Hardin, “Claiming Pule, Manifesting Mana: Ordinary Ethics and Pentecostal Self‐making in Samoa”

lHardin, Jessica. 2016. Claiming Pule, Manifesting Mana: Ordinary Ethics and Pentecostal Self‐making in Samoa. In Matt Tomlinson and Ty P. Kāwika Tengan, eds., New Mana Transformations of a Classic Concept in Pacific Languages and Cultures. Canberra: ANU Press.

Excerpt: While mana and pule are concepts shared among Christians in Samoa, I focus on two everyday uses of the terms: first, how Pentecostal Christians are taught to manifest mana, which is a capacity that is supposed to be available to all born-again believers; second, how mana and pule are invoked in interdenominational contexts. Claiming pule and channelling mana mediates tensions surrounding Pentecostal Christians striving for individual agency and indigenous notions of flexible and context-specific notions of agency, which are also expressed in mainline Christianity. Pentecostal Christians are explicitly taught how to manage individual agency in ethical ways through cultivating a personal relationship with God, which enables supplicants to become agents of mana. Claiming pule and channelling mana are thus discursive tools for managing tensions surrounding agency by allowing born-again Christians to decentre individual agency and foreground God’s agency. In everyday life in Samoa there is a hierarchical imperative of defaulting to titled or high status people. The three most widely circulating criticisms in Samoa— fiapalagi (to try or want to be white), fiapotu (to try or want to be smart), and accusations that suggest pride, including fiamaualuga (wanting to be high) or mimita (to be boastful)—suggest that claiming authority and power is difficult because of a general bias against individual agency and non-titled authority (see also Gershon 2006: 145). The personal and individual relationship with God encouraged in Pentecostal Christianity heightens these already present anxieties about individual agency and authority (see also Eriksen 2014).

I examine mana and pule through the lens of what Michael Lambek calls ‘ordinary ethics’ to explore how claiming divine pule and mana is a strategic and ordinary way to deflect individual agency. Focusing on ‘“ordinary” implies an ethics that is relatively tacit, grounded in agreement rather than rule, in practice rather than knowledge or belief and happening without calling undue attention to itself ’ (Lambek 2010: 2). Similarly, selfhood requires embodied and discursive labour that is often a tacit, taken-for-granted, orientational process (Csordas 1994: ix) and an embodied and historically situated practical knowledge (Battaglia 1995: 3). Manifesting mana, and its pair pule, are discursive tools of everyday ethical practice that enable believers to speak and act with culturally recognised authority. Claiming divine authority and channelling divine power through the self are everyday ways that Pentecostal Christians in Samoa carve out distinct (i.e. different from mainline Christianity) and ethical ways of generating power in ways that are legible and valued across Christianities.