Cannibalism, Christianity and the Sway of Clothing; Young People Are Being Used to Help Convert the Isolated Tribes of Vanuatu

Sunshine Coast Daily (Maroochydore, Australia), April 30, 2011 | Go to article overview

Cannibalism, Christianity and the Sway of Clothing; Young People Are Being Used to Help Convert the Isolated Tribes of Vanuatu


Byline: OWEN JACQUES

VANUATU is a picturesque getaway for tourists and a haven for tax dodgers and seafarers dragging their wake around the Pacific.

It also bears the scars of the First World influence.

As a naval outpost during the Second World War, the United States built still-standing installations and camouflaged them with mile-a-minute, a quickly spreading weed that now lives atop trees and mountains throughout the larger island of Efate.

New Hebrides, as it was known, also inspired Michener's novel Tales from the South Pacific and the Rogers and Hammerstein musical that followed.

The ni-Vanuatu people have an intoxicating history of tribal war, cannibals and chiefs so beloved that once dead, servants were willingly buried alive alongside.

In the 21st century, now more than 30 years since its name change and declared independence, Vanuatu is an intriguing hybrid of tribal tradition and Christian dogma.

Whatever the denomination of the churches, they now act as community linchpins, often encouraging worship with education and work.

In one of the back streets of the capital Port Vila, on the island of Efate, Pango Road has the country's top resort on one side and dilapidated buildings on the other.

Before the narrow bitumen stretch deteriorates into dirt, there is a simple white church.

Its gate leads directly into the community that houses its congregation.

Early Sunday, it buzzes with handshakes, hushed tones and repetition of aGod bless youa to one another.

I sit in an office the size of a cubicle with the gentle and syrup-voiced Berry Kalotiti Kalotrip, senior pastor and evangelist for this Assemblies of God church.

He has agreed to sit down with me to explain how churches have come to have such influence on the 65 inhabited islands.

His basic English is interplayed with his native Bislama, and fellow pastor Derick Walter helps translate as necessary.

Missionaries arrived in 1845, Kalotrip says through his assistant, bringing with them the word of God and delivering unity to the tribes.

Before that, it was aa place of cannibalism and tribal warsa.

aTheir lives (the islanders) changed. They believed in God the creator of heaven and earth,a he said.

aThe missions translated the bible into local languages.

aWe have different tribes still but there's no more war.a

The Family Worship Centre, which Kalotrip leads, has ambitious plans for growth: to create a congregation in every community.

Young missionaries trained here are dispatched to outlying islands to evangelise kastom (traditional) villages.

aSome of these villages are Christians but they don't like change.

aWe evangelise with clothing.

aThe mentality has changed but they don't wear the clothes so the church works with the chief in the community. …

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