Feast of water: Christianity and the economic transformation of a Melanesian society
This dissertation is an ethnographic study of cultural and economic change in Auhelawa, a rural, indigenous society of southern Normanby Island (Milne Bay Province), Papua New Guinea. After a century of Australian colonial administration and postcolonial economic and social changes, people of Auhelawa feel as though their culture has undergone a profound and irreversible transformation away from an ethos of mutual interdependence and reciprocity and towards one of individualism and self-interested accumulation. I argue that participation in Christianity, brought by Australian missionaries in the early twentieth century, provides people with a frame of reflexive perception of their historical experience through a Christian cosmology that centers on individuals. In response to the perception of the negative effects of economic change, Auhelawa embrace their Christian congregations as a radically alternative basis for sociality. They believe that Christian sociality can contain the perceived negative effects of change, and they seek to use Christianity to create an alternative culture that can replace the social world of kinship and exchange. In general, I argue that Christianity, as a mode of reflexive perception and action, shapes the intercultural relationship between Auhelawa and Western culture of which it is itself a part. When perceived through the lens of Christianity, economic transformation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.