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Viti, the soil from Eden: on historical praxis as a mode of connecting in Kadavu.


In the contexts of ethnicized political conflicts between Fijians (1) and Indo-Fijians Methodism, still the denomination of an estimated 70% of the Fijians, became politically relevant as certain circles within the Methodist Church tried to make an ethnically interpreted form of it part of Fijian identity in contrast to the mainly non-Christian Indo-Fijians. (2) Both, Christianity (lotu vaKarisito) and a life according to the norms and values conceived to be traditional, or, in Fijian terms, vakavanua ('in the manner of the land (vanua)') have been declared to be cornerstones of being Fijian. (3) Such convictions are founded in the history of Fijian Methodism since its beginnings in 1835, which is characterized by its close relationship with the chiefly elite and its acceptance of many traditional Fijian norms, values and institutions within the religious praxis of Methodism. This history poses the question: how is it possible that Christianity, itself characterized by a strong universalistic orientation, can become part of a particularistic agenda, an agenda founded on the complex notion of vanua ('land') with its socio-political, territorial, moral and spiritual dimensions including the chiefly system as well as the realms of ancestors, mana and tabu? (4) The answer to this question is not a simple one and probably there are as many answers as individual actors. But all these actors use cultural resources to bring about these processes of forming Christian worldviews. In this article an attempt is made to show one possible way to link Christianity and the vanua through a historical praxis made possible by structurally similar modes of constructing the past.

The ethnographic context of this article is the Nabukelevu district in western Kadavu, where I conducted my fieldwork in the village of Levuka. (5) In this rural area the relationship between the Christian religion (lotu) and the realm of norms, values, beliefs, and practices conceived of as traditional (vakavanua) is felt very strongly among many faithful Methodists. It is expressed in many ways: In the churches the special seats for the chiefs and the local leaders are still close to the pulpit; the minister resides in the village of the paramount chief of the district; representatives of the church take part in the traditional councils and meetings of the chiefdoms and the villages; the catechists pray in rituals connected with the ancestors; the vanua is conceived of as being protected in its integrity and prosperity by the Christian God; and even the ancestors are believed to respect the Christian faith nowadays.

However, the relationship between the vanua and the lotu is not always an uncomplicated one without tensions. Different modes of spirituality, different attitudes towards spiritual beings, and tensions between the universalizing impetus of Christianity and the socially and spatially par-ticularistic beliefs and practices of the vanua are the sources of conflicts within individual Christians as well as within the Christian congregations. (6) Today, many Fijians within Methodism or Catholicism as well as within evangelical or Pentecostal churches are looking for a 'more developed' spirituality, as they call it, and are critical of many traditional local beliefs and practices relating to the vanua and the ancestors. But, for others, the concept of the vanua remains a fundamental part of their worldview, and the question arises whether there are possible ways to retain essential dimensions of the vanua while connecting oneself with the sources of Christianity.

While wondering about such possibilities of connecting Christianity with the vanua, a part of a Fijian meke came to mind. Meke (a traditional Fijian song and dance) is composed and choreographed by a specialist. (7) Many of the meke texts are written for specific occasions and become part of the oral traditions about these occasions, as they are performed many times and long after the original event, e.g., when people come together to celebrate or to stage welcome ceremonies for an honored guest. Often they relate events of the past and are reflections by the composer about this past. In one such meke the following is sung:</p>

<pre> E dodonu sara me da sa reki It is right indeed that we rejoice Ko Viti na qele mai Iteni Viti, the soil from Eden

Ko i au na kai Jerusalemi I am a man from Jerusalem Na vanua tabu nei Manueli The vanua tabu of Manuel Au tubu e na kawa Isireli I grow from the offspring of Israel </pre> <p>This is a refrain (korosi) of a meke composed by the late Manoa Soro Bulu-makau from Tabuya, Nabukelevu, Kadavu in 1977, (8) and which was still one of the most popular local meke in the villages of Levuka, Muaninuku and Tabuya in the Nabukelevu district of western Kadavu. (9) The whole meke deals with a bose vakaturanga, a chiefly council, which could not reach a decision, and is an appeal to clear up the discussions and to reach wise decisions. This korosi points to an interesting possibility of retaining the vanua as an essential part of a Christian worldview. It was no longer possible to talk to Manoa Soro Bulumakau about his meke, as he had passed away a couple of years before my stay in Levuka. But through my discussions with Levukans, who had heard and sung this meke many times, it became clear to me that it can only be understood in the context of a specific historical praxis within which those Fijians who want to retain their understanding of the vanua within a Christian worldview can connect with each other in the Fijian community and with the sources of Christianity.


To speak about 'history' against the background of recent discussions on constructing the past (e.g., Borofsky 2000) leads to the question of what concept of 'history' is needed to understand the modes of connecting that are articulated in the quoted korosi. What do we refer to as history? Broadly spoken, 'history' is a way to construct the past and the relationship between the past and the present. For a long time, 'history' in Western discourses was understood in a very specific sense defined by the criteria of Western academic historiography, which was committed to ideas of 'objective truth' within a realistic and positivist ontology. However, this concept proved to be too narrow to embrace ways of constructing the past in other cultural traditions. Indeed, there are many different ways of constructing the past, characterized by different logics in regard to what is to be considered an event of the past, what is to be considered a truthful representation of the past, and how the past is present in the present. Does 'history' refer to all these ways of constructing past, or, as Greg Dening put it some years ago, to all kinds of 'public knowledge of the past' (1991:348)? This would mean that the concept of history has to be understood as an umbrella term, rather defining a frame of discourse than providing a tool for analyzing the specific logics of constructing the past. The defining criteria 'being public', 'knowledge' and 'past' cannot be reduced to a single set of logical structures necessary as a conceptual basis for analyzing and comparing different ways of constructing the past. But how can we develop a concept of history as an analytic tool without implying a Western ontology inadequate for understanding constructions of the past in many other cultural traditions?

In my search for a concept of history, I reread a passage from Edward E. EvansPritchard:</p> <pre> But myth and history are in important respects different in char-acter ... Hence a story may be true yet mythical in character, and a story may be false and yet historical in character.... [Myth] is not concerned so much with a succession of events as with moral significance of situations, and is hence often allegorical or symbolical in form. It is not incapsulated, as history is, but is a re-enactment fusing present and past (Evans-Pritchard 1962:53). </pre> <p>Since Evans-Pritchard's time much has been written on 'history'. And, as the abovementioned discussions have shown, a mere reference to 'truth' is not enough to differentiate between 'historical' and 'not historical'. But what about the 'historical character', as Evans-Pritchard called it? Can such a concept be helpful in understanding the quoted korosi and the relationship to the sources of Christianity which is expressed in it? Mentioning the 'historical character', Evans-Pritchard draws our attention to an interesting point. Factual truth in an objectivist sense, which Evans-Pritchard seems to be implying, is only one criterion in our understanding of a story as a 'historical' story. And the 'historical character' can be found in different ways of constructing the past. So if we were able to define this 'historical character', we could then perhaps formulate a concept of history which could be used to analyze different ways of constructing the past as 'historical', regardless of their relationship to specific kinds of ontology and epistemology and the concepts of truth relating to these.

But what can 'historical' mean in this context? Today, it is a com-monplace in much intellectual discourse that the past is not reducible to a single sequence of events which can be objectively reconstructed and then simply interpreted or understood. Rather, as Sahlins reminds us (1985), the events are constituted from the very first moment of their being in time, ac-cording to the symbolic structures used in a socio-cultural praxis. And as events become events of the past, the process of constituting events continues, dependent on what understanding is used of a) the nature of the past, b) how this past is related to the present, and c) how the past is used for present needs, as, for example, to explain the present situation, to construct social and political relationships, or to legitimize power. In other words, events and the presence of past events in the present are determined by the way a group or an individual is related to the past in an ongoing process of symbolic mediation. Thus, the symbolic structures and their practical articulation have to be understood if we want to understand constructions of the past and the way they affect the present. And if we understand 'history' as one specific way of constructing the past, we have to formulate a concept of history which makes these processes of symbolic mediation and their structural characteristics understandable.

As a starting point, I propose to conceive of history as a form of constructing the past as a lineal sequence of concrete events and their rela-tionship to each other within a spatiotemporal framework of everyday experience of human agents in lived space and time (in contrast, for example, to 'mythical' time, which can be characterized by the possibility of cosmological breaks and substantial re-enactments of mythical events in rit-ual). (10) Note that the crucial point is not the content of the events judged against a specific standard of objectivity, but a) the conception of events ordered in a lineal sequence which cannot be inverted, and b) the definitive pastness of events which can be effective in the present only if mediated across time by historical agents, acts of remembering, and long lasting consequences within a spatiotemporal framework which is the same one the people of today live in. Thus, not the content of an event, but the way the factuality of an event and its specific presence in the present are constituted are the important points. 'Historical' events are conceived as having taken place and draw their meaning from their position in the sequence of events as past events in a spatiotemporal framework without cosmological breaks between past and present, which is in contrast to how we often find them in myths. Important to note here is that factuality is part and parcel of the concept of event and relative to a specific ontology and epistemology. Factuality is not in itself the criterion of a 'historical' event, since, for example, 'mythical' events are factual too albeit in a mythological ontology and epistemology. This means that we can detach the concept of 'historical event' from the Western concepts of truth within objectivist, positivist, and realistic ontologies and epistemologies. Lineal sequence of events (which cannot be inverted), definitive pastness, and cosmological continuity do not necessarily imply a Western ontology. They are the structural principles of history conceived as symbolic form, and they can exist within ontological frameworks in which ancestors, spirits, and a belief in spiritual and magical powers have their place, as they do in the everyday experience of living people of the present who are involved in the symbolic mediation of the past.

Conceived as a set of structural principles used to construct the past according to a specific logic emerging from the practical articulation of these structural principles, history can be referred to as form in the idealist sense of the term. 'Form' means in this sense a set of principles used to define elements and to combine them into a structural context (Sinnzusammenhang). In this process, elements and context are interacting. An element becomes a clearly defined element through the process of being formed according to specific structural principles made available by the structural context, and the structural context emerges in and through the combination of structured elements. In this outlined sense, history as a socio-cultural praxis can be conceived as a symbolic form (Cassirer 1972 and 1994). A symbolic form is to be understood as a symbolic praxis defined through a set of structural principles mediated by specifically structured symbols. These symbols are used to bring about the structured elements and a structural context of a specific logical structure and coherence. Thus, in historical praxis, events of the past are constituted symbolically according to a logic which defines an event as an element of a linear sequence of factual events within the structural context of history. This structural context is defined by the spatiotemporal framework of today's experiences in a lineal time which cannot be inverted and which is characterized by cosmological continuity. Thus, historical events are characterized by definitive pastness. They cannot be repeated, they can only be remembered--nor can they be substantially re-enacted, which might be conceived of as a way in which 'mythical' events, or 'mythical' aspects of events, have an effect on the present. And their actual effectiveness lies in this very act of remembering in the historical praxis. This means that today's people can relate to the historical past only through symbolic media, as for example stories, monuments, or ceremonies of communal remembering, which are part of the process of defining events of the past as historical events. As part of the historical praxis, these media are, so to speak, the carders of the structural principles defining history as symbolic form. They define the historical events in an absolute past and, at the same time, they bridge the distance between the people of the present and the past event in and through the historical praxis of remembering.

To end this section, two final points need stressing:

a) To conceive of history as symbolic form does not mean to understand history as a closed and exclusive symbolic system. Rather, history as symbolic form is part of such different symbolic practices as historiography, story telling, memorial monuments, or ceremonies of communal remembering. And historical praxis can and does exist together, beside, and against other forms of constructing past as for example 'myth'.

b) The past affects and determines the present in many ways. Myth, ritual, spiritual experiences, and the sedimentation of the past in cultural concepts, daily routines, demographic distributions, physical changes of environment, etc., are all different ways in which the past is present in the present. Each of them is characterized by a specific set of structural principles. And they all inform the historical praxis in constituting the experiential and ontological context of a specific historical praxis. However, due to the limited space of this paper, I have chosen to confine my interpretation of the quoted korosi to its dimension as part of a historical praxis plus the connections between Fijian and Christian spirituality made possible in, and through, this historical praxis. (11)


Against the background of the argument so far developed, the quoted korosi appears not only as formulated in a way which can be understood as historical in form. It also appears closely related to the historical praxis in Fiji by which Fijians connect themselves with their past and with each other. Thus, this korosi can be understood as the transposition of modes of connecting used in the historical praxis in Fiji to the agenda of connecting Fijians to the sources of Christianity.

To explicate this point, let me turn to the spatial dimension of this text. What struck me in this korosi is the extension of the complex Fijian concept of 'land' (vanua) mentioned above to the Holy Land. When I was starting to try to understand Fijian religious beliefs, I was wondering how the two aspects of it, the belief in mana, tabu, ancestors and other spiritual beings on the one hand and Christianity on the other hand, would fit together. Soon I realized that this is not only a question of ideology, in a narrow sense of the word, but also a question of spatiality, a question of the mutual constitution of space and religious praxis (Dickhardt 2000). From a spatial perspective, these two forms of religious praxis, as I observed them in the village of Levuka (Nabukelevu district, Kadavu) were articulated in two modes of religious spatiality which were practically integrated. (12) Most beliefs and practices relating to ancestors and other spiritual beings are essentially placebound. Ancestors (vu and qase) as well as other spiritual beings (mostly referred to as tjimoni or tevoro) are connected to specific places called vanua tabu, or forbidden places, where they have their abode, e.g., a spot in the reef or an old house foundation. (13) Additionally, the ancestors of a specific group are closely attached to the vanua, the 'land' conceived as a complex unity of socio-political, moral, spiritual and physical dimensions, which is protected by the ancestors. (14) Common to all these spaces is a) that the ancestors are present at them in a very concrete way, namely in the lived spaces of the garden land and the village sites; b) that the living people have a heavy moral obligation to respect and protect these spaces over which the ancestors watch, ever punishing with sickness and death those who transgress and violate them; c) that the relationship of the living people to these spaces is established ritually through contact with the ancestors; and d) that these relationships are passed on from generation to generation, making them inalienable as long as a line of descendants exists. (15) This mode of spatiality creates a strong sense of being located, not only on the level of personal identity but also on the level of the relationship to the ancestors. The presence of the ancestors is experienced on the land, e.g., when people hear them drinking yaqona in an old abandoned village site; their power is also experienced when they are punishing the violation of a vanua tabu; and they are further experienced as part of the moral community, as when they are approached in a ritual for transferring a piece of land. And--especially important for the argument developed here--the ancestors, vu as well as qase, appear in these aspects of their relationship to the living people as historical actors. The stories told about them tell about establishing not a cosmological order, but political and legal relationships to land and to other groups in a historical spatiotemporal framework, even if these relationships are ritually mediated. (16) Thus, past and present are not fused, as would be the case in a ritual re-enactment of myth, as Evans-Pritchard reminds us. Rather, past and present are mediated through the ancestors, those who were once living actors, but who are now rendered into ancestral actors existing within the spatiotemporal framework of historical time, even if they inhabit a mode of spiritual existence which is different from that of the living people.

In contrast to this placebound form of religious praxis, the relation-ship to the Christian God of Methodism is much less dependent on specific sacred places. Discourses of God as na Kalou i cerecere (God on High) or na Kolou i lomalagi (God in Heaven)--who has actually no vanua tabu in the territories of the different groups I worked with--are telling examples of a concept of divinity which is spiritually omnipresent but materially placeless, as compared with the ancestors and other spiritual beings of the local traditions. This placelessness of the Christian God of Methodism is physically tangible in the church: the place of Christian worship par excellence. The way churches are dealt with differs significantly from the way people behave in relationship to vanua tabu. They are places where the Christian worship is staged as a social event, not sacred places in which a divine power is permanently present. The congregation comes into touch with God through the social event of worship, sermons, hymns, and prayers, not through contact with a physically manifested divinity. Note that the Methodist churches are not called vale tabu, but vale ni lotu, i.e., house of the worship! But here is not the place to go further into details of Methodist spirituality. The point of importance for the present argument is that Methodism in Fiji seems not to need a form of religious praxis which binds it to unique sacred places in Fiji. And this has a vital consequence: it gives to the placebound religious praxis connected with the vanua within its historical spatiotemporal framework a great deal of freedom for articulation in Fiji, without being necessarily in conflict with the Christian religion. The Christian God need not fight against the local ancestors, but can integrate them in his overarching hierarchy. Thus, in Levuka the local places of the ancestors find their spatial and ideological position within the universal space of the omnipresent God in Heaven. And so it is no contradiction when the local catechists (vakatawa) actively participate in the rituals relating to the ancestors and the vanua--as members of the vanua as well as in their function as catechist--e.g., to say a prayer at the beginning of a ritual.

Thus, the traditional (vakavanua) way of dealing with the spiritual realm, characterized by a spatiotemporal framework we can call historical in the sense outlined above, can and does coexist with Christian religious praxis. And Manoa, the composer of the meke, used this possibility to interpret certain Christian beliefs in terms of the vanua and its spirituality implying territorial and genealogical links to the sources of Christian truth and salvation. This move seems to be, from a Western point of view, a move away from the Christian spirituality formulated in the New Testament and its sources of truth and salvation beyond the particularities of ethnic affiliation, genealogy, and territoriality. However, it is understandable within two contexts.

Firstly, there are popular interpretations of the Old Testament among Kadavuans which compare the norms, values, and acts of the ancient Israelites with those of the vanua. For example, even the unwillingness to alienate land is not only explained by customs relating to the ancestors, but also through certain passages from the Old Testament (e.g., 1 Kgs 21:3). In other words, a logical analogue to the vanua is considered to be valid for the old Israelites as well and the Old Testament becomes a proof of the compatibility of Christianity and vanua. That the Old Testament played a major role in Manoa's thinking seems likely, not least through his use of the name of Manuel which is an allusion to Isaiah 7:14 and which was understood by the Levukans as a name for God.

Secondly, there are two major links to the sources of spiritual power and responsibility in the context of the vanua: the inalienable relationship to land and the genealogical connectedness to the sources of truth and spiritual power. Both are to be understood against the background of the experience that the final authority to make decisions about, and to safeguard, the land and the traditional knowledge lies with the ancestors and that the latter can be effectively approached only by their descendants. And only these descendants can take full responsibility for the heritage of the ancestors, materially and socio-politically as well as spiritually. (17)

These contexts render Manoa's korosi understandable not only as a metaphoric transposition of the concept of the vanua. Rather, they open the possibility of extending the concept substantially to the Holy Land. How can this extension be made? Vanua tabu come into existence only through the agency of ancestors and spiritual beings, and for the Fijians with whom I discussed these issues, the Christian God, Christ, and all the other people the Bible tells us about, did not act in such ways in Fiji: in their Christian worldview, there are no Biblical vanua tabu on Kadavu. (18) Thus, the sacredness of the vanua is not a sacredness derived from a durable personal presence of Christian divinity in defined places. Rather, it is grounded in the ancestors on the one hand and on the other in the acts of the Christian God, who gave (soli) the land and the mana of it as a whole to the Fijians in the course of Christian salvational history (Heilsgeschichte), who assures the prosperity of the land (sau), who protects it against floods, droughts and tropical cyclones, and who blesses the land (vakalougatatakaina). No attempt is made to connect the vanua in a mythical way to the Biblical tradition and to fuse times and spaces of the vanua in Fiji with the times and spaces of the Bible in the present. Rather, the vanua is conceivable in terms of these practices as a Christian vanua within a historical spatiotemporal framework of ancestral acts and the Christian history of salvation.

But it is exactly this historical interpretation of the past and the sacredness of the vanua which provides a link into the Biblical tradition. (19) The Bible is quite clear about the spatiotemporal framework of the events which are described: it is the space-time of human experience structured along a linear course of time. Yes, miracles happen through the intervention of God, and the world is full of spirits and demons, but this is compatible with the everyday experience Fijians have themselves as human agents in space and time, where the ancestors and the other spiritual beings coexist with them. And even the interventions of God do not shake the spatiotemporal order: this disruption is not supposed to happen before the Day of Judgment. (20) But this means also that the actions of Biblical persons can be conceived in the same way as the deeds of the ancestors can and that the sacred geography of the Holy Land lies within the spatiotemporal framework of human everyday experience: it can be interpreted in the same historical form as the vanua in Fiji. (21) Thus, the Biblical persons can also establish vanua tabu in the strict sense of the term--and not only figuratively. But this additionally implies the possibility of there being living people who can be related to these vanua tabu, just as is usually the case with vanua tabu in Fiji. Note that this can also be understood as one specifically Fijian way of articulating one of the central claims of Christian faith: God is not only present in a mythical transcendence but through the Coming of Christ in the immanence of our earthly existence. And the vanua tabu are the manifestations of this earthly presence of the divine spiritual power--these manifestations being located in the Holy Land; the vanua tabu are a way of interpreting the Biblical story consistent with Fijian forms of constructing the past and the presence of spiritual power within the spatiotemporal framework of everyday experience as human agents in historical space and time.

Given this possibility of constructing the past in Fijian terms, it is understandable that the composer of the meke could go a step further in the extension of the logic of the vanua: he looked for a legitimate way of con-necting Fijians to this vanua tabu. There are legitimate relationships to the vanua as, for instance, genealogy and migration. To assume a migration-based relationship to remote western lands is not new at all to Fijian ways of recovering the past. Rather, it is a long established motif in Fijian speculations about their origin, which takes its starting point in such traditions as the story of the Kaunitoni migration and its historical role in forming a pan-Fijian identity. Actually, all the Fijians I talked with knew the story about a possible origin of the Fijians in East Africa, specifically in Tanganyika. Why not extend this connection to Israel, as some of my informants hinted at against a background of the korosi quoted? (22) The connection to Israel mentioned in the meke is understandable in a spatiotemporal framework of everyday experience of Fijians in the vanua. Thus, it is not surprising that the korosi's idiom is that used to establish relationships in the socio-political sphere in Fiji: the concepts of qele (soil), kai (person in the sense of one native to a place) and kawa (descendants, offspring) are used on many occasions to explain connections between different individuals and groups as an established fact. Especially the concepts of kai and kawa are important in this regard. Kai is often used to describe people in relation to their place of origin, implying a substantial commonality of place and people. (23) Kawa is enormously important in the construction of inalienable relationships between people and between people and land. Historical in form, these concepts connect the meke to the historical dimension of the Biblical stories. They transpose a historical mode of connecting common in Fiji, and open a possible way of giving Fiji a certain position within the Christian history of salvation. Thus, this connection opens another way of relating people to the sources of Christian salvation and spiritual powers besides that of the spiritual possibilities of Pauline theology as found in the New Testament. This enables an ethnic interpretation of Christianity retaining important dimensions of Fijian spirituality centered around the vanua.


I started my argument in this paper by asking whether a concept of history can be used to analyze different ways of constructing the past as characterized by different ontological frameworks. It was suggested that a concept of history as symbolic form can be used in such an analysis. Using this concept in the interpretation of a Fijian korosi of a meke showed that this korosi could be understood as part of a historical praxis defined by the structural features of a lineal sequence of events which cannot be inverted, a definitive pastness and a cosmological continuity. Furthermore, it was argued that this historical praxis is a possible mode for connecting Fijian spirituality with the Biblical traditions. Both share structural similarities as they operate with concepts that are historical in form, these structural similarities being the condition for linking the two traditions in a historical praxis. The forms of making the Biblical events part of a Fijian spirituality can be understood in the context of Fijian historical praxis as used to connect Fijians with each other and with their land (vanua) in its physical, social and spiritual dimensions.

This attempt to understand a Fijian meke as 'historical' discourse does not mean judging local forms of 'public knowledge of the past' (Dening 1991:348) according to Western standards of truth and factuality. Rather, it means developing an analytical tool for understanding the specific logical structure of discourses and the ways of connecting past and present in relation to spatiotemporal structures which we may find in different discourses. (24) It allows us to answer the question of why (and how) Fijians relate their way of constructing the past historically to the Biblical tradition--and to do so without assuming a simple misunderstanding on their part or resting content with an exotic paradox of a particularistically interpreted universalistic Christianity, given that the links between the two discourses are analytically accessible. Moreover, part of the possible linkage between the discourses is the existence of analogue logics for constructing the past. In other words, in extending the logic of the vanua and the idioms of migration and genealogical descent to the Biblical tradition, the composer not only combines two sets of events, but relates two ways of constructing the past which are structurally similar to each other in their logic as being historical in the sense outlined above. Thus, the quoted korosi can be understood as part of a historical discourse within a specific Fijian historical praxis. It shows one possible way whereby Fijians can relate to Christianity in terms of their own historicity as an ethnic group.

To end this paper, let me make this remark. Neither is historical praxis the only mode of connecting Fijian spirituality with the Biblical traditions, nor is the performance of meke the only mode of experience whereby Fijians can connect themselves to Christianity. The Christian God as a transcendent source of mana and ritual practices (as, for example, drinking kava or, yaqona, in a formal setup) point up two other possible ways of providing structural contexts for intellectually and experientially connecting Fijian spirituality with Christianity. Especially the ritual contexts are of great importance, as Toren, for example, has shown convincingly (Toren 1988, 1999 and 2004). Rituals have the capacity to bring together people in social relations and recombine a range of symbolic forms in different modes of experience, as for example speech, singing, rhythm, movement, spatial arrangements, and symbolically charged gestures. Thus, social, political, historical, and spiritual connectedness is experienced in a very complex way in the process of ritually articulating different modes of connecting. Against this background, the study of the ritual articulation of history can reveal how history qua symbolic form is transmitted, acquired, and transformed in the experience of the actors and how history is related to other modes of connecting. Interesting questions arise with regard to how the concepts of vanua, vanua tabu, kawa, or kai are expressed in such ritual articulations as speeches, singing, or spatial arrangements; also with regard to how actors relate to these articulations. However, to explore these matters would exceed the scope of the present paper.


The original version of this paper was presented at the Fiji working session of the ESfO-Conference 'Recovering the Past' in Vienna in July 2002 con-vened by Elfriede Hermann and Anette Schade. For enabling me to write this paper I have to thank my Levukan hosts, always ready to explain again what I initially failed to grasp. For comments, suggestions, and corrections I thank especially Elfriede Hermann, Wolfgang Kempf, and Kim Dammers.


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(1.) I refer, for the sake of convenience, to ethnic Fijians as Fijians and to the Fijians of Indian origin as Indo-Fijians.

(2.) Printed materials as, for example, those put out by the Methodist Men's Fellowship Group (1983) or Niukula (1994) were used to achieve this during my fieldwork, as were radio broadcasts, seminars, and informal discussions with ministers around the yaqona-bowl in many villages and urban homes. The conflict about the Sunday Ban in 1994/95 and the call for declaring Fiji a Christian state under the constitution are also to be understood in this context. See also Durutalo (1986), Leckie (2002:esp.133f.), Niukula (1997), Tuwere (1997).

(3.) 'Tradition' is understood here as a highly dynamic field of inclusions and exclusions, as a praxis of classifying phenomena as traditional or non-traditional according to specific historical contexts. See, for example, Jolly (1992), Thomas (1992), Toren (1988), Turner (1997).

(4.) Mana was used in Levuka, the site of my fieldwork (see below), to talk about effectiveness in relation with spiritual power, tabu meant 'forbidden'.

(5.) The fieldwork this article is based on was conducted in the village of Levuka, Nabukelevu, Kadavu in 1995 and 1996. It was funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). I spent fifteen months in Fiji, ten of which I spent in Levuka; see Dickhardt (2000) and (2001).

(6.) See, for example, Tomlinson (2002). For different ways of dealing with this problem of bringing together Christianity and traditionality in the Pacific see, for example, Barker (1990), Boutilier, Hughes and Tiffany (1978), Burt (1994), Kempf (2002), Otto and Borsboom (1997) or Whitehouse (2000).

(7.) For the local traditions of music in Levuka see Glamuzina (1993).

(8.) Translation by M. Dickhardt together with Anasa Lagilagi, Joni Bola, and Timoci Veigauna from Levuka.

(9.) The six mataqali located in the three villages of Levuka, Muaninuku, and Tabuya form the yavusa Levuka under the leadership of the Tui Levuka, residing in Levuka village. This sociopolitical entity is part of the Nabukelevu district under the Tui Nabukelevu, residing in the chiefly village of Daviqele.

(10.) The following theoretical argument is mainly inspired by the thinking of Ernst Cassirer (1972:esp.171-206) and (1994). I share with Cassirer the form of his theoretical argument, but not the content of his concept of history, which is closer to Western historiography as part of the Western scientific tradition. For conceptions of history and myth similar to mine see Hill (1988).

(11.) Other dimensions arising out of other contexts in which the korosi is meaningful, as, for example, myth and ritual, cannot be dealt with in this article for reasons of space. The focus here is clearly on the historical mode of connecting people and discourses.

(12.) This is only one historical contingent articulation of the relationship between Christianity and vanua. Tomlinson (2002) showed for Tavuki in central Kadavu that the relationship between the vanua and the Christian religion can be also characterized by conflict and tension.

(13.) In Levuka the term vu is used for the personally known original an-cestors of the clanlike socio-political groups. The term qase, 'the ancient ones', is used for the group of all other ancestors who do not appear as recognizable individuals. The terms tjimoni and tevoro ('demon' and 'devil') are used for all those spiritual beings who are not related to the present socio-political groups by descent.

(14.) See Dickhardt (2001:137-141,198-237), Jolly (1992), Ravuvu (1983:70-84), Williksen-Bakker (1990).

(15.) According to the official structure established by the Native Lands Commission (NLC) patrilineal descent became the essential criteria for group membership, rifles, and land rights. But the reality is much more complex. Many groups are formed out of subgroups which are at best vaguely related genealogically. See also France (1969), Mate (1977), Ward (1995).

(16.) There is no elaborated terminology for different kinds of stories or a specific formal corpus of stories in Levuka. Many stories are told in informal gatherings. The generic term for all kinds of stories is talanoa, and differences are made in respect of their supposed truth (talanoa djina for true [djina] stories; talanoa ga for stories, which are just [ga] told without knowing if they are true; talanoa lasu for untrue [lasu] stories) and relative age (talanoa makawa for ancient [makawa] stories). Unfortunately, space does not permit me to discuss the mythical and ritual dimensions of oral traditions in Levuka. But for other Fijian contexts see e.g. Abramson (2000) or Toren (1995). From my point of view, a mythical dimension is especially to be found in the context of the ritual installations of chiefs, where the chief is ritually connected to the vanua. A discussion of this context against the background of the analysis of Sahlins (1985:73-103) would be desir-able.

(17.) In some cases where the original owners of house foundations were absent for generations, it proved necessary for a living descendant of these to conduct the rituals for transfering the right of ownership to another group, in order to prevent punishment by the ancestors in the form of sickness (baca ni vanua), death, and misfortune.

(18.) In other Fijian contexts, such transpositions from Biblical geography to Fiji did occur, e.g. in the context of the movement of Navosavakadua (Kaplan 1995:110f.).

(19.) This particular way of linking Fiji to the Biblical tradition is certainly not the only one to be found in Fiji. Many times the present distribution of peoples was explained to me as part of God's plan. This solution does not depend on a historical link to the Holy Land, but does not rule out such a connection existing. However, due to the focus of this paper, I concentrate my analysis on the particular way followed in the quoted korosi.

(20.) Significant in this context is an intervention by God in Qalira, another village in Nabukelevu district. In 1959 this village was destroyed by a tidal wave (loka). Local Fijians said this was due to the villagers having chased away the Methodist pastor after the Sunday service because he wanted to forbid taralala-dances to the lay preachers. Down to the present, this story is related as an example for God's power to punish. He does not upset the present spatiotemporal order, but uses the same natural phenomena as the ancestors and other spiritual beings do.

(21.) This interpretation is additionally supported by often made statements about the similarities between the Israelites of the Old Testament and traditional Fiji with regard to norms, values, and laws.

(22.) Of course not all Levukans share this view, especially not those influ-enced more by Evangelical and Pentecostal ideas or by formal education. But a lot of thinking and speculating is going on about these things: Sa levu na vakasama, as Levukans say. For the Kaunitoni see Geraghty (1977). A possible African origin of the Fijians was already discussed by the first missionaries (see Williams 1982:17f.).

(23.) See also Turner (1988).

(24.) This seems to me an important task especially concerning interpretations of the Bible, which combines 'historical', 'mythical,' and 'spiritual' thinking in a very complicated manner, or concerning processes of historization of myth and mythologizing of history.

Michael Dickhardt

University of Gottingen
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