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Summoning the Powers Beyond

Summoning the Powers Beyond: Traditional Religions in Micronesia

Jay Dobbin
with Francis X. Hezel
Copyright Date: 2011
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    Summoning the Powers Beyond
    Book Description:

    Summoning the Powers Beyondcollects and reconstructs the old religions of preindustrial Micronesia. It draws mostly from written sources from the turn of the nineteenth century and the period immediately after World War II: reports of the Hamburg South Sea Expedition of 1908-1910, articles by German Roman Catholic missionaries in Micronesia included in the journal Anthropos, and reports by the Coordinated Investigation of Micronesian Anthropology (CIMA) and the American Board of Commissioners of the Foreign Missions (ABCFM). A detailed introduction and an overview of Micronesian religion are followed by separate chapters detailing religion in the Chuukic-speaking islands, Pohnpei, Kosrae, the Marshall Islands, Yap, Palau, Kiribati, and Nauru. The Chamorro-speaking group of the Marianas is omitted because lengthy periods of intense military and missionary activity eradicated most of the local religion. The Polynesian outliers Nukuoro and Kapingamarangi are discussed at the end primarily to underscore the contrasts between Polynesian and Micronesian religion.In a concluding chapter, the author highlights the similarities and differences between the areas within Micronesia and then attempts an appreciation or evaluation of Micronesia religion. Finally, he addresses the evidence of a tentative hypothesis that Micronesian religion is sufficiently different from that of Polynesia and Melanesia to justify the continued claim of a separate Micronesian religion.5 illus.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6011-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Chapter 1 Introductory Issues
    (pp. 1-13)

    It was Dumont d’Urville whose 1834 report of his voyage around the world divided Micronesia into three parts: Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. The names have been used off and on in history, even if islanders never would have thought of themselves in terms of the tripartite division. Colonial powers then began picking through the island groups in each of the three divisions, with the result that Micronesia, for example, was divided into British, Japanese, and American colonies prior to World War II. Today, all of the islands in Micronesia are independent countries, except Guam and the Northern Marianas, which remain...

  4. Chapter 2 Overview of the Micronesian Religions
    (pp. 14-21)

    Early visitors to Micronesia spoke about the region as having no religion or temples, although the earliest records did describe gods and worship.¹ In fact, nearly all later reports, ranging from the letters of the Spanish Jesuit missionary Cantova in the early eighteenth century to American ethnographers after World War II, suggested extensive and complex religions, admittedly showing much variation over both geography and time. The only two exceptions are the German ethnographer Finsch (1893) and the French naval commander Freycinet (1829). Why Finsch and Freycinet should fail to see religion is obvious: Nothing observed met their definition of what...

  5. Chapter 3 The Religion of the Chuukic-Speaking Islands
    (pp. 22-69)

    Within Micronesia is a continuum of linguistically and culturally related islands and atolls, more closely related to each other than to any other group within Micronesia. The shared features of these islands include the Chuukic languages, which can be broken down into distinct languages and dialects.¹ The islands also show great similarity with respect to their religion, considerably more than can be demonstrated for Micronesia as a whole.

    The Chuukic islands are distributed from Tobi in the west (near New Guinea and the equator) in an arc, up and around to the Mortlock Islands in the east. Most of the...

  6. Chapter 4 The Religion of Pohnpei
    (pp. 70-103)

    Anyone writing about the old religions of Micronesia faces two critical issues. First, are the various island religions sufficiently similar to be able to make a common outline for each island culture? Second, how reliable are the island oral histories for reconstructing the history of religions now long dead? Earlier chapters discussed these questions from a general point of view; but they are of particular interest and importance in the case of Pohnpei. Let us first examine the sources for traditional religion in Pohnpei.

    The first extensive and methodical attempt at recovering the stories of Pohnpei came in 1910 when...

  7. Chapter 5 The Religion of Kosrae
    (pp. 104-120)

    Sometimes anthropology depends on luck, as when the anthropologist happens to be on the scene at the right time with the right people. Such was the case with Ernst Sarfert when the German South Seas Expedition arrived on Kosrae in 1909.¹ All members of the expedition were on board the steamshipPeihoin order to work on the island for the planned stay of little more than a week; expedition members thought the old culture was wiped out and little evidence of it remained. Contrary to expectations, Ernst Sarfert came upon some remarkable informants and needed more time on Kosrae....

  8. Chapter 6 The Religion of the Marshall Islands
    (pp. 121-138)

    Every region in Micronesia has notable evidential problems regarding its old religion. For Kosrae, the problem arises from the limitations of a single source, Ernst Sarfert, interviewing a few informants about a religion long dead and only dimly remembered. For Pohnpei, the problems flow from the nature of the traditions and oral histories used as historical or ethnographic data. For the Chuukic-speaking islands, the major problem is sifting through an enormous quantity of evidence to find the patterns of belief and practice that stretch across the breadth of Micronesia, from the Mortlocks and the Chuuk Lagoon to Tobi, just north...

  9. Chapter 7 The Old Religion of Yap
    (pp. 139-164)

    In the myths of the Chuukic-speaking islands and of Pohnpei, Yap was a prominent source of island founders, men of wisdom, and powerful magicians. Whether those myths, which identify this island (YaporIap) as located to the west, referred to the real high island of Yap or some mystic island is not always certain. The mysticYapin the west was matched in Chuukic and Pohnpeian myth by a mystic island to the east, calledKatauorKachaw.The Yapese themselves call their own cluster of tightly proximate high islands Wa‘ab (Waqab).¹ Yap myth has reciprocated by locating sources...

  10. Chapter 8 The Religion of Palau
    (pp. 165-188)

    The challenge of attempting to describe the religion of Palau (Belau) is that, as in most other island groups in the Micronesia region, there was never a political or religious unity to the Palau Islands. To write about the “religion of Palau” is something of an anachronism. As a matter of fact, to write about “the religion” of any country is to write at a level of generalization that bypasses individual and small group variations. With those limitations in mind, I will try to build a coherent picture of the religion from fragments of evidence.

    The shifting political alliances that...

  11. Chapter 9 The Religion of Kiribati and Nauru
    (pp. 189-205)

    On the southern flank of Micronesia and spreading across the equator is the Republic of Kiribati, a string of atolls and coral islands including the Gilbert, Phoenix, and Line Islands and the raised coral island of Banaba (Ocean Island). Nauru, to the west of Banaba, is an independent republic. There are legends and oral traditions that tell of the origins of the people of these atolls. In the case of Kiribati, perhaps they came from Samoa.¹ In the case of Banaba, the people are believed to have traveled from an island in the west, often identified with the mythicalMatang...

  12. Chapter 10 Conclusions
    (pp. 206-222)

    In chapter 2, I attempted to present a general overview of Micronesian religions. However useful such an overview may be, it omits the significant differences between island regions. For that reason, the overview is followed by chapters offering a detailed description of religious practices and beliefs in each island group. In this final chapter, I hope to summarize the unique features of each region, review the common patterns across Micronesia, and finally to offer a view of the old Micronesian religions as “gentle religions.”

    The regional differences within Micronesia may be explained in a number of ways. These differences may...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 223-258)
    (pp. 259-274)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 275-286)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 287-291)