Anuta - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Precontact Anutan religion involved a form of ancestor worship. For most of this century, the island has been Christian. Since about 1916, the entire population has been affiliated with the Anglican church. Still, belief in the power of ancestral spirits and the presence of malicious ghosts continues. The major pagan deities were ghosts of deceased chiefs. Other ancestors were sometimes asked for help with household problems. Spirits who had never been human ( tupua penua, or "spirits of the land") were powerful and Dangerous, although at times they might help people who had shown them respect. Ordinary ghosts (atua), on the other hand, were normally malicious and rarely helped the living. Anutans continue to believe in pagan spirits. By far the most important spiritual being, however, is now the Christian God, followed by assorted saints.

Religious Practitioners. Traditionally, chiefs also were high priests. Assisted by "ritual elders" known as mataapure, they performed sacred kava rites to keep the gods favorably disposed. Spirit mediums, called vakaatua, facilitated two-way communication with the spirit world. In contrast with chiefly status, there were no genealogical requirements for spirit mediumship. Since missionization, the community's Religious leader has been a trained catechist. This person is appointed by the chiefs in consultation with a council of advisors ( nga maru), on the basis of character, oratorical skill, and scriptural knowledge. The catechist, in turn, appoints a number of assistants to aid in performance of services. The Companions of the Brotherhood of Melanesia and the Mothers' Union are voluntary associations established to assist in the conduct of church business.

Ceremonies. Life-crisis rites surrounding birth, marriage, and death continue to be practiced. Other major ceremonies are performed when a young child eats his first fish and when he is taken to the hilltop for the first time. These ceremonies occur when the child is about a year of age. Sometime prior to adolescence, a major ceremony is held to honor the first boy and the first girl in each "house." Male initiation, at the time of puberty, involves ritual circumcision. Christian celebrations of Christmas, Easter, a number of saints' days, baptism, and confirmation have been added to the ceremonial calendar.

Arts. Visual arts include tattooing and designs carved into canoes, clubs, and dance paddles. Performing arts include storytelling, song, and dance. Traditionally, the only musical instruments were sounding boards and human voice and body. Today, these are augmented by a few guitars and ukuleles.

Medicine. Most illnesses are attributed to the activity of spirits or taboo violation. Effective treatment requires confession of the misdeed and forgiveness by the offended party, accompanied by prayer. Some Western medicines are available via the Solomon Islands government.

Death and Afterlife. When someone dies, the population divides into several groups to wail funeral dirges ( puatanga ) in the house of the deceased. This is followed by an exchange of goods between the deceased's closest kin and every other household. A funeral service is held in church, and the corpse is buried by the deceased's mother's brother or members of the mother's brother's "house." Anutans take Christian ideas about the afterlife quite literally, believing that one goes to Hell or Heaven depending on one's moral virtue while alive.

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