History of Afterlife in Different Religions Society Islands

About the views on life after death and the afterlife and history of the beliefs in the Society Islands religion.



At death the soul lingers near its familiar home, inhabiting small wooden carvings of male and female figures placed for this purpose about the burial ground. But sooner or later it is led away by other spirits to the land of po, or Night, thought by some to be located in the crater of a volcano. When the spirit arrives, the souls of ancestors or relatives, who now rank among the gods, scrape it with a serrated shell prior to eating it. When a soul has been eaten and digested three times, it becomes a deified spirit and may revisit the earthly world. Sometimes the soul is baked in an earth oven like a pig, then placed in a basket of coconut leaves to be served to the favorite god of the deceased. Now the soul, rendered immortal by this union with the god, issues from the body of the god purified for entrance into a state of bliss. A man who remains pure by avoiding sexual relations with women (abstinence need last only a few months before death) can pass immediately into bliss without being eaten.

Even after purification, souls feel human passions. Former enemies, now invulnerable, renew rivalries in the spirit world. Dead wives renew relationships with their husbands and may have offspring without ever embracing their spouses.

In Bora Bora kings are threatened with being converted after death into hat stands made from tree branches. These hat stands, upon which headgear, clothing, and baskets may be hung, are for the convenience of more fortunate ghosts in the other world. A king who wishes to avoid becoming a hat stand has to give expensive presents (like fat hogs or canoes) to priests, who then pray for him daily until he dies. After his death his relatives must continue to take presents to the priests to assure his escape from the utilitarian fate. Souls are assigned different degrees of happiness or misery in the spirit world according to the rank they held in life, irrespective of vice or virtue. The best places are reserved for chiefs and great men, while souls of a lower order lodge in inferior places. The only punishable sins are the neglect of religious rites and the failure to provide offerings.

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