Accepted Paper:

'You call out "grandfather" and it is just like you call to God': intimate collaborations between God and the ancestors in ritual healing among Anglican Christians in the Central Solomon Islands  


Johanna Whiteley (London School of Economics and Political Science.)

Paper short abstract:

For Anglicans from the Central Solomon Islands one-to-one healing provides a ritual space in which their ancestors and the Christian God 'collaborate'. Through the mediation offered by diverse semiotic forms, both these sources of efficacy are brought into intimate relation with human existence.

Paper long abstract:

A practitioner of ancestral healing (fanitu) and a dedicated Anglican, once explained that his ancestors had no access to a hospital (suga fogra), instead, they used the plants and trees that God had created in order to cure illness. Like this man, many residents of West Gao - a rural region of southeast Santa Isabel in the central Solomon Islands - possess ritual healing techniques transmitted by their deceased forbears, and used to provide one-on-one aid to the sick. The efficacy of these embodied techniques had been, in many cases, augmented by Christian blessing (fablahi) undertaken by agents of the Anglican Church of Melanesia.

For these Anglicans fanitu provides a ritual space in which their ancestors and the Christian God - both sources of power/efficacy (noilaghi, mana) - can be drawn into a relationship of collaboration. This collaboration is achieved through the mediation of diverse semiotic forms such as powerful words (kinship terms and uttering the Holy Trinity) and sacred objects (plants from ancestral sites - padaghi - and Holy Oil).

Ethnography of fanitu suggests that, as in more formalised ritual contexts in West Gao, Christian power possesses 'materialistic' properties (Busby 2006): it is susceptible to augmentation; to transfer; and has actual effects upon the world. However, in the intimate and somewhat secretive domain of one-to-one healing, God can be experienced as immanent to the everyday lived world through the simple act of picking a sprig of plant, or calling the name of one's deceased grandfather.

Panel P073
Religious intimacy: collaboration, collusion and collision in ritual communication