Rossel Island - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The religious system is a combination of Christianity and traditional beliefs. Although two Christian denominations (United Church and Catholic) divide the Island, the relations between them are harmonious. The Islanders have adopted Christianity as a means of acquiring a link to forces of the greater world, spiritually as well as in terms of health-care, education, and cash opportunities. The government has taken over hospitals and schools, but these services are still located at the missions. Apart from Christian beliefs the islanders still hold beliefs in local supernatural beings and ways of communicating with them by means of incantation and sacrifice. Deities ( woyili ) are believed to have lived on the island before, when they brought or created natural and cultural features such as landscape forms, food plants, sorcery, etc. Some are regarded as ancestors of subclans. Later they disappeared into the underworld ( teme ) at the sacred places. They may appear as snakes, crocodiles, or dugongs. Armstrong's report of a hierarchy of gods cannot be supported. The power of the deities can cause blessings, such as crop fertility, or misfortune, such as sickness. Each sacred place is associated with only one or two effects. Formerly, they were avoided, except by the knowledgeable custodians. Now some have fallen into disuse and are not respected any more. Other supernaturals were ogres ( podyem ), with white skin and long hair, and gnomes ( kömba ) living in hollow trees. They are rarely, if ever, reported now.

Religious Practitioners. Christian practitioners are United Church pastors—largely from neighboring islands—and Catholic catechists. Some men, who have inherited spells and ritual knowledge associated with sacred places ( yopo ), still perform rites there. Because of mission aversion such practices tend to be secret.

Ceremonies. The guardians of sacred places are supposed to keep them clean and at certain rimes of the year, or when needed, perform rites such as libations and reciting of spells in the presence of other men. Other ceremonies connected to the deities are nocturnal singing of sacred songs ( ndamö ). This worship is a male cult. Women have won a legitimate place in religious worship only with Christianity.

Arts. Traditional Rossel carving style, for example on canoes and lime spatulas, is plain, usually nonfigurative, and symmetric. It has largely been supplanted by the Massim style characterized by the use of spirals and scrolls. A number of types of baskets are woven, from large food containers to fine baskets for shell money. There are no traditional Musical instruments but drumming on canoe hulls may take place in connection with the singing of ndamö. There are several types of traditional dance and song performances. The most common is the tpilöve, in which men appear in dancing skirts.

Medicine. Illness is traditionally mainly attributed to Sorcery and infringement of sacred places. Curing practices include countermagic, sacrifices at sacred places, traditional medicines, and healing.

Death and Afterlife. Burial takes place in an L-shaped grave, usually in a common cemetery for a number of hamlets. Formerly, the body was placed in a shallow grave in the house and later exhumed. The skull was exposed in the hamlet and later deposited in a shelter in the bush. At the death of an important person in-laws were usually accused of sorcery and had to atone by supplying a cannibal victim for a special feast ( hanno ). Now, a week after the death the mortuary feast ( kpakpa ) is held. Here, the burial services are rewarded and donations of traditional valuables are presented to various categories of relatives of the deceased. When the spirit ( ghötmi ) leaves the body at death it travels to Yeme, the mountain of the dead, at the western end of Rossel. According to another belief the dead go to the underworld. Formerly, the spirits of victims of cannibalism were believed to go to Tpi, a mountain on the south side of Rossel. Ordinary ghosts ( mbwe ) are not greatly feared, unlike the ghosts of cannibal victims. In contrast to beliefs in Sudest, in Rossel culture the dead are not supposed to interfere much in the life of the living.

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Agnes John
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Oct 12, 2013 @ 12:00 am
Effective research, information is correct and it help me do my assignments in the University of Goroka,PNG.I'm very happy because you tried to spell some of the Rossel Island Vernecular words as this is complex to many Milne bay people to do so. Rossel island language is very difficult language and I too still learning to write my own language correctly. Thank you for writing this information. The Rossel islanders are Uniqe group of people with outstanding characters and hope you enjoyed your research. My questions are; What are some of the difficulties you encountered?, What are some of the things you found interesting? and What are some recommendations you would like to make for improvement on Rossel Island?
Agnes John
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Oct 12, 2013 @ 1:01 am
Comparing Rossel island with the rest of Papua New Guinea, Rossel island has many sacred sites and a hierarchy of traditionalgods that are attacthed to this sacred sites. Magic is usual for the Rossel islanders as this is sometimes reffered to as source of protection or defence against enemies. Magic is widely used for various purposes such as healing, gardening,killing people, hunting and so fort. Despite of sorcery, Rossel Islanders are found to be good to visitors. They share and work in co-operation. The island is peaceful and no industrial disturbance. The Islanders belief in the sacred sites. Everyone is responsible from keeping this places respected and disturbance to any of them is a big problem in the communities.

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