Religious Beliefs. Trobrianders believe in spirits who reside in the bush who cause illness and death, but their greatest fear is sorcery. Only some people are believed to have the knowledge of spells that will "poison" a person and such experts can be petitioned to exercise their power for others. Counterspells are also known; chemical poisons obtained from elsewhere are thought to be prevalent. In addition, magic spells are chanted for many other desires, such as control over the weather, love, beauty, carving expertise, yam gardening, and sailing. Mission teachers have not disrupted the strong beliefs in and practice of magic. Recently, villagers from two hamlets have introduced a new fundamentalist religion whose tenets negate the practice of magic.
Religious Practitioners. Most villagers own some magic spells, but only certain women and men are known to have the most sought after and powerful spells for gardening, weather, and sorcery. The most powerful spells are owned by the Omarakana chief. Some villages have resident mission catechists who conduct Sunday church services.
Ceremonies. A series of rituals are performed for a pregnant woman, and for several months after birth the mother and infant remain secluded. Their emergence is marked by a feast. The largest festivities occur during the annual harvest season after the yams are brought from the garden and loaded into yam houses. Led by a chief or hamlet leader, a village may also host cricket matches, dancing, or competitive yam exchanges, all of which culminate in a huge feast for participants. Kula activities are surrounded by many rituals and feasts.
Arts. Dances first brought by the original ancestors are still owned by the members of individual matrilineages. Drums are the only traditional musical instruments for these dances. Jew's harps or flutes made from bush materials are played for personal enjoyment. String bands are now common. Traditional songs are still sung when someone dies. Traditionally, only certain special people had the magical knowledge necessary to make them expert carvers of canoe prows, war shields, dancing paddles, large bowls, and betel chewing implements. Today, many other villagers carve tourist items.
Medicine. Some women and men are renowned curers, depending upon plants and herbs from the bush that they use with magic spells. A small hospital is located near the government station on Kiriwina, and medical aid posts (usually poorly stocked) are within walking distance of most villages. Adequate medical care is still a grave problem.
Death and Afterlife. When a person dies, the spirit goes to live on the distant island of Tuma where the ancestors continue their existence. At the end of the harvest period, the ancestors of a matrilineage return to the Trobriands to examine the well-being of their kin. The mourning and exchanges following a death are the most lengthy and costly of all ritual events. When a person dies, an all-night vigil takes place in which men sing traditional songs and the spouse and children of the deceased cry over the body. A series of food and women's wealth distributions takes place after the burial, and then the close relatives of the spouse and father of the dead person shave their hair and/or blacken their bodies while the spouse remains secluded. On Kiriwina, about six months later, women of the deceased's matrilineage host a huge distribution of skirts and banana-leaf bundles to repay the hundreds of people who have been in mourning. (On Vakuta Island, only skirts are exchanged.) The woman who distributes more wealth than anyone else is a big-woman. Today, trade-store cloth is sometimes used in place of bundles, and such cloth is central when a women's distribution is held in the capital by Trobrianders living there. Annual distributions of yams, pork, taro pudding, sugarcane, or betel nuts take place each year after an important person dies. When a harvest is especially large, a villagewide distribution is held that honors all the recently deceased from one clan.