the past 400 years. Aided by local oral history and ethnography, it is argued further that establishment of the kod saw the status of Pulu change from a residential to a ceremonial and sacred place.

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Cambridge Archaeological Journal
  • ISSN: 0959-7743
  • EISSN: 1474-0540
  • URL: /core/journals/cambridge-archaeological-journal
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