The Kapingamarangi maintained their ancient cult religion up until 1919, though the last decades of the 19th century did find some of the population questioning their gods.


 The emergence of a secular authority, which had already begun by the 1880's, was completed when conversion to Christianity obliterated the sacred/secular class distinction and its attendant distribution of privileges. (Lieber 1994: p.11-12)

German colonial control over Micronesia was ceded to Japan in 1914, and the administrative center of control shifted from New Britain to Kolonia Town on Pohnpei. It was during the Japanese administration that fundamental structural changes began to reshape Kapinga society. The changes were hastened by a two year drought and famine on the atoll between 1916 and 1918. Besides accounting for many deaths, the drought also led to the collapse of the ancient religion and its cult house organization, the introduction of Christianity and the rapid conversion of the populace, and the establishment of a permanent Kapinga colony on Pohnpei. (Emory 1965: 20, Lieber 1968: 1-6).

The Nukuoro had heard about the Kapinga's plight via ship passengers. Their chief, Lekka, an ordained Protestant minister, had his people collect a ship's hold full of drinking coconuts. He sent them, along with a group of church elders, whose task was to convey the gift and convert the population to Christianity.

By the time this group of missionaries arrived on the atoll in late 1917, the cult house lay abandoned. The high priest reigning in 1916 had abdicated in favor of a younger man, who later abandoned the cult house when it became clear that nothing he could do was helping. The missionaries' task of conversion was easy. The demoralized Kapinga were perfectly prepared to believe that their false beliefs were the cause of the drought. After all, the food that the gods did not send were brought to them by people representing this new deity, and the arrival of food is, traditionally, evidence of efficacy. Conversion of the populace was accomplished rapidly. When the missionaries boarded the ship for Nukuoro, they left behind one of their number, a young man who, with the help of two men who would both become ministers and kings, set about organizing a congregation, destroying the cult house, and building a church in its place. (Lieber, 1994: p.143-145)

The actual toll of this disaster eventually reached about 90 people. The exact number is not known due to other influences. It is important to note that this number represented almost one tenth of their population and that the many who died during this famine were the elderly and the children; the keepers of traditional knowledge and the promise of a future. The impact of an event of this magnitude must have been horrendous.