Printer Friendly

Codrington, Keesing, and Central Melanesian mana: two historic trajectories of Polynesian cultural dissemination.


The debate over the mana concept has been simmering ever since its launch as a Melanesian ethnographic term with the 1891 publication of Robert Henry Codrington's The Melanesians. To scholars working in the region, presenting their take on the debate became something of a rite of passage for those with regional-generalist ambitions. Consequently, new contributions have trickled in at regular intervals. At first glance, the mana discussion might appear as yet another example of scholarly parochialism. But throughout the history of anthropology the debate over mana has proved its salience as a crossroads of ethnographic theory, from which we can address enduring concerns to the discipline, such as agency, personhood, materiality, cosmology, and ritual and political power in various guises. Several of the contributions to the much-heralded and -praised inaugural issue of the open access HAU: Journal of ethnographic theory invoke mana as a prime example of the promises of ethnographic theory, which is tentatively defined as 'a conversion of stranger-concepts that does not entail merely trying to establish a correspondence of meaning between two entities [...] but rather, the generation of a disjunctive homonimity, that destruction of any firm sense of place that can only be resolved by the imaginative formulation of novel worldviews.' (Da Col and Graeber 2011: vii-viii, italics in original). In short, mana is one of the tools for the creative distortion of naturalised opinions and practices. The concept's significance to anthropological self-presentation as grounded theory is revitalised by its cyclic centrality to theoretical innovations. Lately, two tangential and heterogeneous theoretical developments, loosely referred to as 'the ontological turn' (see for instance Scott 2007; Viveiros de Castro 1998, 2004) and 'the neo-material approach' (see for example Henare et al. 2007; Latour 2005; Lien and Law 2011), have yet again brought ideas and motifs integral to the discussion surrounding mana onto the centre stage of anthropological debate. These intermittent revisits following the meanderings of anthropological theorising ensure the rekindling of a mana debate that advances almost imperceptibly, and where the novelties consist in the 'precision with which we vex each other', to invoke Geertz's terse description (1973: 29).

But the manner in which mana is addressed in da Col and Graeber's foreword to the inaugural edition of HAU shows the need for conceptual clean-ups. As indicated by MacClancy (1986), mana has not only become an anthropological metaphor for island Melanesia. Taking his cue from Lrvi-Strauss, MacClancy finds that mana serves as a floating signifier, at the servitude of all thought, among the symbols in a pure state, 'which "oppose themselves to the absence of meaning (signification) without requiring any particular meaning [...] for themselves" ' (Lrvi-Strauss 1950, in MacClancy 1986: 148, italics in original; see also da Col 2012: 5). In da Col and Graeber's version, mana becomes an emblem for the golden decades when anthropology was fab; when anyone with serious intellectual ambitions was expected to be familiar with key anthropological debates; and when advances in philosophy frequently were inspired by ethnographic writings. But symptomatically, theirs is also a detached version of mana, deliberately free of denotation and context, apart from gaining the virtues of addressing a vintage anthropological concern. It plays the role of Turner's multi-vocal symbol (see for instance 1967: 50-54), being able to encompass divergent and even opposing experiences and understandings within a cloak of apparent agreement.

Predictably, the regional debate is harder to cut loose from its empirical moorings--even though Firth attributes the confusion over the nature(s) of mana to the lack of empirical evidence of how people themselves act according to their understanding of the concept (1967: 174). Firth, who in general is highly appreciative of Codrington's work (very much unlike his crushing assessment of William Rivers's work in the same area a few decades later (Firth 1963: xviii; see also Kolshus 2014)) particularly regrets Codrington's insufficient grounding of the mana term in action (cf. Feinberg 2002: 15), acknowledging that Codrington knew the Mota people and their practices intimately and therefore was in a position to do so. Due to this deficiency, Firth finds that '[t]here always remains a doubt whether a native would really have thought out and performed an experiment in the way [Codrington] describes.' (1967: 178) Keesing ends his seminal 1984 article on the same note, urging scholars with the needed command of Oceanic languages and comparative sociological vision to 'connect the substantivizations of mana in metaphysical terms with the worldly circumstances that have given rise to such cosmologies' and to anchor mana 'in social systems rather than disembodied philosophies' (1984: 152-53). But for such anchoring to be realised, I maintain that the first step must be to abandon the quest of restoring mana in its alleged authentic form.

Recently, Matthew Tomlinson (2006, 2007, 2009a, 2009b; Tomlinson and Makihara 2009) has brought the discussion forward, and in a temporal sense very literally so, by encouraging an empirical engagement with mana that redirects attention from its pre-colonial and even proto-Oceanic origins and onto contemporary manifestations and conceptualisations of mana in the Pacific. Rather than embarking on the search for untainted meanings pursued by Keesing (1984), which prompted a, to him, uncharacteristically static, or perhaps rather insular, outlook that disregarded the outcomes of culture contact and exchange of religious imagery between societies and which also seems wanting in light of recent scholarship on proto-Oceanic (see for instance Blust 2007), (1) I take my cue from Tomlinson's reengagement with the term. He points to the possibility that Melanesian versions of Christianity 'might be precisely the key to rethinking mana in the contemporary Pacific.' (2006: 177, italics in original; see also Scott 2007: 176, note 13; Toren 1995) A combination of mission linguistic pragmatism, folk models of Anglo-Catholic Christianity, and pre-colonial contact with Tikopia has given a direction to current understandings of mana on the island of Mota in the Banks Islands, and a similar understanding is mirrored in most local versions of mana in the traditional Anglican mission area between Santa Isabel in the central Solomon Islands and Pentecost Island in northern Vanuatu (Burt 1994; Feinberg 1996, 2004; Firth 1959, 1967, 1970; Gegeo and Watson-Gegeo 1996; Hess 2009; Kolshus 2007; Mondragon 2004; Scott 2007; Scott and Kolshus n.d.; White 1991). (2) In this article I will suggest some probable historical roots for this phenomenon.


It is probable that some corruption of a native language is inevitable in Mission work, in which the language must be used before it is known; and no great harm is done. But great mischief is done when a native language is impoverished for teaching and translating by the use of an incorrect and narrow vocabulary. It is not only that the usefully effective richness of the native vocabulary is lost, but with it is lost, too probably, some of the activity of the native mind, for natives will follow their teachers. (Codrington 1896: viii)

In writing these words, Robert Henry Codrington drew upon twenty-five years of experience as teacher and administrator of the Anglican Melanesian Mission (hereafter MM) and over thirty years as an academic and missionary linguist. Five years earlier, he had published his widely praised ethnography The Melanesians, with which key scholars in sociology, anthropology and comparative religion would engage closely for decades to come (Stocking 1995: 34-46)--and which arguably served to direct the attention of the embryonic discipline of sociocultural anthropology to Melanesia, giving the region a disciplinary prominence it in many respects has retained ever since. In his book, Codrington expands upon an earlier article on Melanesian religion and the concept of mana (1881), anticipating many of the issues in the rationality debates from the 1950s onwards (see for instance 1891: 116-21) and kindling a simmering discussion that since has erupted at irregular intervals. In academic debate, the pedagogical value, and career-enhancing effect, of accentuating differences with previous contributions frequently comes at the cost of downplaying nuances that would reveal the complexity of the perspectives of one's predecessors. And the older these contributions are, the less likely it is that they will be approached in their undigested form. After all, classics are usually honoured by being referred to rather than by being read.

As someone who, by virtue of choosing the island of Mota as a fieldwork site, has engaged Codrington's work closely for the past seventeen years, I have always been curious as to why Roger Keesing, in his numerous inputs to the mana debate (see for instance 1982a, 1984, 1985, 1992) was so parsimonious in his assessment of the intellectual value of Codrington's ground-breaking contributions to two embryonic disciplines, while sparing little bile when criticising his alleged part in misleading generations of scholars and effectively disrupting our understanding of Oceanic religious notions by his representation of mana in a substantivized form. It is rare to witness century-old pioneering works attacked as vigorously as in the following passage: 'I will suggest, drawing on linguistic and ethnographic evidence, that the Codringtonian interpretation of mana is deeply flawed. The linguistic doubts about mana as a substantive were well taken, and the Codringtonian resolution was fundamentally erroneous.' (1984: 138) One reason behind the intensity of Keesing's criticism might be that his approach to mana was informed by his more general critique of anthropology as 'interpretive quest' and of anthropologists for more eagerly engaging in the deciphering of presumed underlying meanings than identifying the relation between power structures and the prerogatives of meaning-making (1987, 1989a, see also 1989b). But then it appears even more peculiar to single out Codrington, since a more comprehensive and updated list of scholars would show the extent and bearing of the trend he was criticising. I have also found it odd that during these attempts at clearing the cult of Codringtonian heresy, Keesing embraces atemporal essentialisations. For instance, when he writes: 'Fortunately, some Malaita people continue to practice their ancestral religion, so contemporary ethnographic evidence can shed light on the meanings of mamana, nanama, and derived forms' (1984: 142), he commits the grave error of 'assum[ing] antiquity for current usage' (Feinberg 1996: 63; see also Salmond's critique of Keesing's claims for Maori mana (1989: 78, note 22)). Such ahistoric lapses are particularly surprising, given that Keesing in numerous other publications shows an acute awareness of the dynamic properties of culture traits (see for instance 1968, 1982b, 1989a; Keesing and Tonkinson 1982). Keesing's patent antipathy towards missionaries, whom he held responsible for nothing less than 'the wholesale destruction of Oceanic religions by Christianity' (1984: 138), cannot fully account for the belittling of Codrington's one hundred years old contributions.

Being exposed to critique is of course an academic honour, since it implies that one is regarded as an equal, albeit a flawed one. Keesing's somewhat simplistic distillation of Codrington's depiction of mana is nonetheless unusual, and in clear contrast with the more nuanced assessments of virtually every other contributor to the intellectual exchange on mana. Marcel Mauss, for instance, gives the following summary of his reading of Codrington: 'Mana is not simply a force, a being, it is also an action, a quality, a state. In other terms the word is a noun, an adjective and a verb.' (1972:133). Firth attentively remarks that Codrington might never have settled with such abstract characterizations of Melanesian mana 'if he had known that they would be treated as a classical text by distant scholars, subjected to microscopic analysis, and made the foundation of a system of primitive philosophy' (1967: 177), a characterisation that seems to forebode Keesing's hypercritical reading. Because even though he recognises in passing that, in the Mota language that Codrington uses, mana is a noun with a corresponding verbal, manag, (to impart with mana) and briefly mentions Codrington's underlining that mana operates both as a noun substantive and transitive verb (1891:119, note 1), Keesing seems to deliberately ignore these extenuating features, as well as Codrington's academic achievements as a celebrated pioneer linguist, in his overall assessment of Codrington's work (cf. Blust 2007: 405-07).

But a sympathetic reading of Codrington may not be required in order to evaluate his seminal contribution. Mota and the other Banks Islands, where most of his ethnographic work took place, had been exposed to two culturally distinct non-Melanesian influences: hundreds of years of regular visits from the sea-fating Tikopians and, more recently but much more extensively, by the Anglican Melanesian Mission. These had made an impact on how mana was conceptualised in this area as well as on the phenomena to which the term was applied.


The Melanesian Mission (MM) was due to a secretarial error. The letter patent to George Augustus Selwyn, appointed as the first Bishop of New Zealand in 1841, that defined the geographical limits of his see mistakenly put its northern expanse at 34 degrees north rather than south, thus placing most of the Pacific islands under his theological supervision (Hilliard 1978: 1). Selwyn read this as divine fate rather than human fault and dutifully undertook annual voyages in small vessels from 1849 onwards. In his capacity as Bishop of New Zealand he was also responsible for proselytising among the Maori, and Selwyn had quickly become a very competent Maori speaker (Davidson 1993, 2011: 22). During his journeys in the linguistically highly diverse Melanesian islands, he was therefore inclined to recognise, and appreciate, the presence of what we today refer to as Polynesian outliers. (3) By 1856, he and his prodigy, the first bishop of Melanesia John Coleridge Patteson, a gifted practical linguist who spent his sea journey from England to New Zealand studying Maori, had visited more than ten of these, including anthropologically renowned Tikopia, Anuta and Rennell. When going from island to island trying to establish some sort of communication that extended beyond barter, the discovery of Polynesian beacons of resonance in a Melanesian sea of miscommunication was heartening - a sentiment which is echoed in their expressed appreciation of the orderly, dignified and hierarchy-conscious welcome they received on these islands, which contrasted with the chaotic conditions on virtually every other landing (Kolshus and Hovdhaugen 2010). The following account of their first visit to tiny Nukapu in the Reef Islands is typical:

Nukapu is a small, flat island, situated in a large lagoon enclosed within a coral reef. The inhabitants differ widely in their language and their behaviour, from the natives of the neighbouring islands. We were met, as we waded ashore, by twenty or thirty people, who led us at once to the village where we found the chief and a considerable party assembled. We sat for about a quarter of an hour in the house of the chief, a room of good size made as usual of bamboo and thatched with cocoanut leaves. The people speak a dialect of the New Zealand language, and it was easy to converse with them sufficiently for our present purpose. They possess large sailing-canoes, one of which was about to cross over to Santa Cruz. This island may, by God's blessing, afford us an introduction to that large and populous country, and also to the small islands lying to the north of it. We were remarkably struck by the very gentle orderly manners of the people of Nukapu; there was no confusion or noise among the many people who sat or stood around us, but a heartiness of manner and evident desire to do any thing that was in their power to please their strange visitors. (Melanesian Mission 1858)

Likewise, the discovery of some familiar terms in the cacophony of Melanesian languages provided steppingstones to further understanding. One that appeared in a number of these languages was mana. The term featured in William Williams' 1844 Dictionary of the New Zealand language as 'power, influence' (Firth 1967: 177, note 3). Williams was Selwyn's archdeacon and associate (Davidson 1993) and was most likely a key companion during Selwyn's language training. This nominalised rendering of mana would give a direction to Selwyn's interpretation of phonetically similar concepts he encountered in the Melanesian islands. So even though the Mota version of mana may not have been nominalised prior to MM contact, the form of mana that was disseminated through Anglican proselytising would nonetheless have been shaped by Selwyn's Polynesian bias.

Bishop Patteson's remarkable talent for language acquisition proved a gift of grace in an area that in the mission literature consistently figures as a modern Babel (Armstrong 1900: 24). He spent the better parts of the year at the Mission's central school outside Auckland, where he did his best to teach the Melanesian students in their own tongues. David Hilliard, the leading academic historian of the MM, writes that already by the end of the 1850s he had 'committed to writing the six or seven principal languages then represented in the school, translated the Apostles' Creed, short cathecism and selected prayers, and taught Christian doctrine to his pupils in their own tongues.' (1978: 34; cf. Scott 2007: 270-72) From this comprehensive interaction with his students, Patteson discovered that mana, or phonetic varieties thereof, featured in virtually every language within their core area. Among the earliest recruits to the school were several Mota-speaking boys from Vanua Lava in the Banks Islands of north Vanuatu, who soon proved to be the more promising students. And while Patteson took to languages easily, other members of the MM staff were less fortunately endowed. The Mota language had the advantage of a refined vocabulary for spiritual entities and also had numerous Polynesian cognates and relatively few tongue-twisting phonemes, which made it easier to learn. Consequently, this was the language that the Melanesian recruits were taught and trained in, and which they in their turn should use as teaching medium in the hundreds of local schools and churches that were established in the islands--as part of a strategy that was based on mission-ideologue Henry Venn's fashionable imagery of the 'euthanasia of the mission', where the mission's role was to make itself superfluous as soon as possible (Davidson 2000:213-15; Darch 2009: 8-9). Because of its lush appearance, Mota Island was also chosen as a site for the Mission's annual winter school. This furthered the position of Mota as the language, and eventually afforded the island with a cultural impact in the region that was quite spectacularly disproportionate to its size. By 1865, Patteson had finished the translation of the Gospel of Luke into Mota. So when Codrington joined the MM that same year, Mota was firmly established as the Mission's lingua franca for teaching, worship and conversation.


Codrington was of a much more systematic disposition than Patteson. While the Bishop covered a vast linguistic landscape in order to establish contact and subsequently trust with as many communities as possible, Codrington dug as deep as he could into the one language. Most years he would spend several months on Mota overseeing the regional winter school while dedicating most of his spare time collecting data on kinship, cosmology, political systems and material culture. As headmaster of MM's Central School, which in 1867 had moved to Norfolk Island, he carried on with his linguistic and ethnographic work, consulting the by now large number of Mota students on their customs and their language--which he, after meticulous comparative linguistic studies (1885), found to have more Polynesian words than any other Melanesian language (Codrington 1896: vii). This, I argue, was most likely due to the impact of centuries of frequent voyages, with the occasional long-term dwellers, from Tikopia to Mota and the other Banks Islands. (4)

Because, like most coastal dwelling Melanesians, the Motese were no strangers to strangers. The MM reports from the first few years all emphasise, not without disappointment, how the emblematic first contact situations caused little commotion. Even though most of the people in this region did not engage in long-distance sea joumeys, there was a sufficient number that did. In the Banks and Torres Islands, canoes from Tikopia two hundred kilometres away paid regular calls. (5) Codrington was at first inclined to believe that these were accidental visits. He writes in his journal Sep 1 1870: 'And the great story is that of the [three] Tikopians who came here. Their size, good nature & enormous strength. Their regular Maori names & speech. & how one very sick almost strangled himself after the fashion of the Tikopia, who say they are never sick but always die. The other two would have done the same if one had succeeded, it would be a disgrace to survive. [...] one cannot help speculating on the possible result of these men being blown here, of an intercourse [ink stain] follow, their boys come to shore, some Mota Christian go to live there.' (Codrington journal of voyage 1870, entry Sep 10, SOAS Special Collections, MM 2/2, box 9) The Motese were very impressed by their Tikopian visitors and likened them with Patteson and Codrington: they washed every day, never sat on the ground, always said grace before eating and drinking, 'never misbehaved themselves, in any way, were quite enlightened, just like us.' (Journal entry Sep 10) But some days later, Codrington must revise his understanding of these being accidental rather than deliberate encounters when no less than ten canoes from Tikopia lands on Mota, exchanging turmeric and tapa cloth for what most likely was food.' [...] both parties talked as if the other would understand wh[ich] no doubt was the best thing to do under the circumstances. The Tikopia language is Maori with the articulation destroyed by betel nut, and I don't understand it when articulate; still in my position I was forced to be interpreter and we were very friendly at any rate.' (Journal entry Sep 18) The following day, he notes: 'A little before & as I was packing up a Tikopian came to see the Ariki ["chief", i.e. Codrington] and the house of the King, and announced himself as King of Tikopia talking a little English. If he was Kafika as I seem to make out afterwards that he was, he is the great chief there.' The Ariki Tafua was also a member of the expedition, which means that the two highest ranking of the four Tikopia ariki took part.

A voyage involving ten full canoes was probably uncommon. But in the letters written in the Mota language to Codrington after his return to England, there are a number of notes in passing (which bespeaks how unexceptional this phenomenon was) that mention Tikopian visits. George Sarawia, the first Melanesian priest, writes on May 13 1888 that there currently are eleven Tikopians living on Mota, while two of them have died (Rhodes House Library, MSS Pac s6). In the MM literature, there is also frequent mention of encounters with Tikopians on various islands around the Anglican core area. Among the Tikopia population control measures, Firth lists encouraging mainly young men to embark upon audacious canoe expeditions with little chance of success, which 'reduce[d] their numbers very considerably, since so many of them are lost.' (Firth 1963 [1936]: 374). (6) But there is no reason to doubt that a number of these would have reached other islands in the region and settled there. R6Kake Lolomaio, my Mota adoptive father's mother, who was born around 1910, told me how she grew up with three Tikopian brothers, Frank, Albert and Roy, living in her village, one of whom married a Mota woman. The great-grandfather of David Wogale, now in his seventies, came from Tikopia most likely before the turn of the 20th century and settled on Mota, where he married and had at least one son, Clement. According to David, he had come to catch makar, flying fish. These living memories of connections with 'Sepia/Sikopia', as the island is known on Mota, were deepened by the visit of a Tikopia canoe to neighbouring Mota Lava and Gaua only a couple of years prior to my latest fieldwork in 2012. (7)


But the Tikopian cultural and linguistic influence on Mota was more than reciprocated by the Mota influence on Tikopia by way of MMs evangelisation. When the Mission after much resistance finally managed to establish itself on the island in 1907 and have Banks islanders start the schools that were part and parcel of their mission strategy, things happened very quickly. Firth writes that already 'by 1909 there were two good schools, attended by about 200 people, many of whom could read and talk Mota' (1970: 306), and in the MM periodical, not prone to exaggeration, by 1915 many Tikopians spoke Mota and a little English (Southern Cross Log (Aus/NZ edition) 1915: 494). (8) As a steadily increasing number of Tikopians converted to Christianity, half by Firth's 1928 fieldwork and the last one in 1956, the Mota language became the language of teaching and ritual. (9)

When the Banks Islands missionaries settled on Tikopia, they repatriated a notion of mana that was very familiar to their own. (10) Too, the convergence of the MMs and the Tikopian association between hierarchy and mana helped to smooth the transition from the old system to the new faith. According to Firth's Tikopian informants in 1966, the four ariki no longer had mana because they had become baptised, while the Church had appropriated mana since the clergy among other things controlled rain, sun and the fertility of the gardens (1967: 364f; cf. Feinberg 2002: 26). Both the ariki and the priest should be respected, but it was only the priest who had mana and consequently could act with efficacy. The mana of the Church had proven more potent than the mana of the old chiefs, and therefore, the Church had seized monopoly on the distribution of mana (1959: 279; see Toren 1995, 2005 for similar developments in Fiji). The bishop had the greatest mana since he was closer to God through his investiture, while the members of the Anglican monastic order The Melanesian Brotherhood, Ira tatasiu, (11) were second to the bishop mana-wise due to their close association with him, even though they officially were at the bottom of the ecclesiastic hierarchy (1970: 341f.).

Other Mota terms that the MM had chosen to convey key theological notions, most notably tapu, were also of proto-Oceanic origin and had clear cognates in Tikopia (Firth 1967: 174-77, 364-65, 1970; Kirch and Green 2001: 239-41; Shore 1989: 142-51; Southern Cross Log (Aus/NZ edition) 1915: 464). But to the Melanesian islands beyond the range of Polynesian influence, the conceptualisation of mana as 'a power' was probably alien, as Keesing insists. Nevertheless, through the school structure with Mota as medium on all the islands, the nominalised form of mana took quickly. In the letters written in the Mota language to Codrington by Melanesian teachers throughout northern Vanuatu and south and central Solomon Islands, mana in the substantivized meaning of 'a power' appears quite early. Ralph Kinogi, for instance, a teacher on Vatilau close to Nggela in the Solomon Islands, uses it in this sense in a letter from 1884 (letter to Codrington, Jan 2 1884, Rhodes House, MSS Pac s5). People like Kinogi were teachers for a new generation of mainly Christian Melanesians, who reinterpreted causality, both ritual and mundane, with reference to this new dogmatic framework.


Keesing anticipates my thesis when he writes: 'Maria can (and in some languages undoubtedly did) become substantivized as a noun, which can then displace them altogether. Polynesian languages are heavily nominalising, so that the substantivization of mana would scarcely be surprising.' (1984: 145, see also 1985: 203)) I have argued that Polynesian elaboration from a proto-Oceanic root was introduced to Mota from Tikopia and further inflated by Bishop Selwyn and the MM, in eager search of concepts related to spiritual power and who readily embraced what to them was a familiar concept given his and Patteson's knowledge of Maori. Through the MM mana has consequently become a unifying concept within the Anglican core area, providing these islands with a relatively new notion of agency and efficacy that bridges otherwise considerable cultural and linguistic differences (Scott and Kolshus, n.d.).


In order to test this hypothesis of a joint Mota/Tikopia cultural dissemination by proxy of the MM, vernacular versions of the Bible and liturgy should serve as initial points of comparison: the wording in the first chapter of Genesis, the doxology of The Lord's prayer, and how the Holy Trinity is conceptualised and represented will all contain phrasings that give a direction to more general images of the effects, and nature, of power. As a result, mana becomes a comparative key with which to address differences in worldview and the intellectual creativity that facilitates localised adaptations of the concept, as these are made manifest in social practice rather than in disembodied philosophical elaborations from ritual specialists or historically selective inferences from social anthropologists.

For further ethnographic anchoring, a micro-comparative study of the island of Malaita should be rewarding. Malaita is a nexus of different mana notions, forming an interface between many different Christian denominations, traditionalist and neo-traditionalist groups, and recently even followers of Sunni Islam (McDougall 2009). A preface to such an inquiry can be found in a discussion on the concepts of Kwara'ae tabu, abu, and mana, mamana. Ben Burr writes that the attributes of Kwara'ae perception of mamana are better translated with 'truth', in the meaning of predictability and fulfilment of obligations between agents, than with 'power'(1988, see also 1994: 54-55). In a commentary (12) to Burt's description of abu, Keesing attributes contemporary Kwara'ae cosmological diversity to the fact that the East Kwara'ae belong to the South Seas Evangelical Church (SSEC) whereas the West Kwara'ae are Anglicans. He writes: 'I suspect that many of the differences in these representations of the Kwara'ae reflect the different religious ideologies and contrasting teachings and interventions of the two denominations.' (1990: 44) (13) Likewise, Gegeo and Watson-Gegeo (1996: 335, note 9) criticise Burt for presenting versions of the East Kwara'ae understanding of mamana--which, they emphasise, is a stative verb, the corresponding noun being mamana 'anga (1996: 305-8)--as the general Kwara'ae understanding. According to them, the Anglicans of west Kwara'ae attribute 'intrinsic power' and 'efficacy' as well as 'truth' to the concept of mamana'anga (1996: 306). Their portrayal of the difference in attitude between SSEC members and the Anglicans towards use and preservation of the Kwara'ae language (Watson-Gegeo and Gegeo 1991) further underlines the importance of sensitivity to denominational variance rather than assumes a shared exegesis for people of common cultural and linguistic background. This also accentuates the prudence in Tomlinson's proposal that Melanesian versions of Christianity should form a starting point for contemporary studies of mana (2006: 177).

Since Malaita has the relative advantage of being exposed to more anthropological studies than any other island in the region (Scott 2012: 135), ethnographers of Malaita are better positioned to conduct comparative inquiries like those implicit in the discussion between Burt, Keesing and Gegeo and Watson-Gegeo that observe denominational connections in addition to linguistic and ethnic boundaries. This approach should be cautiously extended into the rest of the south and central Solomon Islands and north Vanuatu where mana cognates are found. This would invite a redefinition of sub-regional cultural areas that in many cases transcend those established by more traditional markers, such as secret male cults, graded societies, hereditary chiefdoms and principles of unilineal descent (see Allen 1984)--many of which have lost their cultural centrality or have become essentialised through the process of deliberate kastom conservation. Such a redefinition would also contribute to the tempering of the national research paradigms that seem to have evolved after Solomon Islands and Vanuatu became independent nations, which, if unchecked, obscure the identification of common themes and complex variations across arbitrary political boundaries.

DOI: 10.1002/ocea.5027


The archive research for this article was made possible by grants from the project 'Identity matters - movement and place', directed by Ingjerd Hoem and funded by the Norwegian Research Council, which also funded my 25 months of ethnographic fieldworks on Mota between 1996 and the present date. Earlier versions of this article were presented at the Melanesian Research Seminar at the British Museum, organised by Lissant Bolton and Michael W. Scott; at the departmental seminar at CREDO in Marseilles; and at the session 'Mana: translations and transformations of a classic concept in anthropology' at the American Anthropological Association's annual meeting in November 2012, organised by Matthew Tomlinson and Ty Tengan. I am grateful for valuable input during these sessions. Terry Brown, Giovanni da Col, Carlos Mondragon, Michael W. Scott, Marc Tabani and Christina Toren have all provided valuable feedback en route. I reserve special thanks to Rick Feinberg and Oceania's anonymous reviewer for their careful readings and very useful advice. I claim full ownership to the obstinate shortcomings of this article.


AKIN, D. 2004. Ancestral Vigilance and the Corrective Conscience: Kastom as Culture in a Melanesian Society. Anthropological Theory 4: 299-324.

ALLEN, M. 1984. Elders, chiefs and big men: authority legitimation and political evolution in Melanesia. American Ethnologist 11: 20-41.

ARMSTRONG, E.S. 1900. The Melanesian Mission. London: Isbister and Company Ldt.

BLUST, R. 2007. Proto-Oceanic *mana revisited. Oceanic Linguistics 46: 404-23.

BURT, B. 1988. A-bu'a'i Kwara'ae: the meaning of tabu in a Solomon Islands society. Mankind 18 (2): 74-89. 1990. Kwara'ae conceptions of abu: a reply to Roger Keesing. The Australian Journal of Anthropology 1: 48-49. 1994. Tradition & Christianity. Chur: Harwood Academic Publishers.

CODRINGTON, R.H. 1881. Religious Beliefs and Practices in Melanesia. In The Journal for the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 10:261-316.

1885. The Melanesian Languages. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

1891. The Melanesians. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

1896. Preface. In R.H. Codrington and J. Palmer A Dictionary of the Language of Mota, pp. v-ix. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

DA COL, G. 2012. Introduction: Natural philosophies of fortune - Luck, vitality, and uncontrolled relatedness. Cosmologies of fortune, special issue Social Analysis 56: 1-24.

DA COL, G., and D. GRAEBER 2011. Foreword: The return of ethnographic theory. HAU Journal of ethnographic theory 1 (1): vi-xxxv.

DARCH, J.H. 2009. Missionary Imperialists? Eugene, Or.: Wipf & Stock

DAVIDSON, ALLAN K. 1993. Selwyn's Legacy. Auckland: College of St. John The Evangelist.

2000. Culture and ecclesiology: the Church Missionary Society and New Zealand. In K. Ward and B. Stanley (eds) The Church Mission Society and worm Christianity 1799-1999, pp. 198-227. Richmond (Surrey): Curzon Press.

2011. Selwyn as Missionary and Colonial Bishop. In A. Davidson (ed.) A Controversial Churchman, pp. 46-66. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books.

FEINBERG, R. 1996. Sanctity and power on Anuta: Polynesian chieftainship revisited. In R. Feinberg and K.A. Watson-Gegeo (eds) Leadership and change in the Western Pacific, pp. 56-92. London and Atlantic Highlands, NJ: The Athlone Press.

1998. Oral traditions of Anuta. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

2002. Elements of leadership in Oceania. Anthropological Forum 12: 9-44.

2004. Anuta. Long Grove, Ill: Waveland Press.

FIRTH, R. 1963 [1936]. We, the Tikopia. Boston: Beacon Press.

1959. Social Change in Tikopia. London: George Allen & Unwin.

1967. Tikopia Ritual and Belief. Boston: Beacon Press.

1970. Rank and Religion in Tikopia. Boston: Beacon Press.

FRANCOIS, A. forthcoming. Shadows of bygone lives. The history of spiritual worlds in northern Vanuatu. In Robert Mailhammer (ed.) Lexical and structural etymology: Beyond word histories. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

GEERTZ, C. 1973. The interpretation of cultures. New York: Basic Books.

GEGEO, D., and K. WATSON-GEGEO, 1996. Priest and Prince. Integrating Kastom, Christianity and modernization in Kwara'ae Leadership. In R. Feinberg and K.A. Watson-Gegeo (eds) Leadership and change in the Western Pacific, pp. 298-342. London and Atlantic Highlands, NJ: The Athlone Press.

HENARE, A., M. HOLBRAAD, and S. WASTELL (eds), 2007. Thinking through things. London and New York: Routledge.

HESS, S. 2009. Person and place. New York and Oxford: Berghahn.

HILLIARD, D. 1978. God's gentlemen. A history of the Melanesian Mission 1849-1942. St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press.

KEESING, R.M. 1968. Chiefs in a chiefless society: The ideology of modern Kwaio politics. Oceania, 38: 276-80.

1982a. Kwaio Religion. New York: Columbia University Press.

1982b. Kastom and anticolonialism on Malalta: 'Culture' as political symbol. Mankind 13: 357-73.

1984. Rethinking mana. In Journal of Anthropological Research 40: 137-56.

1985. Killers, big men, and priests on Malaita: Reflections on a Melanesian troika system. Ethnology 24: 237-52.

1987. Anthropology as interpretive quest. In Current Anthropology 28: 161-76.

1989a. Creating the past: Custom and identity in the contemporary Pacific. Contemporary Pacific 1: 19-42.

1989b. Exotic readings of cultural texts. In Current Anthropology 30: 459-79.

1990. Kwara'ae conceptions of abu: a further note. The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 1: 44-47.

1992. Some Problems in the Study of Oceanic Religion. Anthropologica 34: 231-46.

KEESING, R.M., and R. TONKINSON (eds), 1982. Reinventing traditional culture: The politics of kastom in Melanesia. Special issue of Mankind.

KIRCH, EV., and R.C. GREEN 2001. Hawaiki, Ancestral Polynesia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

KOLSHUS, T.S. 2007. We, the Anglicans. An ethnogrophy of empowering conversions in a Melanesian island society. Ph.d.-thesis, University of Oslo.

KOLSHUS, T.S., forthcoming 2014. House upon Pacific sand: W.H.R. Rivers and his 1908 ethnographic 'survey work'. In C. Berg and E. Hviding (eds) The ethnographic experiment: Rivers and Hocart in the Solomon Islands, 1908. Oxford: Berghahn.

KOLSHUS, T.S., and E. HOVDHAUGEN 2010. Reassessing the Death of Bishop John Coleridge Patteson. Journal of Pacific History, 45: 331-55.

LATOUR, B. 2005. Reassembling the social. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

LEVI-STRAUSS, C. 1950. Introduction a l'oeuvre de Marcel Mauss. In M. Manss (ed) Sociologie et Anthropologie, pp. ix-xviv. Paris: Les Presses Universitaires de France.

LIEN, M., and J. LAW 2011. 'Emergent aliens'. On salmon, nature, and their enactment. Ethnos 76: 65-87.

MACCLANCY, J. 1986. Mana: an anthropological metaphor for island Melanesia. Oceania 57: 142-53.

MAUSS, M. 1972. A general theory of magic. London and New York: Routledge Classics.

MCDOUGALL, D. 2009. Becoming Sinless: Converting to Islam in the Solomon Islands. American Anthropologist 111: 480-91.

MELANESIAN MISSION, 1858. Report of the Melanesian Mission. Auckland: Diocese of New Zealand.

MONDRAGON, C. 2004. Of winds, worms and mana: the traditional calendar of the Torres Islands, Vanuatu. Oceania 74: 289-308.

SALMOND, A. 1989. Tribal words, tribal worlds: The translatability of tapu and mana. In M. Marshall and J.L. Caughey (eds) Culture, kin and cognition in Oceania: Essays in honour of Ward H. Goodenough, pp. 55-78. American Anthropological Association Special Publication No. 25. Washington, DC: American Anthropological Association.

SCOTT, M.W. 2007. The severed snake. Durham. NC: Carolina Academic Press. 2012. The Matter of Makira: Colonialism, competition, and the production of gendered Peoples in contemporary

Solomon Islands and medieval Britain. History and Anthropology 23:115-148.

SCOTT, M.W. and T. KOLSHUS (eds), n.d. A see of islands. Proposed special issue of Journal of Pacific History.

SHORE, B. 1989. Mana and tapu. In A. Howard and R. Borofsky (eds) Developments in Polynesian Ethnology, pp. 137-74. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

STOCKING, G.W. JR 1995. After Tylor. British social anthropology 1888-1951. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

TAYLOR, J.P 2008. The other side. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

TOMLINSON, M. 2006. Retheorizing mana: Bible Translation and discourse of loss in Fiji. Oceania 76:173 85.

2007. Mana in Christian Fiji: The Interconversion of Intelligibility and Palpability. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 75: 524-53.

2009a. In God's image. The metaculture of Fijian Christianity. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press.

2009b. Efficacy, Truth, and Silence: Language Ideologies in Fijian Christian Conversions. Comparative Studies in Society and History. 51 : 64-90.

TOMLINSON, M. and M. MAKIHARA 2009. New paths in the linguistic anthropology of Oceania. Annual review of anthropology 38:17-31.

TOREN, C. 1995. Seeing the ancestral sites: Transformations in Fijian notions of the land. In E. Hirsch and M. O'Hanlon (eds) The anthropology of landscape, pp. 163-83. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

2005. Laughter and truth in Fiji: What we may learn from a joke. Oceania 75: 268-83.

TURNER, V. 1967. The forest of symbols. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

VIVEIROS DE CASTRO, E. 1998. Cosmological deixis and Amerindian perspectivism. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 4: 469-88.

2004. Exchanging perspectives: the transformation of objects into subjects in Amerindian ontologies. Common Knowledge 10: 463-84.

WATSON-GEGEO, K.A., and D.W. GEGEO 1991. The impact of church affiliation on language use in Kwara'ae (Solomon Islands). Language in Society 20: 533-55.

WHITE, G.M. 1991. Identity, through history. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

WILLIAMS, PETER 2000. 'Not transplanting': Henry Venn's strategic vision. In K. Ward and B. Stanley (eds) The Church Mission Society and world Christianity 1799-1999, pp. 147-72. Richmond (Surrey): Curzon Press.

Thorgeir Kolshus

University of Oslo


(1.) In a forthcoming article, linguist Alexandre Franqois, who for many years has conducted research in the Banks and Torres islands as well as the Temotu of the Solomon Islands that constitute the Anglican core area, writes: 'In various Oceanic languages, mana is a verb meaning "be efficacious, be true, be potent" (Keesing 1985: 203); yet in northern Vanuatu, the use of mana as a verb is marginal [...] In the Torres-Banks area, the principal use of *mana is as a noun, referring to a magical force that is present in certain places, objects, or individuals.' (Francois: forthcoming) Even though other linguists point out that what constitutes a 'noun' has not been adequately defined, and in spite of Firth's cautious remark concerning how grammatical typologies formed to approach European languages might not be the way to approach this issue (1967: 175-76), Francois's point nevertheless refutes the general validity Keesing claimed for his linguistic argument.

(2.) A notable exception is Raga, the northern part of Pentecost Island and the southernmost reach of the original Anglican mission domain. They were introduced to the Christian Gospel by the Mota teacher Thomas Ulgau, who started his work in 1878. He produced a translation of the Book of Common Prayer in 1882 (in addition to subsequent linguistic work), where he did not use mana-cognates in translating the aspects of the Bible and the liturgy that in English is rendered by 'power'. Today, in spite of a range of terms that people themselves hold is of Mota origin, there is no concept in Sia Raga that resembles mana phonemically (Taylor 2008).

(3.) I am grateful to Christian Kaufmann for pointing this out.

(4.) This has a parallel in pre-colonial Fiji, where the Polynesian influence made its mark particularly in the eastern parts, buttressed by Tongan military power. According to Tomlinson, this was a key factor in the nominalisation of Fijian mana (2006: 177).

(5.) This is counter to Firth, who holds that such long journeys were due to navigational errors or unfavourable winds and currents (1959: 38) in spite of a distinct cultural proclivity for adventurousness (1963 [1936]: 18-21). During his first fieldwork in 1928, Firth mentions that there were only a handful old men who had first-hand geographical knowledge of other islands than Anuta and Vanikoro (1959: 49) but these nonetheless include the impressive range of Gilbert Islands/Kiribati, Uvea, Rotuma, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji, while Firth seems to be disappointed by the Tikopia seemingly not being familiar with Tahiti and Hawaii and only vaguely aware of New Zealand. However, Firth could not access much of the original archive material written in the Mota language, which describes apparently well-planned expedition-style voyages. He also somewhat surprisingly fails to consider the impact of the Solomon Islands colonial prohibition of inter-island voyaging and the regulations against crossing the political border between the British Solomon Islands Protectorate, of which Tikopia was the southernmost island, and the Condominium of the New Hebrides, both of which would reduce the frequency of such expeditions. In the MM periodical Southern Cross Log between 1890 and 1920, there are nevertheless numerous descriptions of such voyages. A most spectacularly entertaining story can be found in Southern Cross Log ((Aus/NZ edition) 1915: 494).

(6.) Tikopia itself harboured a number of castaways. William Rivers' key informant, John Maresere, from Urea/Wallis Island, had been taken adrift and lived on Tikopia for twenty years (Firth 1963 [1936]: xviii; Kolshus 2014). The MM periodical describes six Fijians, who followed the Mission's ship back to Fiji after being thrown off course (Southern Cross Log (Aus/NZ edition) 1915: 494).

(7.) A more tangible reminder is found in the plaited coconut frond mat known as 'o non ta Sepia'. Unlike 'o non tamennina', 'our type of mat', 'the mat from Tikopia' has one central bulge, which makes it much quicker to finish but less comfortable to lie on.

(8.) In 1916, three newly baptised Tikopians went with Bishop Cecil Wood to their cousins on Anuta, leading to the wholesale conversion of this island after a cyclone hit them a few months later (Feinberg 2004: 31, see also 1998: 259-62).

(9.) During Firth's fieldwork in 1966, he notices that Mota is still widely used in the Tikopia Church, counter to repeated episcopal instruction decrees that they replace Mota with English, which finally substituted Mota as the MMs lingua franca in 1931. On Anuta, a few elderly still know the Mota language (Rick Feinberg, personal communication).

(10.) Highly interesting testimony of the impact of the Mota language is apparent in the ethno-etymologies on Tikopia (Firth 1967: 184) and Anuta (Feinberg 1996: 63) regarding what in most other Polynesian languages is a semantic distinction between mana, 'power' and manuu, 'luck'.

(11.) Ira tatasiu is Mota for 'group of same-sex siblings', but is used by Anglicans elsewhere in a gender-specific way.

(12.) In the same commentary, Keesing seems to have changed his mind regarding the importance, and indeed even possibility, of reaching untainted cultural origins: 'My point is not to valorize an "authentic" traditional Kwara'ae (or Kwaio) culture as it might have existed in the (mythical) ethnographic present. It is partly to stress the futility of the search for cultural authenticity to which out [sic] ethnographic commitments lead us, and to emphasise an emerging theoretical engagement with the way the "traditional" has been cast and re-cast oppositionally in contemporary ideologies.' (1990: 45, emphasis in original) Burt's reply (1990) does not challenge these by-now quite obvious points (cf. Akin 2004).

(13.) He also seems to anticipate the impact of the several-decades long presence of Jehova's Witnesses, who had successfully proselytised among the SSEC Kwara'ae (1990: 47, note 2).
COPYRIGHT 2013 Blackwell Publishing Limited, a company of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2013 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Kolshus, Thorgeir
Geographic Code:80OCE
Date:Nov 1, 2013
Previous Article:Gifts from the other side: thresholds of hospitality and morality in an Eastern Indonesian town.
Next Article:Images of the Wildman in Southeast Asia: An Anthropological Perspective.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters