Pollapese Catholicism as Strategy

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Abstract

Indigenous groups creatively incorporate outside institutions, including Christianity, for local purposes. Furthermore, people who see themselves as observing tradition may also construe themselves as being Christian and citizens of a nation. Despite the original external origins of Christianity, meaning becomes locally constructed and asserted for local purposes so that religion as practiced is about local, regional, or national concerns rather than commitment to particular dogmas, institutions, and hierarchy. A case in point are the people of Pollap in the Caroline Islands of Micronesia, who converted to Christianity in the middle of the twentieth century through the efforts of a Catholic catechist. Today the islanders practice a vibrant version of Catholicism in which local symbols and beliefs infuse imported Catholic ritual, and in which biblical verses and imagery support secular, political strategies. Pollapese seem less concerned with theology and more with behavior that demonstrates good character. As they attempt to exploit and reconcile potentially conflicting guides for behavior from the realms of religion, tradition, and government, they make strategic use of their understandings of Catholicism's dictates for political and social purposes.

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