Richard (Rick) Feinberg, Department of Anthropology
Richard (Rick) Feinberg, Department of Anthropology, presented “Taumako as Religious Crossroads” at New Zealand Studies Association (in collaboration with the University of Vienna’s Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology and the University of South Australia) in Vienna, Austria, on July 2, 2015.
The global spread of European political and military dominance from the 16th- through the 20th centuries was accompanied by the introduction of Christianity into many previously non-Christian areas. Through most of the Solomon Islands, a British colony until 1978, Christianity’s leading exemplar was the Church of England. Yet, despite adopting Anglican doctrine and institutions, many local communities have retained important elements of their older beliefs and practices, combining them in a variety of ways with the new religious order. Taumako, where Feinberg conducted anthropological research in 2007-08, offers a powerful illustration of such religious syncretism. The island was settled by Polynesians, and the language remains identifiably Polynesian. However, it has long maintained close contacts with the larger and more populous Melanesian outposts of the Santa Cruz Islands. Through centuries of interaction, Taumako has absorbed important cultural features from local Melanesians while retaining aspects of its older Polynesian heritage. Later, when the southeastern Solomons came under British control, Christianity was added to the mix. Today, Taumako residents are strongly committed to the Anglican Church. Yet, they remain preoccupied with pre-Christian gods and spirits. And magical spells, which were largely imported from the nearby Melanesian communities of the Santa Cruz group and play an important role in Taumako life, derive their power from appeals to “The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.” This paper explores the ways in which these disparate strands have been combined to produce an integrated body of religious practice, as well as impact of that practice on the seafaring traditions that Feinberg had initially gone to Taumako to study.