Van Heekeren, “Singing It ‘Local'”

Van Heekeren, Deborah. 2011. Singing it “Local”: The Appropriation of Christianity in the Vula’a Villages of Papua New Guinea. The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology. 12(1): 44-59.

Abstract: The Vula’a people of south-eastern Papua New Guinea have been Christians for more than a century. Through a phenomenology of the transformation of their song and dance styles, this paper sheds light on the nature of the engagement between globalising religions and localised practice. It draws attention to the importance of the appropriation of the Polynesian prophet songs (peroveta), initially as part of the process of conversion undertaken by the London Missionary Society, and presently as an expression of local Christian identity that is shaped by ‘traditional’ exigencies. Song connects the living community and extends the bounds of that community to the non-living, promoting an existential plenitude. I argue that the Christian song styles which replaced traditional dances reproduce a distinctly Melanesian ontology. Further, the instrumental position of early Polynesian mission teachers, both as agents for the new religion and their self-representation as geographically distant ‘kin’ of the Vula’a problematises any easy division between the local and the global.

A part of the special issue: Negotiating the Horizon-Living Christianity in Melanesia