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Anthropology and Religion



To summarize this chapter I have tried to picture the growth of a primitive religion in one ethnological area. I have endeavored to relate the historical sequence of events from the simple to the complex. Man, realizing from dreams perhaps that there was page 31a spiritual essence or soul that was not destroyed but merely freed from its material envelope, evolved the concept of immortality. The souls of the Polynesian ancestors lived on in the spirit land of Hawaiki. Their descendants called upon them for assistance in the problems of this life. They wished for a continuity of help and so deified specific ancestors as gods who could be consulted when occasion demanded. Thus man created his gods. The Polynesian created his gods in his own image because, after all, they had once been living persons with human desires and passions. They had had wives and begat children; they had had their loves and infidelities much like the gods on Mount Olympus. Like Jehovah, they were jealous gods, but they did not visit the sins of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation. They were given the supernatural power that man desired but could not himself possess. With a belief in that power, man was inspired to accomplish many things that he might otherwise not have attempted. The religious beliefs of the Polynesians were founded on faith just as much as were the tenets of the better-known religions. By faith they were able to remove the mountains of doubt and fear. Faith in their gods supplemented by innate courage and supreme daring enabled them to cross the thou-page 32sands of leagues of the vast Pacific stretching between southeast Asia and South America and so to complete the most marvelous Odyssey the world has ever known.