The Lost Tribes of Israel - and the genesis of Christianity in Fiji: missionary notions of Fijian origin from 1835 to cession and beyond.
one of the sons of Sheeva and King Solomon had visited his father in Ethiopia and requested that he be given the Ark, to take on a journey. His father refused but his son tricked him and with the help of his mother acquired the Ark and proceeded on a long and treacherous journey by boat to the Pacific.
The Solomon Islands were also named after this legend, where he passed before arriving to Mana where the treasure is believed to have been buried or lost in a storm. The son who brought the 'box of blessings' to Mana Island is believed to be the Fijian connection to Africa and where its ancestry lies hidden (email Karidi 2011).
A third account tells of a woman of Fijian chiefly heritage whose family worshipped as Jews and asserted that her family's tribe had been started by Jews who had come to Fiji hundreds of years ago. Her father, a former Member of Parliament, was the first Fijian to go to a Jewish university (email Brown 2013; for a further example, see Jones, this issue).
If certain clans of Fijians claim Jewish heritage as literal fact, the idea of the Lost Tribes played a part in political discourses in Fiji. In the 1987 coups, Sitivini Rabuka, military commander and Methodist lay preacher, portrayed Fijians as a chosen people and saw his role as critical in promoting Christianity as the religion of Fiji. While Rabuka staged coups in Parliament, Manasa Lasaro conducted a parallel coup in the Methodist Church, arguing that, 'Fiji is a holy land and its people a holy people demanding holy government for all' (Garrett 1990). The coup was 'the will of God' to 'free Fijians from bondage' from 'heathen races' (Ratuva 1999:148-9). Allusions to Moses and the Lost Tribes resonated with popular thinking among many Fijians that they were descended from a Lost Tribe of Israel (Dropsy 1993). They evoked a lineage linking Fijians back to Israel and Egypt, and descended from Noah, but also had the emotional pull of Exodus, of a people whose land has been taken from them (a threat that many Fijians thought they were facing at the time).
Fijian clans often make these genealogical linkages to the Lost Tribes on the basis of a Fijian narrative known as the Kaunitoni Migration, which tells the story of how three chiefs came from the west to Fiji and then traversed Viti Levu from Vuda on the west coast to Verata on the east (Thomson 1895, 1968). Over the course of the 20th century, the narrative has been elaborated to claim Fijian origins in Lake Tanganyika in Eastern Africa and other more ancient connections with the Middle-East (e.g., Tuwere 2002), which have become a mark of authenticity for certain clans of Fijians. It tends to be assumed that this imagery was a consistent part of the Fijian rhetoric since missionaries first arrived--especially as the people claimed to be descended from Jewish ancestry were supposed to have settled in Fiji at least a couple of hundred years ago--but it is not.
Certainly, the trope of the Lost Tribes was circulating elsewhere in the Pacific, and was sometimes used by indigenous peoples to counter the claims of European explorers and settlers. For instance, by the time the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840, the Maori began to see themselves in a position like that of the Israelites in Egypt, under the power of foreign rule in their own land. As early as 1845, Maori leaders compared themselves to the persecuted children of Israel. In a speech to Charles Davis in 1869, the chief Te Aroha referred to the landlessness of his race, saying, 'We are like wandering Israelites without a Home'. Another leader, Reihana Te Aroha, also referred to that period as 'the abomination of desolation spoken about by Daniel, the prophet' (Elsmore 2000:72). By 1861, one community was following Mosaic Law to the extent of punishing cursing, adultery, and witchcraft with stoning.
Initially, Fijians seem to have responded differently to biblical teachings. While clans certainly mobilised against colonial administrators and the influx of settlers (and, at times, against the missionaries themselves), they did not appear to be using the trope of the Lost Tribes nor the idea that they were descended from biblical peoples. Despite later claims that Fijians have Jewish or quasi-Jewish origins (e.g., Tippett 1944), the historical record indicates that these ideas seem to have only emerged after Fiji was ceded to Britain in 1874, and then at least 10 to 20 years afterwards. Indeed, it becomes clear that, in the early period of contact, Fijians did not use Christianity as a language of protest, but rather as a language of engagement in what was indubitably a vastly unequal power arrangement. For those Fijians prepared to negotiate with the missionaries or at least to tolerate them, Christianity was associated with medicine, literacy in both Fijian and English, the printing press, and gun powder (Henderson 1931). The language of Christianity enabled access to European knowledge and technology.
However, the tenor of these relationships began to change after Fiji was ceded to Britain in 1874. The colonial administration began to perceive Navosavakadua as a threat because he had 'stirred up a movement ... based upon a very ingenious compounding of Fijian mythology and belief with the teachings of Old and New Testaments' (Carew, cited in Kaplan 1990:6) in the late 1870s. Although it is unclear whether Navosavakadua and his followers were claiming descent from the Lost Tribes at that stage (a point I take up later), Fijian genealogies to Africa were published in narratives about the Kaunitoni Migration from the 1890s.
In noting the academic fascination with so-called cargo cults, Martha Kaplan asks: 'In seeking to study millenarianism, why have scholars problematized the "Tuka cult" rather than the massive Fijian Christian conversion of the 1830s-1850s?' (Kaplan 1990:4). For this paper, I problematise the conditions of the transmission of Christianity in this early period by focusing on the way in which missionaries conceived of their own project and how this was increasingly influenced by notions of origins that had emerged in the 19th century discourses of science. I reconstruct early missionary knowledge and attitudes through an examination of some of their writings, the parts of the Bible they taught, and how such teachings were being used from the inception of Christianity (particularly Wesleyan Methodism) in the 1830s until its routinisation in the 1860s and 1870s. I argue that Christianity and science together provided a grammar, a logical structure, through which many Fijians came to strongly identify with the Old Testament to the extent of claiming descent from the Lost Tribes.
The evidence challenges any assumption that conversion had the same meanings for Fijians as for the English missionaries; but it also problematises the notion that Fijians have 'always' considered themselves Lost Tribes. Additionally, it directly challenges representations of missionaries as oppositional and external to the questions in the newly emerging scientific discourses about origins. Further, although missionary discourses and their impact are often represented now as uniform and homogeneous in much the same way as colonial discourses (see Thomas 1994), this paper attempts to reflect the very different interests of individual missionaries, which, at first, had little to do with origins.
FIJIANS AND HEBREWS
Although the earliest missionaries to visit Fiji were Tahitians who evangelised for the London Missionary Society, accounts suggest that their work was not terribly successful. The Wesleyan missionaries, William Cross and David Cargill, followed them, arriving in Lakeba, an outer island of Eastern Fiji, in 1835 with their wives (Thornley 2005). (3) After an emotional plea was made back in Britain, John Hunt, Thomas Jaggar, other missionaries and their wives began arriving from 1838 onwards (Calvert 2010). During this time, the missionaries' exploration and evangelism took them around the Fiji Islands. While they had initially entered Fiji from Lakeba and other islands in the outer eastern reaches of Fiji, it was not long before they ventured to Bau and Rewa, and eventually set up a mission station in Rewa on the main island of Viti Levu. A second station was set up in Somosomo at the southern-most tip of Taveuni.
Historian, Andrew Thornley, notes '[t]he first generation of Christian teachers in Fiji was almost exclusively Tongan born' or had Tongan parents (Thornley 2002:20), an indication of the fact that there were many Tongans in Fiji at the time, especially on Vanua Levu and throughout the Eastern islands. Because missionary efforts had been relatively successful in parts of Tonga prior to arrival in Fiji, Tongans living in Fiji had a longer exposure to Christianity. Due to the small number of British missionaries, the native assistant missionaries set up mission stations and on Vanua Levu, which the British missionaries visited. For instance, Hunt travelled extensively, living in Rewa and Somosomo and travelling around Viti Levu and Vanua Levu on various ships (Thornley 2004). In the early days, the only region the missionaries did not attempt to visit was inland Viti Levu because the tribes there were overtly antagonistic to Christianity due to the mission's increasingly close association with the Bauan paramount chief, Cakobau. The missionaries attempted to learn the various Fijian dialects they encountered as quickly as they could and, just as quickly, began to translate the Bible. In this way, although the missionaries had little money or means, their influence into Fijian social and cultural life was surprisingly broad-reaching.
The earliest discussions of Fijian religion being similar to Judaism are reportedly from missionary John Hunt's observations. The passage most often quoted comes from Mary Wallis, an American captain's wife who stayed with Hunt in the 1840s. She reports Hunt as describing a number of characteristics that 'clearly show that the Feejeeans [sic] have derived their religious ideas from the same source as the Jews' (Wallis 1986:32). The most 'remarkable' example she notes is the existence of prophets and priests in Fijian religion, and, further, the fact that prophets were called 'mirai' (a word based on the verb 'to see') and which appears to be similar to the Hebrew 'roeh' which also means 'seer'. Both ideas are related to seeing visions, particularly of destruction. (4)
However enthusiastic the exchange between Hunt and Wallis, it appears that Hunt did not pursue this train of thought for long. Hunt had a limited basis for comparison as he had only lived in England and Fiji; and his ideas of Israel were transmitted solely through the Bible. He did not know about the other regional cultures which may have given him alternative comparisons to evaluate the practices he witnessed. He also lived with Thomas Williams who had very different ideas and it seems very likely that they would have discussed these. Indeed, while Hunt may have spoken to his contemporaries about how similar Fijian practices were to those of the Hebrews, he never wrote about this at any length (5); rather, others seem to have emphasised these comparisons and anachronistically and retrospectively read back into the few existing quotations.
First published in the 1850s, Williams' study, Fiji and the Fijians, is possibly the earliest scholarly account of Fiji, and it anticipated the theories of later missionaries such as Fison and Rooney in arguing: '[t]here can be little doubt of the Fijians' connection with the darker races of Asia' (Williams 2010:14). Although showing a cursory interest in origins, Williams is quite clear that Fijians have no direct relationship with Africa and the Middle-East. The only time he does allude to Hebrew tradition is when he compares the excitement with which Fijian women greet returning warriors. Yet Williams also finds similarities between Fijian clubs and those of the Kaffir, terraced dalo and English celery beds, the axe or adze and the celt of the English forefathers, Fijian wigs and those in France and England, and techniques in sailing and building boats 'like the felucca of the Mediterranean' (Williams 2010:75). In short, he makes no special case that Fijians are like Jews; but uses analogy to help readers understand and familiarise themselves with Fijian practices. Clearly, while aspects of Fijian culture may have resembled Hebrew practices (and therefore may have aided in the Fijian reception of the Old Testament, a point I take up later), other practices also resembled rites and rituals and echoed word usage equally or more so from elsewhere in the world. (6)
That the earliest missionaries did not write very much at all about origins seems to reflect the fact that they were not greatly interested in them, although Hunt construed this as a characteristic of Fijians, who, he initially argued, 'knew nothing of their past and that their origins and history were "a profound secret to them" ' (Thornley 2004:333). Instead, missionary writings from this period suggest that the missionaries were most concerned with: teaching that the Christian God is superior to all other gods; halting practices of polygamy, wife-strangling, and cannibalism; and ensuring the failure of Roman Catholicism. If the analogies they used were not commonly made to support ideas about origins, the earliest mention of Fijian origins appears to be the comments of Horatio Hale, an American philologist who visited Fiji on Charles Wilkes' expedition in the late 1830s and early 1840s, but they are neither focused nor systematic. Rather, he simply compares Fijian political entities to those of ancient Greece at war, and observes that Fijians appeared to have borrowed their religious ideas from Polynesians and that Fijian 'mythology appears to be also of Tongan derivation' (Hale 1846:51). He describes the Fijian snake god, Degei, and notes that, according to his informants, men and women were created by Degei.
If ideas about origin were little more than a discussion point for the earliest missionaries, it is nonetheless clear that their teachings of specific parts of the Old Testament were absorbed very deeply into certain aspects of Fijian cultural life. The fact that Old Testament narratives had been taught in Tonga before the missionaries reached Fiji appears to have been an important factor in the way that Christianity was transmitted. During his seven years in Tonga, William Cross, one of the earliest Wesleyan missionaries to Fiji, had already preached sermons which alluded to Jehovah's power over all other gods--such as a story from the book of Daniel which describes three persecuted Hebrews and the fall of Sodom--in the hope of persuading Tongans to renounce their gods. Cross also discussed these stories with the paramount chief of Nuku'alofa, Tupou, who when later baptised 'took the name of Josiah, after the king of Judah in the seventh century B.C., whose religious reformation included the destruction of the gods of Baal' (Thornley 2005:39).
With the same rationale, Cross also began translating parts of the Bible into Tongan, choosing to translate, 'the books of the prophet Samuel which were partly concerned with the lifestyle of people in rebellion against Jehovah' (Thornley 2005:45) and 'Elijah's struggle with the priests of Baal' (Thornley 2005:35). Together, by the end of 1832, the missionaries had translated a number of stories from the Old Testament as well as the Gospels. These included Genesis, Psalms and Proverbs, and parts of Exodus, Joshua and Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah and Jeremiah, several of the lesser prophets, the Acts of Apostles, and Epistles.
Arriving in Lakeba, one of the far-eastern islands of Fiji, Cross and Cargill initially led services in Tongan and noted that half the congregation was Fijian. Tongans remained numerically dominant among the converts in those first years, although Cross remarked that many of them were only nominally Christian. Within five years of Cross and Cargill's arrival, missionaries began producing translations in Fijian dialects. Cross produced a translation of Genesis ready for printing by 1831 and the entire Bible became available for teachers, catechists, and ministers by 1866 (Thornley 2002, 2005). Therefore, there were two important factors which aided the absorption of the Old Testament: that Tongans familiar with Old Testament narratives were moving in and out of Fiji; and that the missionaries found it necessary to prepare their congregations for the New Testament by introducing them to translations of Genesis and other Old Testament narratives at the same time as they taught the Gospel.
Conversions, gods, and change
The English missionaries were Wesleyan Methodists and therefore evangelical in style, holding highly emotional 'love feasts' in which sermons were fiery and converts gave testimonies. Hunt, for instance, is recorded as holding a prayer meeting on Viwa Island in 1845 'with frequent scenes of praying, weeping, shouting, fainting and dancing' (Thornley 2004:341) in which some had to be physically restrained. This emotional style was sustained in the teaching of the assistant missionaries. Hunt quotes one assistant missionary named Noa as saying, T do not hide from them the anger of the Lord. I make known to them that do not lotu [follow Christianity] the fire of hell and to them that lotu the love of our Lord Jesus Christ and his anger also' (Thornley 2004:322). Hunt then described Noa thus: 'He is all on fire, sometimes so filled with love that his body can scarcely bear it. He weeps and cries aloud in the bush, sometimes like a man deranged, but his whole spirit and conduct, his zeal and consistency show that he has fully come to himself' (Thornley 2004:323). This emotional conversion was the first part of the Methodist doctrine after which adherents were expected to undergo the much slower and potentially life-long process of sanctification (Brown, personal communication, 8/01/2014; Thornley 2002).
Thornley tells us that in these years the focus was on the development of 'Wesleyan church membership, family and community life, mission personnel, self-support, education, and Bible translation' (Thornley 2002:184). When a chief was about to convert, a messenger would bring sticks which represented the number of people who would convert with him. A teacher appointed to the village would bring followers into groups of about a dozen people for Bible study and prayer. Adults had to renounce polygamy and agree to be married in the Christian tradition to be baptised. Children could only be baptised when their parents were married. Converts were questioned on their understanding of marriage and baptism. On baptism, they were given tickets for three months and attended classes. Notes Thornley, 'the classes formed the cornerstone of the church and the model for their vision of society, the "New Jerusalem" ' (Thornley 2002:186). About a quarter of Christians were full members in the years around 1860.
Converts were faced with two stages of conversion: first, to renounce their paganism and submit to the Christian God; and then, to undergo a process of spiritual growth which might take an entire lifetime, leading to sanctification or perfection. Sanctification required a high standard of disciplined conduct in which 'lying, engaging in war, adultery, theft, wife-beating, drunkenness, fighting' (Thornley 2002:186) were prohibited. Later, native dancing, kava drinking, and not being properly dressed were added to the list of taboos. However, as the missionaries soon realised, to preach and to be converted belonged to two very separate moments. The speed of Fijian conversion to Christianity and the effectiveness of the missionaries' message have been long and heatedly debated. John Hunt himself acknowledged different levels of conversion he witnessed in Fijians, writing:
The work of conversion has been going on among our people gradually during the last 3 years. You are aware that there are generally two conversions--one from Heathenism to Christianity as a system, a second from sin to God. Both of these are of the greatest importance. Without the first there is no hope of the second. We seldom witness anything like penitence in a heathen. Generally it is not until they have professed Christianity for some time that they sincerely seek the Lord (cited in Henderson 1931:126).
Such an admission was one of many factors which led G.C. Henderson, a historian who viewed the missionaries as interfering, narrow-minded, obstinate, and lacking in cultural knowledge and all the early conversions as 'merely nominal or formal' (Henderson 1931:126), to a damning conclusion about the entire missionary enterprise in Fiji:
It is clear, then, that up to the middle of 1840 the Gospel of Christ as preached by the missionaries had failed to make a single genuine convert in the Leeward Islands of the archipelago, and the reason is that it was quite beyond their comprehension, just as were the sermons on repentance, justification by faith, holy living and dying, spiritual regeneration and the like. There was nothing in the religion of Fijians that enabled them to appreciate the meaning or the importance of these things. What they did understand and believe in was the existence of gods who had the power both to confer favours upon them and to do them harm. Herein lies the explanation not only of the failure of the Gospel, but also of the measure of success which the missionaries achieved by the use of extraneous aids such as the threat of hell-fire; the possession and sale of British goods; the use of British medicine that could cure diseases without incantations; the printing press that made those wonderful books that had strange marks inside them by which people could talk to others far away; the protection they enjoyed from those 'islands of the sea' mounted with powerful guns and carrying spirits that soared up into the air, burst into flames and sparks, and then, like spirits, disappeared. The God who gave all these things to the white man must be a powerful God: powerful to confer favours as well to inflict injury and death; and it was the god of power they had been trained all their lives to respect, fear and understand (Henderson 1931:109-110).
While obviously antagonistic to the missionary project, the importance of Henderson's views is that he upends the tradition of hagiography and emphasises the technologies the missionaries brought and the military force which accompanied and, at times, supported them. His paternalistic views, which tended to represent Fijians as children, were later strongly contested by Tippett, an Australian Methodist minister who desired to see the Methodist Church of Fiji indigenised. Tippett argued that conversion necessitates culture change in both the people and the institution: that it was a two-way process rather than simply one way, and therefore that Christianity in Fiji does not need to look the same as Christianity elsewhere. For Tippett, it was enough that the Fijian tradition of first fruits was similar in concept to that of the Hebrews, and that Fijians were beginning to use Christian themes in their own chants and hymns (Tippett 1980).
However, it is not so much the extent to which Fijians were 'nominally' or 'really' converted that interests me here: but the way in which concepts in one culture were translated and transported into a second very different culture in an ambiguous and changing power relationship, with the result that the Fijian meanings of Christianity were often vastly different from what was intended. To begin with, Wesleyan Methodism was aligned with the rule of Cakobau, the paramount chief, and therefore became a religion of authority rather than a religion of the meek. In addition, within this context, the proliferations of what some called 'misunderstandings'--but which otherwise may be interpreted as the local creativity with tropes, concepts, and practices of Christianity--were in part the result of the tiny number of English missionaries working to convert Fijians, (7) that the complete Bible was often not available, and that there were difficulties of translating some of the biblical concepts. (8) More than this, Fijians were creatively adapting Christianity in an attempt to assimilate it into Fijian understandings and make it relevant for their own ends in a context where Christianity was associated with the power of one chiefdom in particular.
Responses to Christianity were not uniform, among or even within villages. After 1865, political rebellions rose against the paramount chiefdom of Bau in the attempt to expel Christianity. In another episode, a pagan priestess 'led an attack on the Christian village of Kumi' (Thornley 2002:17). Within villages, chiefs could decide whether their people converted or not. For example, the warrior chief, Tui'ila'ila, allowed the missionaries to preach but prohibited his people from converting (Thornley 2004:127). Yet a chief could not always rely on the obedience of his people, as demonstrated by the fishermen who built a pagan temple in direct disobedience to their Christian chief in Verata in 1855 (Thornley 2002). In this way, the historical record shows that resistance to Christianity ranged from villages rising against the clans the missionaries were associated with, to a variety of commands, resistances, and negotiations between chiefs and their peoples, and, in one very famous instance, ending in the killing and eating of the missionary, Thomas Baker.
By contrast, Joseph Waterhouse wrote that, on hearing about Christianity, worshippers of the snake god, Degei, asserted that 'Degei is the true God: Jehovah is the true God: Therefore Jehovah is Degei' (Waterhouse 1997:211). Whether Waterhouse's observations are interpreted in terms of preparedness to accept outside elements or, as Waterhouse would have it, of their awe towards white technological superiority, the evidence suggests that significant numbers of Fijians were actively interested in Wesleyan Methodism. Apart from love feasts, in some areas Christian concepts had already been transmitted in Tongan, and there were superficial indications that the Old Testament stories were being absorbed, appearing, for instance, in the baptismal names many native assistant missionaries and teachers chose. Such names included Elijah, Josua, Nebuchadnezzar, Mosese, Noa, although once again the choices of names sometimes affirm the fact that Fijians did not necessarily interpret the Biblical tales in the way the missionaries intended. One example was the chief who was baptised Goliath because of his size (Thornley 2002).
As indicated by the baptismal names, the Old Testament had more appeal than the New. Many of the Old Testament narratives have themes that could be understood across the cultures such as its agricultural descriptions and the narratives about flood and drought (Tippett 1980). As in Tonga, the concept of holiness came to be associated with Fijian concepts of 'supernaturally sanctioned prohibitions' (Garrett 1990:101), protected by law and fear. Further, Hunt was very quick to use Fijian idiom to help transmit the Christian message. Hymns were composed in local dialects using the form and rhythms of local poetry. Parts of the Old Testament such as the Ten Commandments and Psalms were chanted in the same way as Fijian working chants (Tippett 1980:12-39). Traditional practices were continued but had the Christian message overlaid. As a result, Christian practices overrode and partially erased existing practices or were added into existing practices in new and novel ways, so much so that Waterhouse 'observed that the people on Gau were becoming a "nation of bible-students", while on Nairai the chiefs were 'punishing any transgression of the law of God' (Thornley 2002:177).
As in New Zealand, some of the Old Testament stories were appropriated into oral narrative. Later these appropriations would be re-interpreted anachronistically by both emic and etic perspectives as having always been there. Yet when read in context with the time, some of these appropriations read like a search for common ground through which missionaries and their assistants could communicate shared ideas about the world in which they lived. In this search, biblical trope was part of the language of communication: Christianity was the system, the grammar, in which transcription occurred. As a result. Old Testament narratives became the lens through which Fijians could reflect upon their culture and translate it back into language that they thought the missionaries would understand. For example, one of the earliest transcriptions of oral narratives was written down by John Hunt, in 1845 under the title 'Fijian traditions of a flood supposed by some to be Noah's flood' (Thornley 2004; cf. Baleiwaqa 2003). The 'some' he refers to appears to include his native assistant who first told him this tale. It could be no accident that this particular native assistant was baptised Noa.
In other accounts, Degei is described as dismissed from heaven and imprisoned in a cave at Nakauvadra, or depicted as praying for waterspouts or throwing his club into the air to cause a deluge in a style reminiscent of Moses (Baleiwaqa 2003). Such was the mirroring of language and metaphor from the Old Testament in these narratives that in one of his earliest papers Tippett called the resemblance between them uncanny and deduced that there had been an early migration of quasi-Christians into Fiji (Tippett 1944). (9) Fifty years after the narratives of Degei were first recorded, another origin narrative that came to be known as the Kaunitoni Migration because it told of the arrival of several chiefs on a boat called the Kaunitoni from Africa, was written down for an essay competition in the Fijian newspaper, Na Mata.
Representations of origins that were written down by Fijians during and after the 1890s reflect a great interest in genealogy, possibly mirroring the extent that Fijian ideas were being influenced by the Old Testament's genealogical lists, missionaries' interests in origins, and, later, the documented pressures of the Land Commissions which had begun in 1874. This interest contrasts with earlier assertions from missionaries and colonial administrators that Fijians had a relatively shallow understanding of genealogy, and, as mentioned earlier, the early missionaries' lack of interest in origins and/or the Fijian lack of desire to share such knowledge. Moreover and significantly, Fijian interest in origins emerges around the same time missionaries and colonial administrators began to participate in scientific theories about origins.
Religion and science: the debate over origins
Missionary and colonial concern with origins appears to date from the 1860s but it took 30 years before certain tenets of diffusionism became central to many of these discussions. The 1860s were a period of consolidation for the missionaries, having completed the training of 38 indigenous ministers and establishing a theological college which, by 1861, was based in Kadavu. From its inception, missionaries taught Genesis and Exodus and, five years later, the focus was on Jewish history from Joshua to Job. In the latter half of the decade, the curriculum included theology, geography, natural history, church and general history, and, from 1868, 'industrial work' such as burning lime and chopping wood. After the theological college was moved to Navuloa in 1872, the curriculum was structured around theology based on both the Old and New Testaments, natural history, ancient history, and geography (Thornley 2002:222-478). Clearly, religion and science were being taught together and not as mutually opposing streams of ideas. Wesleyan missionaries in Fiji were not at all antagonistic to science but rather seemed to place themselves at the centre of its endeavour, especially when it came to collecting data for the emerging social sciences, including anthropology and linguistics.
Peter France and Paul Geraghty have suggested that it was at this time the idea that Fijians came from Egypt or Africa emerged and passed into Fijian oral narratives, and argue that Jesse Carey, the theological tutor from 1868, wrote a book, linking Fiji to Tanganyika in Africa on the premise that a few Fijian villages had the same names as towns around Lake Tanganyika. Apparently, Carey further compared Fijian and Theban customs and concluded that Fijians came from Thebe (France 1979; Geraghty 1977). Another source records that the Chairman of the Wesleyan mission thought that Fijians originally came from Turkistan to Africa (Baleiwaqa 2003). Comments of contemporary observers also indicate the fact that these ideas were being circulated. For instance, sea captain, Berthold Seeman, who visited Fiji in 1860, argued against 'the theory spinners who are always on the look-out for traces of lost tribes and particularly those who regard Fijians having come from Egypt' (Seeman 1973:398). However, if Carey was teaching that Fijians came from Egypt, his ideas were to change by 1870. By then, he was writing regularly to Lorimer Fison and, as a result, appears to have moved towards the notion of Fijians originating from India (Carey 1870a, 1870b).
A self-taught anthropologist, Fison was most influenced by the social evolutionary notions of Lewis Henry Morgan. History was thought to begin with communal promiscuity marked by matrilineal descent until it developed into individualised and patrilineal civilisation. Fison regarded Fijians at a level of evolution very close to the beginning of history, 'incapable of social and political improvement' (cited in Gardner 2008:142), and doomed to die out. Indeed, he used biblical analogy to describe the inevitable day 'when the Anglo-Saxon Jacob has fully supplanted the foolish Fijian Esau' (cited in Thornley 2002:360), a tale told in the Book of Genesis, itself near the beginning of biblical history.
Yet Fison did not believe that Fijians came from Egypt. After reading Morgan's analysis of the Iroquois, Tamil, and Telugu peoples' kinship, he concluded that the Fijian kinship system in Rewa (in the east of the main island of Viti Levu) was identical to the Tamil system (Gardner 2008; Stem 1930). He persuaded his fellow missionaries, Carey, Rowe, Tait, and Rooney to file schedules on language groups across Fiji, while he pursued the Bauan and Rewan kinship terms. Actively interested in Fison's work, Carey contributed to Fison's comparisons between Tamil and Fijian kinship systems and asked about Tamil mythology (Carey 1870a, 1870b). Carey then held a competition that required Fijians to write down and send descriptions of their best traditions, legends, and songs, in order to create 'a full account of their Bygone days now fast growing dimmer before the ... light of a New Religion and Civilization' (Carey 1872). Clearly, Carey had become fully convinced by the social evolutionism of Fison and Morgan.
However, Fison's own ideas about Fijian origins and the idea that Fijians could be categorised as one people were not rigid but seem to shift over the years. In a letter to Morgan in 1879, Fison problematises brother and sister marriage in various Fijian groups, theorises how change occurs (apparently responding to diffusionist theories in which change cannot occur unless influenced by outsiders), and suggests that it was probable that '[a]ll the tribes had formerly the Malayan system, but some advanced by natural causes acting upon them from within, while others were propelled by forces without' (Stern 1930:420). While such a claim seems to imply one migration, Fison published a paper on the sacred stone enclosures in central Viti Levu in 1885, discussing the similarities of practices of the Fijian people living in upper Wainimala River with a particular set of Aboriginal practices and noting that they were probably associated with the secret societies found throughout Melanesia. He continues, 'what we may call the Nanga tribes in Fiji are evidently, both in custom and in language, more Melanesian, so to speak, than the rest of the Fijians' (Fison 1885:30).
Intriguingly, Fison then goes on to describe what seems to be a version of the Kaunitoni Migration tradition--and this may well have been the very first time this narrative was transcribed:
According to their traditions they came into the hills from the West. Establishing themselves first at Nandi [sic], they made their way throughout the country shown in the map until they formed a connection with the southern coast at Korolevu. And the fact that they found the Kai Muaira in the Wainimala country before them shows that they were immigrants of a later date (Fison 1885:30).
He uses this narrative not to argue that Fijians came from Africa nor that they came in one migration as a ready-made people; but that Fiji was populated by a number of different migrations of people who later became known collectively as Fijians.
By this time, neither Carey nor Fison was teaching a literal biblical interpretation of descent. Carey was interested in Fison's work and Fison was responding to emerging scientific discourses about social evolution and diffusion, debates about when matrilineal descent gave way to patrilineal descent, and ideas about history involving the successive migrations of different peoples. A third missionary, Isaac Rooney, who was known to both Fison and Carey, collated and presented ideas in keeping with the diffusionist ideas of his missionary contemporaries around the region.
Like Fison, Rooney initially argues that Pacific Islanders came from India, but he sees them arriving as distinct groups of people. He begins his paper: 'The peoples of the Pacific represent two distinct migrations, and, although possibly from the same stock, the migrations were so far apart and the divergence is so marked that to-day they may be treated as two races' (Rooney 1908:616), being Melanesian and Polynesian. According to Rooney, Polynesians were the more superior and handsome but both were of Asiatic origin. The dark race (Melanesians) came from India, followed later by the brown race (Polynesians). He then ruminates on the ideas of Judge Fornander in the Sandwich Islands (Hawai'i) who argued that Polynesians originated in Beluchistan in the Persian Gulf, travelled through India and mixed with Dravidians, then journeyed to the Malay Archipelago, but were driven out, until about 'one thousand years ago they left Fiji and sailed to the east, peopling Tonga, Samoa and other groups to the eastward' (Rooney 1908:617). Rooney notes the evidence for these claims in ideas about the afterlife, the recurrence of names that seem to refer to the same thing or sound the same, and through the comparison of languages. Using the work of his contemporaries in the region, he further notes:
The Polynesian and Papuan languages appear to be of Aryan origin, with Semitic and Turanian elements. The Rev. George Pratt, 40 years resident in Samoa, in preparing a grammar of that language, was struck by the many points of similarity between the Hebrew and the Polynesian, so far as the grammar of the two languages is concerned. The Rev Dr Macdonald, of the New Hebrides, found so many Semitic words in use by the people of that group, that he regarded their language as of Semitic origin. I, on the other hand, could trace many of these words to Aryan roots; which is simply another proof of what is now an acknowledged scientific fact--the common origin of all languages (Rooney 1908:618).
Turning to religious practices, Rooney argues, 'At some time in their history, the Polynesians came in contact with the Hamitic race, and throughout the Pacific we find traces of the Cushite cult' (Rooney 1908:620), seeming to forget the impact that Christianity had on very many traditions in Fiji even before his arrival; or perhaps wanting to salvage the honour of contemporaries who continued to align Pacific Island descent with biblical narratives. Yet despite his interest in resolving the biblical and scientific approaches into one unified theory, Rooney concludes with the idea that, like the Australian Aborigines, both Polynesian and Papuans came from India (Rooney 1908:621). He argues that, while Aborigines and Pacific Islanders have been separated for millennia, all these people have origins in India.
In this way, the influence of the missionaries in Fiji was not on the wane in the 1860s as it may have been elsewhere; but rather the mission was consolidating its influence with trained indigenous teachers and the establishment of theological schools. Moreover, the missionaries in Fiji did not view their teachings as separate from or in opposition to the scientific discourse of human origins, and increasingly cast themselves at the spearhead of this new tradition. Although Carey and other missionaries may have experimented with ideas about Fijians coming from Africa or the Middle East, these were not the only ideas of origins being debated at the time nor were they yet routinised; but various possibilities about origins were being transmitted to Fijian students. Finally, Fison's arguments against any notion of straightforward diffusion seemed to be poised against a rising tide of opinion, perhaps best represented in Rooney's paper which was heavily influenced by other missionaries working elsewhere in the region and which claimed that distinct peoples originating in foreign 'homelands' kept their distinctiveness during and after migration: a theme that gives substance and logical structure to the rationale of finding Lost Tribes in the Pacific.
FIJIAN PROPHETS AND NARRATIVES: CONCLUDING COMMENTS
In 1877, the prophet, Navosavakadua, the Fijian prophet in Rakiraki, came to the attention of the colonial administration. Walter Carew, the Resident Commissioner of the eastern interior of Viti Levu, reported that Navosavakadua believed that local teachings were compatible with Biblical teachings, that he was drawing on both the Old and New Testaments, and the twins who disobey Degei, the snake god, were being recast as Jehovah and Jesus (Kaplan 1990:6). Although there is still no reference to Lost Tribes, (10) Christian imagery was clearly being incorporated into local millennial understandings in resistance to Fijian officials representing colonial authority over and above the local chiefs. And although Navosavakadua's response was typical of the marginalised groups of the interior, his ideas led to a movement which became notoriously difficult to eradicate and which would provide sustenance to further resistance movements, such as Apolosi Nawai's movement that developed during the course of World War I.
Other Fijians were also reconfiguring their local knowledge with their understanding of Christianity and origins. One version of the Kaunitoni Migration was published in Na Mata in 1892, depicting the ancestors as departing from Thebes, journeying along the Nile, settling on the shores of Lake Tanganyika until they quarrelled with neighbouring tribes and migrated to Fiji (France 1979). This account of origins would continue to be elaborated over the course of the next century as part of Wesleyan Fijian knowledge. It became further routinised and naturalised as a set of 'authentic' Fijian chronicles that were used equally by chiefly clans to legitimate their power regimes and their alliances, and by successive Land Commission to justify setting boundaries around Fijian land. In effect, such accounts reinforced indirect rule through the chiefly elite.
In this way, this paper is a sketch of early missionary ideas that were circulating in the period from the arrival of the missionaries in 1835 until they became routinised and established in law after Cession. In the early period of missionisation, Fijians were not using the trope of the Lost Tribes as a tool of rebellion or resistance in the same way as the Maori were using it in New Zealand and much of this difference seems to lie in the fact that the missionaries' knowledge and the technologies were potentially useful to paramount chiefs like Cakobau who was attempting to gain an edge on both his rivals and outside interests; and to many commoners whose lives had been dominated by warfare. For the same kinds of reasons, Fiji was not occupied or conquered by the British but rather ceded to them in 1874. Consequently, the Fijian (and principally Wesleyan) chiefly structure was largely incorporated into the colonial administrative state by Sir Arthur Gordon.
By contrast, interior peoples such as the Vatukaloko to which Navosavakadua belonged were neither allies of Cakobau nor of the colonial government. Yet, even among the Vatukaloko, Christianity does not appear to have been used as a language of resistance, at least until Navosavakadua began reconfiguring Christian ideas in relation to ideas about Degei and the ancestors. While Navosavakadua was clearly incorporating Christian ideas into the local cosmology, it is difficult to separate his own ideas from his followers, both then and later, for Navosavakadua attained a mythical status among Fijians. As Kaplan seems to suggest, it is difficult to assess whether the idea of the Lost Tribes was actually used and, if it was, whether it was used specifically to resist the colonial government. Kaplan interviewed an old man who describes Vatukaloko kin as the Twelve Tribes, but this interview took place in 1984-1985 (Kaplan 1990), at around the time that the Lost Tribes of Israel had entered nationalist political rhetoric. It is likely, then, that the Vatukaloko kin came to be known as the Twelve Tribes a full century after they first came to the attention of the colonial administration.
Nonetheless, Kaplan's note here is important:
In Fiji at least, and perhaps elsewhere, I think we find that the projects of colonizers can never completely organize all areas of the practice of the colonized, nor can the colonized ever again make their history in terms unaffected by colonialism. Areas of intersection and of omission must occur in the encounter (Kaplan 1990:18).
This intersection and omission have allowed for a rupture in local ideas that provided the scope for very different types of reflections, creative interpretations, and reconfigurations of ideas about legitimacy, whether in the terms of Navosavakadua or of the Wesleyan lay preachers seeking to establish the connections of their clans with others across Fiji through their renderings of the Kaunitoni Migration. Yet one of the outcomes of this creativity has precisely been the use of the trope of the Lost Tribes as a motif for Fijian ethno-religious nationalism, which has attempted to define the place of particular Fijians in the contemporary nation-state at the expense of others (e.g., Newland 2006, 2007).
I end on a note about the relationship between science and Christianity in the region. While the missionary views of Maori origins in New Zealand appeared to be mutually exclusive to those of science (Howe 2003), missionaries in Fiji took a different view and combined science and theology in novel ways. The Wesleyan missionaries in Fiji often and readily participated in both data collecting and theorising about both origins and hierarchies in the new and developing human sciences. Yet even those most influenced by science (like Fison) frequently used biblical analogies and metaphors to describe these new theories. In effect, the Bible passages were communicated as part of the way the missionaries thought and perceived the world. Fijians were attempting to translate their world to the missionaries and the missionaries' world to other Fijians, and they did this in a context of unequal relations of power where the mode of translation was precisely through both the idiom and grammar of Christianity.
University of St Andrews
Understanding the importance of oral narratives in Fiji is the result of working at the University of the South Pacific for almost nine years and I thank my students and visiting scholars who shared their experiences with me. The ideas for this particular paper were developed over a workshop period of three years at the Association for Social Anthropologists in Oceania (ASAO) conferences and for many years since, as an Honorary Fellow at the University of Western Australia and while working at the University of St Andrews. While many have given input, I particularly thank Paul Geraghty, Fergus Cluney, Andrew Thornley, Claudia Massey, Maiyan Karidi, Terry Brown, and my students. I am also grateful to the staff of Fiji National Archives and the State Library of New South Wales.
(1.) In 2010, a Decree shifted the word 'Fijian' from denoting a particular ethnic identity to denoting citizenship of Fiji, regardless of ethnicity. In this paper, I use the older terminology consistent with historical records, but it should be noted that the indigenous people of Fiji are now referred to as iTaukei.
(2.) They further maintained that Fijians left Israel in King Solomon's time, travelled through Egypt, Tanganyika, and arrived in the Yasawa Islands in Fiji. This adherent named two other branches of his church in Fiji: New Kainan in Levuka, the New Mount of Olives in Suva, but I have not been able to locate them.
(3.) Wives were expected to accompany missionaries as part of Wesleyan policy. While the contribution of the wives cannot be explored here, it is clear that they participated, particularly in educating women and girls in literacy, scripture, sewing and hygiene, and sometimes also Christian hymns (Mawer 1976). Hannah Hunt is also recorded as engaged in teaching literacy and translation for a period in Viwa (Thornley 2004). Missionary wives were more important than the way they have been represented to date because of their impact on chiefly daughters and wives, who became influential actors in persuading major chiefs to convert.
(4.) In the Introduction to Wallis' book, C.W. Flanders uses the Bible to describe Fijians to make a different point, arguing that: 'The natives of the Feejee Islands have, heretofore, been regarded as the Ishmaelites of the South Pacific Ocean, who would never endure the discipline of civilization, and who, if ever converted to Christianity, would be the last brought into the kingdom of heaven' (Wallis 1986). Flanders is arguing for the importance of the missionary effort in Fiji in opposition to the general opinion of the Christian community and therefore describes Fijians as a people not chosen by God, in the same way as Ishmael was disregarded in favour of his brother, Isaac. Fijians here are associated with the Book of Genesis in a negative metaphor, which is quite different from Hunt's reported remarks that attributed Fijians as having ancestral connections with biblical peoples.
(5.) Despite the enthusiasm of Wallis' account, there is only one other instance where Hunt appears to allude to Fijian Jewishness. On witnessing a large death ceremony that extended over six nights and included male circumcisions, amputations of children's fingers, singing, chanting and dancing, Hunt noted that the singing reminded him 'of Hebrew verse presentation, with the interchange between solo singer and the response of the entire company' (Thornley 2004:125).
(6.) For instance, on arriving and teaching in Fiji, I realised how strongly the Bauan dialect (which is used as the national Fijian language) overlapped with Malay, with a great many words in common and that many birth rituals were similar to those in West Java. If Hunt had had experience in Southeast Asian cultures, his major points of comparison may well have been very different.
(7.) Sometimes, it was not only the lack of missionaries but also of teachers. In the Bau circuit in 1856, the missionary William Wilson noted: 'We have only one Native Teacher to about three thousand souls and these teachers all require to be taught themselves' (Thornley 2002:178).
(8.) The missionaries had different approaches when dealing with translation. Hunt's method was not literal but idiomatic: seeking to find the best Fijian expression to represent Christian principles. The more literal Watsford and Calvert were unsatisfied with the outcome, but a thousand copies were printed locally. Debates about translation and meaning of Biblical concepts continue today (e.g., Vula 2012).
(9.) In his early work, Tippett is amazed by 'the great similarity between the Degei myths and the early Hebrew records' and theorises that 'It all strongly suggests a pre-eighteenth century contact somewhere with the missionary enterprise' (Tippett 1944:281). Ten years later he changes his mind, saying that the similarities are due to the agricultural lifestyle. Nonetheless, he notes that 'Pacific Island creation myths are constantly related to the Genesis accounts. . Some trace the Island peoples back to the Hebrews (including some Fijians now-a-days), others feel it is Christian influence through the Portuguese or Spanish' (Tippett 1954:114).
(10.) Kaplan observes that the Vatukaloko now regard all the kinship groups associated with their polity as the 12 tribes of Israel 'Tina ka Rua na Yavusa' which may or may not date from the 1880s, but which is used anachronistically to describe the polities who gave Navosavakadua his name (Kaplan 1995:7).
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|Title Annotation:||Special Issue: Descent from Israel: Jewish Identities in the Pacific, Past and Present|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2015|
|Next Article:||'Mountains of Israel': Fijians' Judaic origins and the use of the old testament in highland Viti Levu.|