Truk - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. In traditional belief, spirit beings were widely distributed in the sky, under the sea, and on land. The important places among spirit lands in the sky were: a region under the dome of Heaven, home of the gods who could take human form; a region in the south from which came all the plant and marine life that gave people food; and a region named "Achaw" or "Kachaw," abode of the ancestors of many Trukese clans and particularly of the clans associated with the chiefship and the special bodies of magical lore from which chiefly power derived. Spirits could accomplish their intentions at will and were thus the source of all that was manaman (mana), such as efficacious spells, medicines, and rituals. Good souls of the dead were consulted through mediums. The Trukese also invoked in spells the spirits inhabiting the dome of Heaven, presided over by "Great Spirit," and the spirits associated with particular crafts and major bodies of lore.

Religious Practitioners. Ritual practices were conducted by their own specialists. Such specialists included spirit mediums, breadfruit summoners, fish summoners, healers, masters of spells, masters of sorcery, builders, navigators, diviners, and most importantly the masters of magic and ritual relating to war and politics. Their knowledge was private property passed down to their children and junior lineage mates.

Ceremonies. Major ceremonies were those associated with death, communicating with good souls of the dead, summoning breadfruit, and making food presentations to chiefs. Ritual was also associated with divination, curing, warfare, political meetings, house building, and courtship.

Arts. Performing arts included dancing, storytelling, playing the noseflute and the bamboo Jew's harp (in courtship serenading), singing, poetry, and rhetoric. Other arts were associated with tattooing, woodworking, weaving, and warfare.

Medicine. Sickness was believed to result from the "bite" of a malevolent spirit or of any other spirit one had offended or that was controlled by a ritual specialist one had offended or by a sorcerer. Sickness might also result from soul loss. In all but the latter case, treatment involved the use of Medicines to be applied externally, to be drunk, or to be inhaled. For soul loss, a spirit medium was consulted to help find and restore the soul. Divination was used as a diagnostic aid in cases of severe or prolonged illness. Massage was used to treat bruises, local infections, and muscle ailments.

Death and Afterlife. As soon as a person died, female kin wailed and other relatives came bringing gifts of woven fabrics, turmeric, and perfume. Burial might be in the ground or in a mat bundle at sea (since Christianity, in a wooden coffin). After burial, the grave was watched by close kin for four nights to see if the good soul would possess one of them as its future medium. On the fourth day after burial, the deceased's immediate effects were burned and the good soul ascended to Heaven in the smoke. Everyone had two souls, one "good" and one "bad." The good soul came from the sky world and returned there after death. The bad soul became a ghost that might be dangerous and cause illness. By the middle of the twentieth century all of Truk's people were at least nominally Christian, either Protestant or Catholic, and Christianity had become the focus of religious life.

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