Ambae - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Except for two people, everyone on the island identified themselves as a Christian on the 1979 Census. Within living memory, however, most people believed in a high god—Tagaro Lawo (or Tagivui)—who made the earth, and in two culture heros—Tagaro Biti and Mwerambuto—who created humans and many elements of customary culture.

Religious Practitioners. The main practitioners who deal in magic and the supernatural are diviners, clairvoyants (who find lost objects), and weather magicians. Other practitioners are specialists in customary medicine, which is still widely practiced. People sometimes accuse each other of sorcery, a serious breach of local law.

Ceremonies. Major ceremonial occasions include rank takings, betrothals, weddings, funerals, Christmas, Easter, and saints' days honoring the patron saints of local churches. Kava, drumming, singing, and traditional dancing are Important elements of many ceremonies, especially on the eastern half of the island.

Arts. Unlike the people of Ambrym and Malekula, Ambaeans are not well known in Vanuatu as carvers and artisans. The artists in an Ambaean community are the community's best singers, dancers, storytellers, speech makers, weavers of pandanus mats, and makers of a highly regarded feast food (generically called laplap in Bislama) made of grated root crops steamed in an earth oven and decorated with coconut cream.

Medicine. In the people's view, traditional and Western medicine complement each other. Despite the existence of a small hospital on each end of the island, well-respected specialists in traditional "leaf medicine" still exist on Ambae. Patients usually pay for the spells and herbal compounds these experts provide with pandanus mats and pigs rather than money.

Death and Afterlife. A dead person's closest relatives hold a series of funerary feasts in his or her honor. They arrange small feasts every ten days until the hundredth day of mourning, when a major feast is held. During this time, the spirit of the deceased is believed to linger near his or her Community. A final feast is held 1,000 days after a death. This feast signals the end of mourning and the complete separation of the spirit of the dead person from the world of the living. According to custom, spirits then go to the crater lakes on the top of the Ambae volcano. There they join their ancestors in a shadow world similar to the world of living people.

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: