Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Becoming a Christian in Fiji: An Ethnographic Study of Ontogeny

Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Becoming a Christian in Fiji: An Ethnographic Study of Ontogeny

Article excerpt

Ritualized activities pervade daily life in the villages of central Fiji, including the eight villages that make up the country (vanua) of Sawaieke on the island of Gau where I did fieldwork. (1) Specifically Christian rituals include prayer before every meal (including morning or afternoon tea--taken on special occasions) and numerous church services throughout the week; the Wesleyan Church in Sawaieke held early morning prayer every day, at least three evening services during the week, two full Sunday services (morning and evening), and Sunday school. Moreover, all the many traditional ceremonies, such as sevusevu (the offering of yaqona root that constitutes a request for permission to be present in a place and accompanies all yaqona-drinking) and the elaborate ceremonies of welcome to any official visitor, include Christian formulae at the end of speeches of presentation and often a long prayer of Christian blessing. It is, however, in the ceremonies occasioned by death that Sawaieke people reveal most clearly how their commitment to Christianity and to what is traditional (vakavanua, literally, according to the land) are mutually constituted in such a way as to define what it is to be Fijian.

This article points to the importance of these ritualized activities and ceremonies for Sawaieke children's constitution of the ideas that inform a specifically Fijian Christianity. It also demonstrates, incidentally, that orthodox Christian practice is by no means bound to produce orthodox Christians. As will become apparent, there is no need here to posit any explicit or implicit attempt at either syncretism or resistance. This article is not about syncretism, however, nor about Christianity as such, nor even the Fijian-ness of Fijian Christianity. (2) My concern instead is twofold: I wish to examine the developmental process that is the fixation of belief, and also the significance of ritual for this process. I seek to achieve this through an analysis of transformations in certain ideas held by Sawaieke girls and boys aged between 7 years and 10 months (7/10) and 13 years (13/0). (3) My broader objective is to demonstrate (a) how data obtained systematically from children can illuminate our understanding of ritual and its significance, and (b) how an analysis of the developmental process necessarily entails a concomitant analysis of the social relations that inform it.

My analysis accords with an argument I have made elsewhere: that mind is a function of the whole person that is constituted over time in intersubjective relations with others in the environing world. In this unified model of human being, consciousness is that aspect of human self-creation (autopoiesis) that, with time, posits the existence of the thinker and the self-evidentiality of the world as lived by the thinker. Given that human autopoiesis is grounded in sociality--that is, we humans require other humans in order to become and be human--it makes sense to think of our own personal development, and of child development in general, as a micro-historical process in and through which mind is constituted over time as an always-emergent function of the whole person (no need here to posit a dialectical relation between mind and body). Moreover, this whole person's moment-to-moment encounters with the material world of objects and other people are always and inevitably mediated by relations with others--that is, by intersubjectivity (no need here to posit a dialectical relation between reified abstractions such as individual and society or biology and culture). The model takes for granted that intersubjectivity is inevitably emotional, that perceiving and feeling are aspects of one another, that intentionality is through and through a matter of a felt, emotional engagement in the peopled world. All our relations with others and our sense of self cannot be other than lived and felt. (4)

The model rests on two demonstrable propositions: first, that there are no received meanings and, secondly, that the process of making meaning is such that the continuity and transformation of ideas are aspects of one another. …

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