Religious Beliefs. Just as with Tahitian society, native Religion recognized a ranked series of gods starting with one supreme deity and passing down through lesser gods and subordinates to individual family spirits of departed relatives. Religion was centered on regional, tribal, and kin tutelar deities, although a few of the gods transcended such limitations and were, in effect, supratribal deities. Gods required a wide variety of appeasements in order to ensure the continued welfare of the individual as well as the tribe. Early nineteenth century missionary activity successfully substituted Christian beliefs for the earlier traditional ones.
Religious Practitioners. Aboriginally, priests were of the chiefly class and were of two kinds. There were those who conducted formal rituals during which the gods were prayed to and appeased by gifts in order to gain their favor. Others were inspirational priests through whom particular gods spoke and offered oracular advice. All priests received some sort of payment for their activities and many were believed to have powers of sorcery. With the nineteenth-century acceptance of Christianity, various Tahitians, not all necessarily of the chiefly class, were trained by the missionaries to become lay preachers.
Ceremonies. Religious ceremonies were carried out in marae, most of which were tabooed to women. Some Ceremonies were seasonal affairs, while others pertained to war and peace, thanksgiving, atonement, and critical life-cycle events of chiefs. The degree of ceremonialism was dependent upon the deity and the importance of the marae, those for Commoners in districts and smaller land divisions being the least elaborate.
Arts. Drums—and, in the early nineteenth century, shell trumpets—were the only musical instruments used during ceremonies. The raised platforms of certain marae were decorated with carved boards, while the god, Oro, was personified by a wickerwork cylinder enclosing sacred feathers. The culture-hero god, Maui, was represented by a large humanoid wicker figure covered with patterns of feathers. Plaited masks were worn during certain ceremonies on the Taiarapu Peninsula.
Medicine. Obvious ailments such as sores and open wounds were treated with herbal medicines and poultices, and splints were applied to broken bones. Less obvious illnesses were thought to occur as a result of sorcery, contact with a sacred individual or object, or the anger of one's god. Curing was attempted through priestly prayers and offerings. Among the chiefly class, these cures were performed at the patient's marae and might include human sacrifices.
Death and Afterlife. Untimely death was thought to be because of the anger of one's god, while death through aging was regarded as a natural process. Rank determined the extent of expressions of mourning and the length of time the corpse was exposed on a platform before burial. In the case of high-ranking members of the chiefly class, this time factor was greatly extended by evisceration and oiling of the body. Simple burial, secretive for those of high rank, was customary. There is some indication that cremation was employed for certain individuals on the Taiarapu Peninsula. Among the upper classes human relics were preserved. For some, the afterlife was seen as a state of nothingness, but for others it was believed to be a happy life, for rank in the spirit world remained the same as in life.