Accepted Paper:

The troubled histories of a stranger god: Tagaro and Christianity in North Pentecost, Vanuatu  

Author:

John Taylor (La Trobe University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper seeks to understand some of the entanglements and conflicts that have occurred in relation to the attempted deification of one particularly enigmatic figure, called Tagaro, in North Pentecost, Vanuatu. For some a local benevolent "God", for others a maniacal axe-wielding foreigner.

Paper long abstract:

The 1960s and 70s was an important period of theological revision for the indigenous Anglican clergy of island Melanesia, many of whom sought to formulate a positive answer to the question "Is Christ a Melanesian?" While throughout the preceding century both indigenous Christians and white missionaries had sought to communicate Christian concepts through the use of local terms and categories, now such projects became intimately combined with the anti-colonial desire to reconstitute Christianity as a distinctly "Melanesian" religion, and thus empower indigenous communities and national independence movements. However, rather than syncretism, such translation usually entailed the one-way extraction and transposition of indigenous categories onto those of the scriptures. This elided the more embedded meanings and cosmological significances of such categories, and thus eclipsed the ambivalent nature of indigenous conceptualisations of sacred power, the complex personalities of culture heroes, and the contested nature of the local histories from which these terms were drawn.

This paper seeks to understand some of the entanglements and conflicts that have occurred in relation to the attempted deification of one particularly enigmatic figure, called Tagaro, in North Pentecost, Vanuatu. For some a local benevolent "God", for others a maniacal axe-wielding foreigner, here the fraught issue of Tagaro's "real" history has become embroiled within ongoing social and political divisions. All the while, contesting knowledge of Tagaro has intensified his (split) personality, and thereby betrayed the ambivalent nature of Christianity's transformative powers, and its ambiguous position as both intimately local and dangerously foreign.

Panel W023
For a sceptical anthropology?