The religious beliefs of Pacific Islanders -- those people who inhabit the islands of Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia -- reflect centuries-long efforts of missionaries to Christianize the area. Spanish priests brought Roman Catholicism to the islands in the mid-1600s. Catholic and Protestant missionaries from Europe began visiting the area in the early part of the 19th century. In the mid-1800s North American missionaries representing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints established churches there. Despite Christian influence, some Pacific Islanders continue to practice animistic religions and many Christian Pacific Islanders mix indigenous beliefs with modern doctrine. The Pacific Islands have also become home to several non-Christian religions.
The Religions of Micronesia
More than 400,000 people populate the islands of Micronesia. Catholicism is the dominant religion on Guam and Kiribati, while Protestant religions claim a larger majority on the other Micronesian islands. Established faiths include the United Church of Christ, Mormon, Baptist, Seventh Day Adventist, Salvation Army and Jehovah’s Witness. The influence of early animistic religions is evidenced by Christian Micronesians’ veneration of ancestors, references to spirits, and the worship of icons. Traditional magic is often mixed with modern Christian beliefs. Non-Christians are a minority in Micronesia and include followers of the Baha’i faith. A small community of Buddhists has been established on the island of Pohnpei.
The Religions of Melanesia
Papua New Guinea is more than 95 percent Christian. About one-quarter are Roman Catholic. Other Protestant faiths established there include Evangelical Lutheran, United Church, Seventh Day Adventist, Pentecostal, Anglican, Baptist, Mormons and Salvation Army. Most Christians of Papua New Guinea maintain connections to indigenous tribal beliefs. Non-Christian religions include Baha’i, Confucianism and Islam. Fiji is about 80 percent Christian and predominantly Methodist. The remainder of the population are Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim. In the Solomon Islands, the Anglican Church of Melanesia is predominant, followed by Catholicism, other Protestant faiths, Islam and Baha’i. Animistic religions are practiced by the Kwaio community of Malaita. Ni-Vanuato is predominantly Protestant but indigenous religions are still practiced. Cargo cults have also sprung up on the island. The most well-known is the John Frum Movement. New Caledonia is primarily Roman Catholic.
The Religions of Polynesia
In the Marquesas and Society Islands, Protestant religions make up slightly more than half the population, while another 30 percent are Roman Catholic. On the Cook Islands, the Cook Island Christian Church is the largest Protestant denomination and includes more than 60 percent of the population. The only established non-Christian religion is the Baha’i faith. Samoa is 98 percent Christian and primarily Protestant Methodist. Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, and Mormons also maintain churches on the island. In Hawaii, the predominant religion is Roman Catholic, followed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and other Protestant faiths. A minority of Hawaiians belong to non-Christian faiths, including Judaism, Buddhist, Islam and Hindu.
New Zealand Pacific Islander Religions
Though not a Pacific Island, New Zealand is part of Polynesia and was settled by Pacific Islanders. Known as the Maori, these Pacific Islanders continue to make up a significant part of New Zealand's population. The Maori indigenous religion is based on two concepts: mana, an impersonal force; and tapu, a concept of sacredness. Many Maori now identify as Anglican, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic.
- Countries and Their Cultures: Micronesians: Religion and Expressive Culture
- Global Mormonism Project: Pacific
- Countries and Their Cultures: Micronesians: Orientation
- Encyclopedia.com: Micronesia, Federated States of: Religions
- U.S. Department of State: Papua New Guinea
- Maps of World: Fiji Religion
- U.S. Department of State: Solomon Islands
- Countries and Their Cultures: Ni-Vanuatu
- World Info Zone: New Caledonia Information
- Countries and Their Cultures: Maori
- Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images