Many of the islands of the Pacific have maintained a strong connection to their cultural religious beliefs, despite the historical influence of many Christian missions. In Papua New Guinea, when a death occurs, a medium is called in to determine the cause or to identify the sorcerer or witch who may have been involved. Rituals are performed to assist in releasing the spirit of the deceased, and spirits are encouraged to stay near the family. Relatives express their sorrow through wailing, chopping off a finger, pulling out facial hair, shaving their heads or extracting their teeth. Though burial is common today, in the past several methods were used, such as cremation, leaving the body in a tree to decompose or placing the body into a river or into the sea. Dry bones are sometimes buried under a dwelling for the family’s protection or worn around the neck. Funerals are also a time to pay off family debts and exchange wealth.
While the peoples of Vanuatu are heavily influenced by past Christian missions, there is a great mixing of Christianity and traditional beliefs, particularly when it comes to the death of a family member. While many families use the traditional Christian burial rite, every community recognises areas that are associated with the spirits of their ancestors. These locations are often marked as taboo and can consist of rocky protrusions, sea reefs, mountains and mountaintops. Families also continue to experience the presence of their loved ones and often receive advice in dreams.
Although influenced by Christianity, the people of Palau retain respect both for their traditional gods and the totems that embody them, as well as Christian holy places and practices. Funerals are very important rituals and involve a mass gathering of all the clans, and this great assembly is arranged by female elders. As with the death rites of Vanuatu, the clans of Palau exchange wealth and settle the debts and other affairs of the deceased. While graveyards do exists, it is still practice to bury the individual in the stone platforms of the house.
The island of Guam holds most strongly to its cultural religious beliefs. Although many are baptised into the Christian faith, primal (animism) rituals and beliefs persist in Chamorro society, including a deep respect for the spirits of ancestors. Chamorro culture believes their ancestors have inhabited Guam and the Mariana Islands since the beginning of time, and maintain that all life began there. Spiritual mediators known as makahna maintain a connection between this world and the spirit world. Areas where latte stones are present are believed to be holy, as in the past deceased persons were buried there and it is believed it is where their spirit remains. Families often tell stories of visitations by deceased relatives in a variety of ways, such as the sudden appearance of a familiar smell, a touch, or a physical manifestation. All Soul’s Day is a time when family decorate graves with various items, such as photographs, candles and flowers.