Ontong Java - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The traditional ritual system centered on the sanga ceremony, which was performed to honor the Island's legendary founders and to ensure that taro, coconuts, and fish would be plentiful It was also believed that the spirits of deceased ancestors, kipua, were aware of all human events and could interfere in them. By 1927, the traditional religious system was disintegrating as a result of culture Contact, and at present most people are members of the Church of Melanesia, which was originally established by Anglican missionaries.

Religious Practitioners. Formerly, the maakua, who were the leaders of certain joint families, supervised the performance of the sanga ceremony. In times of famine or pestilence, the maakua were held responsible for the community's misfortune and were either put to death or asked to resign their positions. Other traditional beliefs centered on spirit mediums who were able to contact the spirits of deceased ancestors (kipua) to learn of their intentions and enlist their aid. At present, people participate in various Christian offices and organizations.

Ceremonies. Apart from the church calendar, there are frequent occasions for dances and song performances in the present-day life of Ontong Java. These performances include traditional musical, dance, and song genres. In addition there are new genres, such as guitar music and songs that derive from culture contact.

Arts. Men formerly wore nose ornaments and even now some people are tattooed, although not as extensively as in former times. Women still cover themselves with turmeric when dancing.

Medicine. In traditional times, most sickness and death were attributed to the actions of kipua (ancestor spirits).

Death and Afterlife. When people died, their relatives stopped most work activities and mourned the deceased by weeping and singing dirges. The Ontong Java buried their dead in a cemetery with slabs of coral rock for grave markers. Upon death, a person became a kipua. Nowadays, Christian beliefs are prevalent.

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