Belief systems and spiritual aspects in Papua New Guinea



The major religion in Papua New Guinea is Christianity.  Most Papua New Guineans do not see a contradiction between their Christian beliefs (introduced by missionaries in the 19th and 20th centuries) and traditions based on older, indigenous belief systems; they practise both side by side.  Most churches are either Roman Catholic, Anglican  or Evangelical Lutheran.  Pentecostalism and Seventh-day Adventism are also popular.



Forest-based villagers in Papua New Guinea usually have a totemic animal or plant that is special to them and so highly revered. It has been argued that this represents an early form of religion, typical of spiritual beliefs before the major world religions emerged. A clan’s totem, however, is not worshipped like a god; rather, the spirit of the totem is thought to bond all members of the clan into a kind of family.  The original animal or plant spirit is usually thought of as an ancestor whose spirit is still protective and so often carved in wood or painted onto objects such as shields.  Villagers often dress up as their totem in clan celebrations, imitating its behaviour and appearance.  There is usually a taboo against eating or harming the species associated with the totem.



Most Papua New Guineans are animists, that is they believe that both animals and plants have spirits (like human souls) and that these need to be appeased or respected.  Rituals are often required to communicate with the spirit or to dispel or pacify it.  Animists may also attribute spirits to geographical features or manufactured objects.  Belief in spirits tends to support respect for the natural environment, and therefore helps ensure communities live sustainably.