Reassessing Revitalization Movements: Perspectives from North America and the Pacific Islands

Reassessing Revitalization Movements: Perspectives from North America and the Pacific Islands

Reassessing Revitalization Movements: Perspectives from North America and the Pacific Islands

Reassessing Revitalization Movements: Perspectives from North America and the Pacific Islands


The escalating political, economic, and cultural colonization of indigenous peoples over the past few centuries has spawned a multitude of revitalization movements. These movements promise liberation from domination by outsiders and incorporate and rework elements of traditional culture. Reassessing Revitalization Movements is the first book to discuss and compare in detail the origins, structure, and development of religious and political revitalization movements in North America and the Pacific Islands (known as Oceania). The essays cover the twentieth-century Cargo Cults of the South Pacific, the 1870 and 1890 Ghost Dance movements in western North America, the Tuka Movement on Fiji in 1885, as well as the revitalistic aspects of contemporary social movements in North American and Oceania.

Reassessing Revitalization Movements takes Anthony F. C. Wallace's concept of revitalization movements and examines the applicability of the model to a variety of religious and anticolonial movements in North America and the Pacific Islands. This extension of the revitalization movement model beyond its traditional territory in Native anthropology enriches our understanding of movements outside of North America and offers a holistic view of them that embraces phenomena ranging from the psychic to the ecological. This cross-cultural approach provides the most stimulating and broadly applicable treatment of the topic in decades.


Anthony F. C. Wallace

My original article, “Revitalization Movements,” appeared in the American Anthropologist in 1956. It was an early outgrowth of research for a biographical study of the 19th-century Seneca prophet Handsome Lake. As that project evolved, it became less exclusively a life and times work comparable to my earlier Native American biography, Teedyuscung: King of the Delawares (1949), and more a type case for a special kind of social movement. Such events of cultural reform seemed to be extraordinarily widespread, a pancultural phenomenon, recognizable both in small-scale societies on the colonial fringes of great empires and also in the heart of the larger polities themselves. The Handsome Lake study itself, however, did not see print until 1970 with the publication of The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca, and unfortunately the original theoretical essay was not printed as an appendix to that volume. Nevertheless, the Handsome Lake book has enjoyed considerable popularity, particularly among historians, who have in recent years entered the field of American Indian ethnohistory in increasing numbers. By now the expression “revitalization movement” has been somewhat routinized and is sometimes used as a generic term without reference to its source, and the concept has been applied in contexts far removed from the situations mentioned as illustrations in the original article.

Perhaps the most flattering of its most recent uses is in a doctoral dissertation by Wesley Peach, submitted to the faculty of theology of the University of Montreal, and published in 2001 in the series Perspectives de theologies pratique, under the title Itineraires de Conversion (2001). This work presents pathways to successful conversion to Christianity, illustrated by a dozen case histories from Quebec, analyzed in the light of revitalization theory. My writings on revitalization are accurately . . .

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