Religious Beliefs. Indigenous religion was strongly dualistic, postulating a living world of light ( ao ) and a world of ghosts, deities, darkness, and night ( po). The presence of deities ( etua ) in this world was believed to be vital for making work efficacious and for securing life and prosperity. There was an extensive hierarchy of deities, ranging from the founding originators of the cosmos to their particular expressions in the gods of occupations and places, and there also were apotheosized shamans and chiefs, often linked with local temples ( me'ae). The aggrieved ghosts of major shamans were often propitiated to relieve famine, and many lesser figures were associated with illness and other misfortunes. Since the late nineteenth century, more than 90 percent of Marquesans have become Catholics, most of the remainder being Protestants descended from Hawaiian mission teachers. Modern Marquesan religion has not been adequately investigated, but syncretic elements appear to persist, including belief in a range of evil spirits, such as ghosts of women who have died in childbirth.
Religious Practitíoners. There were two major classes of indigenous priests: shamans ( tau'a), who were directly inspired by deities and in some cases were thought responsible for agricultural fertility; and tuhuna o'ono, who recited chants at chiefly ritual and performed sacrifices. Of these, there were many particular specialist healers and priests associated with occupations such as fishing. Sorcerers were renowned and widely feared.
Ceremonies. Traditionally, the largest events appear to have been commemorative mortuary feasts for chiefs and shamans; these ceremonies often took place some years after death and required considerable quantities of food and many human sacrifice victims. Major ceremonies were also associated with the life crises of chiefs and chiefly children, especially the firstborn. The main public events now are mostly church events, along with some French national days.
Arts. Both men and women, especially those of high Status, were extensively tattooed using anthropomorphe and abstract designs that also recurred in wood carving and on ornaments. Massive stone tiki (anthropomorphic ancestral figures) and petroglyphs were also carved.
Medicine. Illness was attributed to soul loss, possession, or sorcery. Healers generally treated illness in one of three ways: they identified the cause in tapu violation, resulting in an offense to a deity; they removed harmful objects or spirits from the body; or they diagnosed sorcery, which might be lifted if fines were paid. The range of herbal medicines was extensive.
Death and Afterlife. Death was usually attributed to Sorcery. Spirits were thought to roam the islands for a period and then congregate at certain rocky headlands where they would plunge beneath the sea and into the afterworld, known as Havai'i, which was supposed to be internally differentiated.. Those of higher status, who had more pigs or human victims sacrificed for them, were sent to more pleasant parts; those whose tattooing was not rubbed off their skin after death were not admitted at all but instead had their spirits torn to pieces.