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Build your guide

Select your chapters, build your own digital guide to Oceania: Early encounters, and then download or email it.

Start now

Spirit worlds

Where did the world and its peoples originate? What is most important in life? What is there after death? In pre-European times, Pacific peoples answered these fundamental questions of existence in various ways, worshipping many gods.

So when missionaries brought Christianity to Oceania around 1800, the island peoples already had a rich framework for incorporating the new religion and its god. The ties that missionaries formed with locals helped them to cultivate Christian beliefs.

But indigenous beliefs did not disappear altogether, as this section reveals. Rather, many Pacific peoples combined their indigenous spirit worlds with the new one, adapting Christian ideas and practices and developing hybrid forms of worship.

In this chapter:

  • Bure kalou (model spirit house)
    Everyday gods

    In Oceania, spirituality has always influenced everyday activities – as reflected in the ubiquitous presence of carved ancestral gods.

  • Cope
    Spreading the word

    Pacific cultures absorbed Christianity with great flair – along with the forms in which it arrived, especially printed texts.