Melanesian Religions

Doctrines Melanesian religion contained a multiplicity of gods, culture heroes and spirits with varied characters and roles. Particular powers were associated with creation, the sustenance of the cosmos, war, fecundity, prosperity and welfare, and had to be placated through a variety of rites and sacrifices in order to ensure the group's success and well-being. More important in terms of bringing success and blessing were the spirits of the dead. The dead whose names were remembered were usually still seen as part of the community and their hurt feelings could bring on trouble. Ghosts were often distinguished from the settled dead. For the Dugum Dani warriors (highland Irian Jaya) ghosts of men who died in battle required placating by killing one of the enemy; for the coastal Roro of Papua one could easily expect difficulties from a family member killed unexpectedly (by a crocodile, a spear from behind or the like). Yet the ancestors, when conceived to have reached the proper 'place of the dead', were the spiritual sources of help most frequently and consistently turned to across the region.

History  The area of Melanesia extends from New Guinea (Irian Jaya) in the west to Fiji in the east and from Papua New Guinea in the north to New Caledonia in the south. The region includes Irian Jaya, Papua New Guinea, the Torres Strait islands, the Solomon islands, the New Hebrides and New Caledonia.
The earliest inhabitants of the region, the Papuans, were there at least 40,000 years ago. It was not until 4000 years ago that another culture appeared: peoples migrating from South-East Asia established themselves into islands north of New Guinea. These peoples later settled in the Solomons, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Fiji.
The peoples of Melanesia established a variety of settlement patterns, ranging from small local groups of between 20 to 100 to very large villages with populations of over 1000. These societies would be led by hereditary chiefs whose status was based either on patrilineal or matrilineal descent. The economy was based on agriculture, raising domestic pigs, hunting, and trade.
The life of the indigenous people of the region has been fundamentally changed in the modern period by the presence of Europeans. By the 17th century many of the region's islands had been chartered and thus included in the overall history of humanity. The presence of Europeans had a devastating effect on the indigenous population, many of whom succumbed to disease or war. The presence of missionaries in the 19th century led to the widespread abandonment of many aspects of traditional beliefs in favour of Christianity. Today Christianity is the dominant religion of the region. A degree of independence has, however, been established within Melanesian Christianity through the formation of indigenised churches and theologies.

Symbols Since Melanesia comprises hundreds of islands, it has produced a wide variety of religious art forms. Among the most important art forms in Melanesia are sculptures or masks depicting spirits or ancestors. These provided a dwelling place for the spirit and were regarded as a source of strength and beneficence. Other visual forms consist of ceremonial bowls, coconut drinking cups, shields, drums, belt ornaments, canoe prows which contain a variety of motifs.

Adherents Traditional Melanesian religion is no longer practised.

Headquarters/
Main Centre
 The most important islands in Melanesia are New Guinea, New Britain, New Ireland, the Admiralties, the Solomons, the New Hebrides, New Caledonia and Fiji.