Ulithi - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Since the 1930s Ulithians have Gradually been converted to Roman Catholicism. But the old beliefs and practices persist in the minds of the elderly. There is a mélange of many diverse elements: celestial and terrestrial deities, nature spirits, demons, and ancestral ghosts, supplemented by magic, divination, and taboos. The gods of heaven, earth, and sea are lofty, but they are really more the objects of mythology than participants in everyday life, a sphere that is dominated by the ancestral ghosts. Nature spirits are characterized as being either malevolent or benevolent and are thought to be active in human endeavors and conditions.

Religious Practitioners. Lineage ghosts are the object of ritual attention through mediums, who transmit advice through them. Four major part-time magical practitioners are recognized—in navigation, typhoon control, community fishing, and palm-leaf divination, with medicine not far behind. There are also sorcerers and countersorcerers.

Ceremonies. A rite of passage is important for girls but less so for boys. One major ritual, prolonged for weeks, is designed to promote an abundance of fish for the community. Other rituals are political, magical, and religious.

Arts, Artistic expression occurs mostly in song and dance. The graphic and plastic arts are minimal

Medicine. Illness is believed to be essentially supernatural rather than natural in origin. Healers may be either specialized or domestic.

Death and Afterlife. According to traditional beliefs, death is the result of sorcery, taboo violation, or the hostility of spirits, except when the deceased has reached old age and succumbed to natural causes. After burial the soul lingers for four days on earth and then journeys to Lang, the sky world, where a god assigns the soul to either a paradisal or a tortured afterlife, depending on the person's behavior while alive. A period of mourning lasting for four lunar months is ended when a large feast, called "pay stone," is given for those who washed the corpse or dug the grave. The numerous taboos imposed on the living are then lifted. The dead often visit their relatives and communicate with them through mediums.

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