Belau - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Belau has been heavily missionized by Catholics, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Mormons. A nativistic movement, Modekngei, or "Let Us Go Forth Together," is a powerful religious and educational force. Except for some village gods (represented in stone monuments), the traditional pantheon has been replaced by the Christian trinity. Christianity and Modekngei provide the primary religious dogmas; the latter stresses purification rites and trances.

Religious Practitioners. Traditional male and female Religious specialists performed offerings to local gods ( chelid ) and, while in trance, spoke the messages and prophecies of the gods. Male titleholders served as ritual specialists in the domestic cult, focusing on manipulating ancestral spirits ( bladek ) through offerings of burnt coconut and small pieces of money. Today, Belauans can serve as Christian deacons, ministers, and priests; Modekngei utilizes ritual specialists.

Ceremonies. Important traditional ceremonies include interdistrict dancing festivals ( ruk ) and competitive feasts Between local fishermen's clubs ( onged). Protestants and Catholics observe the principal festivals of the Christian calendar; followers of Modekngei assemble weekly at the ritual center in Ibobang.

Arts. Skills such as canoe building and decorative wood carving are currently being revived as folk art. "Storyboard" carvings depicting events from folklore are a major tourist item. Local dance teams perform at festivals; older women sing archaic funeral chants and songs. Storytelling is a highly respected form of verbal art.

Medicine. Western medicine is available at the central hospital in Koror and in village clinics; villages place a high value on public health and sanitation. Traditional curing employs herbal medicines applied on the side of the body opposite the affected part.

Death and Afterlife. Funerals are costly, elaborate rituals. The deceased's female relatives maintain a mourning period, and male relatives collect financial contributions to be distributed to heirs at a subsequent ceremonial occasion called "death settlement talks." Burial takes place in community graveyards, although formerly burial was under the house platform. A week after burial, close relatives meet again to pave the grave and to send the spirit to its final resting place in the southern part of the archipelago.

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