chapter  4
Tradition
Pages 44

The dominant motif of traditional Melanesian religions is the maintenance of collective material welfare, while in both Micronesian and Polynesian religious traditions two outstanding features are legitimations of the cosmic order and the concern for personal and group protection. As the general cultural boundaries of the three regions are relatively fluid, however, one should expect some overlapping of religious configurations. Besides, all three themes just mentioned appear basic to smaller-scale traditional societies around the world, or to the so-called ‘primal’, ‘natural’ or ‘perennial’ religions expressed by such societies (Australian Aboriginal groups included). No one could justly contend, in any case, that the rites of the Polynesians leave the spirit-given blessings of fertility and wealth out of focus, or that for their part Melanesian ‘pragmatists’ are uninterested in cosmic order. But it is as well to begin with some sense of broad tendencies, if we are to manage a brief survey of the most complex ethnographic scene on earth and of the wide scattering of peoples from New Guinea to Hawaii. We can do no more than offer a feel for what one may expect to find in various Pacific regions, and there is no better way to begin our synopsis than by considering how different peoples picture their universes.