Kosrae - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Little is known of the aboriginal Religion, other than that it was polytheistic and involved ritual processions to Lelu led by priests. A goddess of breadfruit seems to have been most important. Modern Kosraens are known throughout Micronesia for their staunch religiosity and the church is very much the center of their public life. They believe that membership in the Kosraen church is necessary for their salvation. The sincerity of one's commitment to the church and to God is shown by one's "work," such as regular attendance at church services and social functions, living a clean moral life, and monetary support of church activities and building programs.

Religious Practitioners. Today each village has its own church, its own pastor and deacons, and a plethora of offices and committees. There is in addition an overarching committee that meets periodically to deliberate issues that face the Kosraen church community as a whole. Competition for annually elected high offices in the village churches is largely covert but nonetheless serious, for incumbents enjoy considerable respect.

Ceremonies. Aside from Sunday services (morning, afternoon, and evening), the church organizes a variety of social as well as religious activities. Most of these involve feasts, for which people spend weeks preparing. Major annual events include Liberation Day (which commemorates the day U.S. forces captured the island from the Japanese), Christmas, and installation days for winners of high church offices. Dedications of new church buildings also are islandwide events.

Arts. In aboriginal times, bodies were decorated with tattoos. Pandanus leaves used to make sleeping mats and clothing were dyed and woven into geometric patterns. Very finely woven belts were made of banana fibers dyed and woven into pleasing designs. Today, only the weaving of mats survives. Other than a few crafts produced for the very limited tourist trade and the sewing of dresses for use on ceremonial occasions, Kosraens are uninterested in expression through graphic arts. Great creativity is shown, however, in composing new hymns to be sung in church at several year-end events.

Medicine. Little is known of precontact treatments. Today people seek care at a new hospital completed in the late 1970s. A few women continue to practice folk medicine, Especially massages, which are often given to pregnant women.

Death and Afterlife. Funerals receive extensive Ceremonial treatment. The body lies in state for three days, usually at the house of the deceased's closest male relative. Relatives and friends visit the family, to pay their respects and to "cheer them up." To supply the hundreds of guests, close kin of the family contribute enormous quantities of food, today mainly imports. Aside from year-end church events, funerals and weddings are consistently the largest social gatherings on the island.

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