Micronesians - Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. Guam was invaded and conquered by Spanish soldiers and missionized by Catholic priests Beginning in 1668, making the island the first Pacific outpost of European colonization and religion. All the Chamorro People from Guam and the neighboring islands were forcibly resettled into mission villages. Within the first forty years of Spanish missionization on Guam, the Chamorro people suffered catastrophic depopulation, losing perhaps 90 percent of their population to disease, warfare, and the hardships brought about by resettlement and forced labor on plantations. Protestant and Catholic missions were established elsewhere throughout the Micronesian islands during the mid-1800s, and a similar pattern of depopulation from introduced diseases ensued on Yap, Pohnpei, and other Micronesian Islands. All of the larger islands of Micronesia have been Christianized for at least a century, and in no place was local resistance successfully maintained for very long. Chamorros today are nearly entirely Roman Catholic, while in other areas of Micronesia, Protestants slightly outnumber Catholics. During the past twenty years a number of Christian sects have gained a small foothold, including Baptists, Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Jehovah's Witnesses. In Guam, Catholic beliefs and practices are heavily flavored with elements from Filipino animism and spiritualism, indigenous Chamorro ancestor veneration, and medieval European idolizing of religious icons. Elsewhere in Micronesia, there is a similar syncretic mix of modern Christian theology and practice with indigenous beliefs in animism and many varieties of magic.
Religious Practitioners. Religious leaders in Micronesia command considerable respect in the wider social and Political arena and are frequently called upon as advisers for Government planning and development and as mediators in Political disputes. Although American and other foreign priests and ministers are working in all the larger islands in Micronesia, indigenous religious practitioners are being trained and are assuming leadership of churches throughout the area.
Ceremonies. Micronesians are faithful churchgoers, and in many communities the church functions as a focus of sociability and cohesion. But Chamorros and other Micronesians who have recently immigrated to the United States for educational reasons or to seek a better life are much less dedicated to churchgoing than the earlier immigrants who came for military service. Nevertheless, ceremonial occasions such as weddings, christenings, and funerals play an important role among Micronesians in the United States not only as occasions for religious observance but, more important, as Ceremonies that promote social interdependence and ethnic cohesion. Among Guamanians, one example of this is the prevalent custom of chinchule —giving money, food, or other gifts to a family at weddings, christenings, or deaths to assist the family in meeting the costs of the ceremony or to repay a prior gift. This practice reinforces the socioeconomic indebtedness and reciprocity that permeate Micronesian family relationships.
Arts. In traditional Micronesian societies, arts were closely integrated into functional and subsistence aspects of life, such as house building, weaving of clothing, and construction and embellishment of sailing canoes. There was no class of people who worked solely as specialist craftspersons or artists. Performing arts such as dance were also closely integrated into the agricultural calendar and into the cycle of arrivals and departures of people from their home islands. Among Micronesian immigrants in the United States, there are very few if any professional performers who sustain Micronesian arts, but there are frequent informal presentations of Micronesian singing and dancing at community gatherings and family social events.
Medicine. Medical knowledge traditionally was shared fairly widely in Micronesian communities. Although some individuals could gain a reputation for being especially knowledgeable in administering therapeutic massage, setting bones, practicing midwifery, or preparing herbal remedies, there were no specialist healers who were recognized and supported as such. Both magical and efficacious aspects of medical treatment were often used together and were inseparable in actual practice. Among Micronesians in the United States, there is still frequent resort to non-Western explanations of illness causation and to alternative treatments.
Death and Afterlife. Contemporary Micronesian beliefs about the afterlife are a syncretic mix of Christian and Indigenous ideas. Christian dogma regarding rewards and punishments in the afterlife is more explicitly formulated than indigenous Micronesian notions, but corresponds with and reinforces some indigenous beliefs in spirit worlds beneath the sea and beyond the horizon. Experiences of spirit possession and communication from the dead are rather widely believed and sometimes are given as an explanation for unnatural deaths such as suicide. Funerals are very important not only as occasions for community and family reintegration involving several days of ceremonial feasts and speeches but also as rituals to mark the departure of the dead properly and to put the person's spirit to rest. Among many Micronesians in the United States, great expense is incurred to return the body of the deceased to his or her home island and to provide a proper burial on family land.