Pohnpei - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Prior to the arrival of foreign missionaries, there existed an elaborate system of religious beliefs. Beneath an order of paramount deities, there were lesser spirits called eniwohs that directed the movements of the land, sky, and sea. The spirits of the deceased, especially chiefs, were thought to involve themselves in the affairs of the living. Varying beliefs in different areas added to the complexity of Pohnpei's religious system. Nowadays, the island is divided equally between Roman Catholicism and a number of Protestant denominations, the largest of which is the Congregational church. While Christianity has displaced much of this system of indigenous beliefs, most Pohnpeians today still admit to the existence of local spirits and to the efficacy of sorcery.

Religious Practitioners. In the past, priests called samworo mediated between men and gods through a complex collection of rituals and prayers. Sorcery for both constructive and harmful purposes was practiced. Today, American Jesuit missionaries, with the help of local deacons, direct the affairs of the Catholic church. Most Protestant churches are headed by Pohnpeian pastors.

Ceremonies. Pohnpeians today follow the Christian Religious calendar. Formerly, there were religious ceremonies at sacred spots about the island to worship local deities, to secure the bounty of the land and sea, and to ensure success for a variety of human endeavors. These ceremonies often were conducted upon stone altars called pei.

Arts. Many of Pohnpei's unique forms of artistic expression have been lost as a result of contact with the West. Previously, men carved fine canoes and built large, attractive meetinghouses, while women wove fine mats, chiefly belts, and decorative headbands. Tattooing was a highly refined art entrusted to women that served to record individual lineages and clan histories. Musical instruments included the drum and nose flute. Pohnpeian dance survives. These dances, in which men stand and women sit, tend to be largely stationary and emphasize head and hand movements.

Medicine. Pohnpeians rely upon a combination of Western medicine and local herbal remedies. Massage is also believed to have curative powers. While acknowledging many Western medical practices and beliefs, Pohnpeians still see much disease as caused by sorcery or the violation of cultural taboos.

Death and Afterlife. Pohnpeians possess a stoic, accepting attitude toward death. The funeral feast is the largest and most important form of feast held on the island today. Interment usually takes place within twenty-four hours of death. The funeral feast lasts for four days. Family members, fellow clanmembers, and close friends remain together for an additional three days of feasting. A commemorative feast on the one-year anniversary of the person's death marks the formal end of all mourning. Christianity has changed Pohnpeian beliefs regarding the nature of life after death and the dwelling places of departed souls.

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cassandra andreas
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Dec 4, 2011 @ 5:17 pm
what other information about pohnpeians culture that i need to know?

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