Marquesas Islands

Doctrines One of the titles given to their land by the Marquesans was "The House of Atea", each of the twelve islands being seen as part of that house. In this image they remembered their mythic and spiritual beginnings. Following the separation of the primal parents or two strata of existence, Papa-una (male, above) and Papa-a'o (female, below), all earthly things were formed by Atea, here being the personification of creative power. Other Polynesian divinities known here were Tanoa as deity of ocean, wind, and fish, Tu, patron of war, and Ono, god of cultivated foods and singing.
Life was centred on the open-air me'ae, the sacred place where rites were performed - feasts, sacrifices, funerals, memorials, harvest festivals, and ceremonies to mark major passages or needs of life. There were two orders of priests - the taua, male and female, who acted as mediums of deities and were seen as divine themselves, and the tahuna or tahuka, male ceremonial priests who conducted the sacred rites.

History The islands were settled between 700 and 200 Before the Common Era, from Western Polynesia, and became of prime significance in the development of the cultures of other Polynesian peoples.
Protestant Christianty arrived with the London Missionary Society in 1797. Because of the well-established and organized religious life in the Marquesans the missionaries found their teaching not as immediately successful as in other parts of the Pacific, and often avoided hostility bey sending Tahitian Christians into places they felt too dangerous to visti themselves. Howeve, Christianity was well-established by 1842 when they retired in favour of the French Catholic missions on France's colonization of this and neighbouring groups. The Marquesas Islands have been mainly Roman Catholic since.
European contact had a disastrous effect on the population - the estimated 70-90,000 inhabitants before contact dropping to 10,000 in the mid 1800s, then to a low of 2255 in 1926 before climbing in the present century (7358 in 1988).
Despite the immigration of the Chinese in the latter 1800s Chinese religion has had little effect on Marquesan belief or practice, and Marquesas Chinese now belong to Christian denominations.

Symbols In past times tiki, figures representing gods and deified priests, were prominent in sacred spaces and other places of ritual such as fishing spots. Carved of wood or stone these standing figures varied in size from a few centimetres to about three metres tall. Because they were carved of one trunk, Marquesan tiki, as in the rest of Polynesia, were compact and log-shaped with no protruding limbs; the legs were short, most detail occuring in the head which was the most sacred part of a person.
A colourful symbol which adorned the roof of the house of the tau'a priest was the manu ku'a (red bird), a mythical bird with red feathers. Representations made of bamboo and dyed cloth were mounted on the roof along with other wood and cloth emblems reminiscent of stories of messengers between the sky deities and earth. The emblems designated the house as sacred.

Adherents Religious profession in Marquesas differs from that in French Polynesia overall in that a much larger proportion of the population belong to the Catholic denomination. Here Catholics make up 89% and Protestants 10% of the poulation. (Source: Resultats Statistiques du Recensement General de la Population de la Polynesie Francaise, Effectue le 9 Novembre 1962.)

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