The Nuaulu are subsistence farmers who live on the south coast of the island of Ceram in Eastern Indonesia. They are one of the few peoples in Indonesia who have retained their indigenous religion, which largely involves the worship of ancestral spirits, to the present day.

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Traditional Culture(1970)Expand All +
Belief +

Supernatural Beings

Nature Spirits Present, but not a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 68-72
Nature god(s) Absent (Source)
Ellen (1986), pp. 68-72
Ancestral spirits Present, and the principal focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 22, 68-72
Deified ancestor(s) Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 22, 68-72
God(s) Present, but not a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 68-72, 72

Supernatural Punishment

Supernatural punishment for impiety Present (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 69-70

Afterlife and Creation

One's actions while living can affect the nature of one's afterlife One factor in determining one's afterlife (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 180-182
The actions of others after one has died can affect the nature of one's afterlife One factor in determining one's afterlife (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 180-182
Culture hero(es) Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 68-72

General Features

Forces of nature are controlled by or imbued with the supernatural Present (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 70


Mana as a spiritual or religious concept Absent (Source)
Blust (2007)
Keesing (1984)
Blevins (2008), pp. 261
Mana as a personal quality Absent (Source)
Blust (2007)
Keesing (1984)
Blevins (2008)
Mana related to social influence or technical skill Absent (Source)
Practice +

General Supernatural Practices

Headhunting Present (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 276
Ellen (2002)
Costly sacrifices and offerings Present (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 179
Largest religious community Larger than a local community, no larger than the largest political community in the culture (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 42-44
Political and religious differentiation Some overlap (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 42-44, 73


Scarification Absent from culture (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 55, 59, 82, 91, 94, 110, 137, 142
Tattooing Absent from culture (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 55, 59, 82, 91, 94, 110, 137, 142
Social Environment +
Population 500 (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 19-21
Population of largest political community 100-999 (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 17-25, 42-44
Importance of Patrilateral descent High (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 17-25
Importance of Matrilateral descent Medium (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 17-25
Isolation +
Contact with other cultures Frequent, through trade, warfare, travel, etc. (Source)
Ellen (2002), pp. 294
Distance to closest landmass inhabited by a different culture (km) 0.0 (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 2-3
Distance to nearest continent 918.0 (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 18
Daft Logic Distance Calculator (2014)
Pre-Austronesian population Present: Clear evidence of human occupation prior to Austronesian settlement (Source)
Bellwood (1995), pp. 109
Hindu / Buddhist influence on supernatural belief Evidence of influence (Source)
Cribb (2000), pp. Map 2.21
Ellen (1983), pp. 3-4
Islamic influence on supernatural belief Evidence of influence (Source)
Ellen (2002), pp. 289
Ellen (2014), pp. 72
Christian influence on supernatural belief No evidence of influence but in a region where contact is likely (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 72
Subsistence and Economy +

Land-based means of subsistence

Animal husbandry as a source of food Minor (Source)
Ellen (1977), pp. 52
Land-based hunting performed by individuals Major (Source)
Ellen (1977), pp. 52-53
Land-based gathering Major (Source)
Ellen (1977), pp. 52, 65
Land-based hunting performed by one or more groups Major (Source)
Ellen (1977), pp. 52-53
Agriculture / Horticulture Principal (Source)
Ellen (1977), pp. 52, 65

Water-based means of subsistence

Fishing and water-based hunting performed by one or more groups Medium (Source)
Ellen (1977), pp. 52-53
Fishing and water-based hunting performed by individuals Medium (Source)
Ellen (1977), pp. 52-53
Water-based gathering Absent (Source)
Ellen (1977)

Commercial Activity

Trade / wage labour as a source of food Absent (Source)
Ellen (1977)
Physical Environment +

Geographical Range of Culture

Number of islands inhabited by culture One (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. xviv

Features of Island with Largest Culture Population

Island type (island with largest culture population or largest island if unknown) Continental island (Source)
De Jong (1998), pp. 317-318
Island Size (km²) 17148.0 (Source)
'Ceram' (2013)
Maximum elevation (meters) 3019.0 (Source)
'Ceram' (2013)


Latitude -3.2 (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 18
Google Maps (2014)
Longitude 129.0 (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 18
Google Maps (2014)
Post Contact History(1970-2014)Expand All +
Religious History +


Adoption of a world religion Present but minor (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 292

Syncretic Movements

Syncretic religious movements Absent (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 5
Secular History +

Demographic and Social Changes

Foreign government systems Present, and of high importance (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 21
Language shift Low (Source)
Eberhard (2020)

Modern Infrastructure

Vehicles and roads Present and widely used (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 21-22
Ellen (2002)
Sea port Present (Source)
National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (2009), pp. 166
Ellen (2002)

Economic Changes

Exportation of goods to other cultures Present and substantial (Source)
Ellen (2002), pp. 282
Current Culture(2014)Expand All +
Belief +

Religious Demographics

Dominant world religion Christianity (Source)
Ellen (2014), pp. 26, 292
External Links
Bellwood, P. (1995). Austronesian Prehistory in Southeast Asia: Homeland, Expansion and Transformation. P. Bellwood, J.J. Fox, & D. Tryon (Eds.), The Austronesians: Historical and Comparative Perspectives (pp 113-114). Canberra, Australia: ANU Press.

Blevins, J. (2008). Some Comparative Notes on Proto-Oceanic *Mana: Inside and Outside the Austronesian Family. Oceanic Linguistics, 47 (2), 253-274. Retrieved from

Blust, R. (2007). Proto-Oceanic *Mana Revisited. Oceanic Linguistics, 46(2), 404-423. Retrieved from

Brunton, R. (1989). The Abandoned Narcotic: Kava and Cultural Instability in Melanesia. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Ceram (2013). Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Retrieved from

Cribb, R. (2000). Historical atlas of Indonesia. Surrey, UK: Curzon Press.

Daft Logic Distance Calculator. (2014).

De Jong, R. (1998). Halmahera and Seram: Different Histories, but Similar Butterfly Faunas. In Hall, R. & Holloway, J.D. (Eds.) Biogeography and Geological Evolution of Southeast Asia, 315-325. Leiden, Netherlands: Backhuys Publishers.

Eberhard, D. M., Simons, G. F., & Fennig, C. D. (eds.). (2020). Ethnologue: Languages of the World (23rd ed.). Dallas, TX: SIL International. Retrieved from

Ellen, R. F. (1977). "Resource and Commodity: Problems in the Analysis of the Social Relations of Nuaulu Land Use". Journal of Anthropological Research, 33 (1), 50-72. Retrieved from

Ellen, R. F. (2014). Nuaulu Religious Practices. Leiden,Netherlands: Brill.

Ellen, R.F. (1983). The Centre on the Periphery: Moluccan culture in an Indonesian state, Indonesia Circle. School of Oriental & African Studies Newsletter (11) 31, 3-15. DOI: 10.1080/03062848308729551

Ellen, R.F. (1986). Conjundrums about Panjandrums: On the Use of Titles in Relations of Political Subordination in the Moluccas and along the Papuan Coast. Indonesia, 41, 46-62. Retrieved from

Ellen, R.F. (2002). "Nuaulu head-taking. Negotiating the Twin Dangers of Presentist and Essentialist Reconstructions". Social Anthropology, 10 (3), 281–301. DOI: 10.1017/S0964028202000198

Google Maps (2014). Retrieved from

Keesing, R. M. (1984). Rethinking "mana". Journal of Anthropological Research, 40(1), 137-156,

Mohamad, G. S., Adam, A. W., Leinbach, T. R., Wolters, O. W., McDivitt, J. F., & Legge, J. D. (2021). Indonesia. In Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Retrieved from

National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (2009). World Port Index Nineteenth Edition. Bethesda, MD: National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency