Feasts and fasts: holidays, religion and ethnicity in nineteenth-century Otago
Clarke, Alison Jane
This thesis examines the history of public holidays and celebrations in the colony of Otago, New Zealand, during the nineteenth century. It takes an ethnographic approach, using personal accounts, images, material objects and contemporary newspapers to explore these events from the colonists' point of view. The study is organised into six sections, each examining a different type of occasion, selected on the basis of their significance to the colonists. The events studied include Presbyterian communion seasons, Christmas and Easter, New Year, harvest celebrations, Otago Anniversary Day, and celebrations and commemorations of the monarchy. Each occasion is explored with a view to the two major themes of the thesis, ethnicity and religion. This study concludes that, contrary to the assumption of many historians, religion did not decline in importance during the nineteenth century; there is no clear evidence of 'secularisation.' Religion pervaded colonial life, and remained an important factor in all public events. Whether they were regular churchgoers or not, the great majority of colonists held certain religious beliefs, for example, that God controlled the natural world. All of the holidays examined in this thesis included some form of religious service, and investigating these provides a valuable insight into religious practice in the colony during this period. Another major finding of this thesis is that Pakeha culture contained much variety. Rather than importing a pre-existing monolithic British culture, colonists brought with them a range of distinctly varied regional cultures, which persisted in the colonial context. Holiday practices were one of the most visible elements of this variety, clearly displaying the different ethnicities of the colonists. Holidays could be used to assert a particular ethnic identity, and on occasion they became sites of cultural contest. Commemorations of the British monarchy were the only holidays to effectively overcome the various ethnic and sectarian divisions of nineteenth-century Otago, uniting all residents, including Maori and Chinese, in remarkable displays of community cohesion. The new physical and social environment of the Otago colony presented challenges to some traditional holiday practices. Yet while the colonists altered some traditions to fit their new environment, others remained remarkably similar to those in their source cultures. The colonists remained deeply attached to their accustomed holiday practices, which, as part of the colonising process, helped them feel more at home in their new environment. In their holidays and celebrations, the Otago colonists revealed the things they valued most: their Christian religion, their imported ethnicities, their local community, the fruits of the land and their labour, and the British empire. Major themes in New Zealand historiography, which suggest that nineteenth-century New Zealand was a society experiencing rapid secularisation and searching for national identity, simply do not account for the realities of life in colonial Otago.
Advisor: Stenhouse, John; Trapeznik, Alexander
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: History
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Holidays; Religion; Ethnicity
Research Type: Thesis
xii, 429 leaves :ill. ; 30 cm. Includes bibliographical references.