Religious Beliefs and Practitioners. According to the 1976 Cook Islands census, 76 percent of the population were Cook Islands Congregationalist (derived from the former London Missionary Society), 14 percent Catholic, and 10 percent Seventh-Day Adventist. All three groups practice a conservative form of Christianity in which the Sabbath is strictly observed. In recent times, the Congregationalist and Adventist ministers have been Cook Islanders, the Catholic priest European. Along with traditional Christian beliefs, there exists a belief in ghosts who are perceived as causing a variety of maladies. In the atoll's traditional religion, a god was associated with each patrilineage. Just as the head of the i Tua lineage was the dominant chief of the atoll, Mataaliki (the main god of the i Tua lineage) constituted the principal god of the atoll. Communication with these gods was usually through a priest. Major religious structures involved both a god house ( wale atua ) and a sacred enclosure ( awanga ya ).
Ceremonies. The most significant islandwide ceremony today is Christmas. All men of a village travel to another Village where they partake in a feast prepared by that village's women. Dancing follows. (The following year roles are reversed—the women visit, and the men act as hosts.) The sports competitions surrounding the holiday last well into January. At various times villages may decide to hold other feasts. (Although the food is gathered collectively, each Family usually eats it separately.)
Arts. The major art forms today are chanting, dancing, building canoes, plaiting, and singing. Most chants possess a traditional aura and are sung on special occasions. Dancing, especially line dancing, occurs at victory celebrations. New dance steps are often created for special events. Pukapukan women plait pandanus into a variety of products, especially mats. The singing of modern songs is common among the younger generation.
Medicine. According to the Beagleholes, sickness in precontact times had a strong moral component in which diseases were related to moral infractions and antisocial behavior. Responsibility for such infractions extended beyond the individual to other members of the individual's family. Sickness might be sent by gods, a malicious spirit, or a spirit from a foreign land. Treatment involved communication through a seer with one or more gods who would indicate the cause and treatment for the malady. Pukapukans had (and still practice) a number of folk remedies and physical therapy techniques, most prominent being deep-pressure massage.
Death and Afterlife. Today Pukapukans mostly follow Christian doctrine regarding life after death though, as noted, a belief in ghosts also exists. Prior to missionization, the Beagleholes report a belief existed that a person died when the soul permanently left the individual's body. The soul then journeyed to the underworld ( po ) where it took up residence enjoying various pleasures denied it in the upper world.