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Summoning the Powers Beyond

Traditional Religions in Micronesia

Jay Dobbin

Publication Year: 2011

Summoning the Powers Beyond collects 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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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Chapter 1 Introductory Issues

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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...

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Chapter 2 Overview of the Micronesian Religions

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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...

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Chapter 3 The Religion of the Chuukic-Speaking Islands

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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...

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Chapter 4 The Religion of Pohnpei

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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...

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Chapter 5 The Religion of Kosrae

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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...

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Chapter 6 The Religion of the Marshall Islands

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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....

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Chapter 7 The Old Religion of Yap

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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 (Yap or Iap) as located to the west, referred to the real high island of Yap or some mystic island is not always certain....

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Chapter 8 The Religion of Palau

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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...

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Chapter 9 The Religion of Kiribati and Nauru

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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...

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Chapter 10 Conclusions

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pp. 206-221

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....


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pp. 223-258


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pp. 259-274


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pp. 275-286

E-ISBN-13: 9780824860110
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824832032

Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 794925375
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Summoning the Powers Beyond

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Subject Headings

  • Micronesia -- Religious life and customs.
  • Micronesia -- Religion.
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