Choiseul Island - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Present-day Choiseulese are all Christians and church services are a daily routine in all villages of sufficient size to have a resident preacher-teacher; the aboriginal religion has not been practiced (openly at least) for several decades. The aboriginal cosmology included various b angara or "gods" and "spirits" of the bush, some good, some evil, as well as ghosts of the dead. Some little sinangge kept shrines dedicated to particular gods or bangara and one member of the group regularly made offerings of food there in order to secure the god's blessings for the group; usually that god is reputed to have presented itself to the group. The ghosts of greatest significance and alleged power were those of former big-men; their sinangge might propitiate them but their influence for good or ill was not restricted to that group, and their kin who were not members of the group could propitiate them at that shrine. Anyone could maintain a shrine for and give offerings of food to recently deceased parents or grandparents.

Religious Practitioners. Some men were thought to have the special skill of being able to communicate with gods, spirits, or ghosts and to discern whether personal misfortune arose from sorcery or the displeasure of such a being.

Death and Afterlife. The corpse was usually disposed of by cremation, but in some areas interment and later exhumation of the bones were preferred. Ashes and bones were put in a clay pot and often placed in a shrine somewhere in the nearby forest or, in the case of a big-man, in a larger shrine maintained by the sinangge of which he was once the leader. The spirit of the deceased might remain around the village for a while and occasionally reveal itself (an ominous sign of dissatisfaction); but eventually it departed to the land of the dead, Ungana, somewhere high on Bougainville Island. Life there was much the same as among the living, though with Little work and much happiness.

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