A society divided: Death, personhood, and Christianity in Auhelawa, Papua New Guinea
Christianity invites one to consider it as an antisocial and disembedding force, in particular as hostile to tradition and hostile to collective modes of life. Colonial-era evangelists to Papua New Guinea (PNG) called on people to break traditional rules and, in their words, come out of the darkness. It has thus been productive to examine Christianity and tradition in terms of a confrontation of two incompatible systems, indeed, two incommensurate ontologies of social life. Yet examples of the harmonization of Christianity and traditional sociality abound in PNG and many other societies. In this article, I reconsider the history of the dividual in anthropological thought and argue that it should be seen as a frame for relationships that people instantiate through communicative action. I examine two cases of mourning in Auhelawa, a society on Normanby Island, PNG in which participants do not agree on what kinds of persons—Christian individuals or relationally-defined kin—should be posited as the agents of ritual exchanges. While at times they stage mourning rituals as though these two modes of action were opposites, in practice these two frames not only merge but enter into a dialogue in which a relational being grounds individual Christian self- consciousness. I conclude then that what anthropology needs is not to discover additional types of personhood. Rather, we need, as Marilyn Strathern and McKim Marriott initially argued, to attend to how actors theorize themselves in the process of doing sociality.