Christ is the Melanesians' ancestor : an attempt to theologise peoples' experiences of Christ in New Georgia, Solomon Islands, within the United Church
Joi, Elliot Garvin
The coming of christianity through Methodism in the Western Solomons is always thought of as being an influence that damages the traditional elements of life within the New Georgia areas. What of, "This is now a common attitude towards Christianity in Melanesia”? People are even saying "it a white man's religion; therefore do away with it". When it comes to Christ the same is also true. The name 'foreign Christ’ is becoming a popular term that is applied to Jesus. This is particularly evident in theological institutions as well as among the hierachies in Melanesia. While there is some truth in the claim that damage has been done to certain cultural aspects of society, it would be incorrect to say that with the dawn of christianity, ancestral beliefs were done away with and Christ become the victor of the people. This is not true and by assuming that this is what has happened, Melanesians are creating false impressions by labelling Christ and Christianity as foreign in Melanesia. At least missionaries in their own christian beliefs and practices accommodated ancestral beliefs in the church. In this respect the local people were able to capitalise on christianity because for them it was only the continuation of their ancestral faith expressed in new forms and characters. This can be seen with the conversion results that took place during the early history; of Christianity through out Melanesia. Conversion to christianity involved the whole community; because there was a common identity within christianity that was in keeping with their own belief people were motivated to accept the christian faith. So conversion to christianity did not affect people's ancestral beliefs in the ancestors. In fact their conversion to Christ was influenced by the belief that he appeared to them just as their ancestors. What does it mean to theologise Christ in the context of the ancestors in Melanesia today? This question is vital for the churches in Melanesia as they continue to engage in exploring theological methods and approaches that will help to bring and communicate the appropriateness of Christ to Melanesian cultural contexts. In addition to that the theology of ''Jesus The Ancestor" is a solution to the problem of formulating attractive or as what John Kadiba claimed as generalised theological concepts which are not applicable to the whole people in the region because as theological models they do not express our common-ness. Commenting on Pacific and Melanesia Theology John Kadiba argued that: I am aware that to speak about a Pacific theology is to generalise because the peoples of the Pacific are not all the same, in spite of their "Pacificness”. We are made up of different ethnic groups, each with particular cultures and customs. Even to speak of Melanesian theology is to generalise (1). This also applies to expressions such as Melanesian Way or Melanesian Christ. Michael Maeliau made the same comment about the Melanesian Way when be wrote: … there is no such thing as a "Melanesian Hay" in anything… this is true because Melanesia as a whole encompasses such vast differences in traditions, customs, laws, gods, and ways of worship (2). While Maeliau was correct, in noting traditions, customs and laws as expressing some of the cultural differences among the people, he was wrong to include gods and worship because be contradicted himself when be admitted that: … underlying those different forms of worship are beliefs, principles, and logics that are basic and common… to be some kind of standard expression (3). If there is to be a theology that accommodates the needs of the people in Melanesia then surely it is that of ‘the Theology of .Jesus and Ancestor'. This is due to one reason and that is because the belief in the ancestor was common through out in Melanesian societies. Further evidence showing that the ancestors were important to every one in society is provided by the national anthems of the Independent States of both the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. Churches are beginning to recognise the important roles that ancestors contributed to the welfare and well-being of the people in traditional society. Today they have roles within the infrastructure of the church. As an approach to indigenise and contextualise theology in Melanesia, this study in its conclusion wishes to hightlight the point that theologically it is groundless to continue employing models from out-side sources to bring out the knowledge about God and his incarnation in Melanesia. The way people have understood God and Christ proves also that the foreign-ness of Christ and christianity is an unfounded assumption because according to experience, people are still dealing with the beliefs that are basically traditional in their understanding of God and Christ. This form of theologising about God and the incarnation is relevant in Melanesia because it is based on concrete evidences based on people's experience of Christ in the church. Therefore to speak of Christ as ancestor is theologically meaningful in Melanesia and at the same time makes theology alive because it draws its sources from the people. A theology that divorces itself from society cannot communicate God in Melanesia. It is looking at God in the context of people and learn their experiences about him that enables this study to advocate Christ as the Melanesian ancestor.
Advisor: Bergin, Helen
Degree Name: Master of Theology
Degree Discipline: Theology
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis