Tomlinson and Bigitibau, “Theologies of Mana and Sau in Fiji”

Tomlinson, Matt and Sekove Bigitibau. 2016. Theologies of Mana and Sau in Fiji. 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: Our purpose in this chapter is not to argue over translations, however. As more than a century of scholarship has shown, isolating the word mana to search for a context-free meaning is not a productive enterprise, and there is an obvious danger in what Michael Lempert (2010: 394) has called ‘word prospecting’—pulling terms out of context and treating them as emblems, or fetishising them. There is significant variability in how mana is used in different contexts within a society, between societies, and over time—and the larger point is that terms in language never precisely map onto concepts, practices, or effects. We focus, rather, on the ways that mana has become an object of analysis by indigenous Fijian Methodist theologians. In the first half of this chapter, we examine mana’s association with speech and with the term sau, a word with which mana is often paired and sometimes contrasted. In the second half, we turn to Fijian Methodist theologians’ analyses of mana as well as sau, especially as they compare the authority and effectiveness of church leaders with that of hereditary chiefs. Ultimately, we aim to rethink Fijian mana as something which is not necessarily miraculous, but is instead a poetic expression used to articulate and evaluate models of divine and human speech.