Religious Colonialism: Cultural Loss in the Solomon Islands

by on Friday, 26 April 2013 Comments

Sitting nearby his canoe Thomas speaks more at length of his sense of cultural loss. Like the rest of his family and the whole village, he defines himself as a Catholic. But he speaks of the missionaries of the ancient time with a thinly veiled resentment: "They took everything away from us... they were very clever... They alienated us from our customs by making us afraid that our ancestral ways would lead us to death, and also by pointing out that the sacrifice of pigs and other rituals were all very expensive. They took away the skulls, and dumped them into the bush... They told us that they was only God, no spirits or ancestors... No, we cannot come back to the past, we cannot retrieve ancient sacrificial ways. We would be afraid to do so. If they had only suppressed bad customs.... But they took everything away, the good with the bad."

What Thomas tells us saddens me to the core, for I have heard similar things elsewhere, and I am conscious of the cultural alienation that Christian missions – among other agents – have often fostered – even if stories are always partial, multifaceted and contradictory. Missionaries were not the sole responsible; in Taiwan, the ones discarding the skulls were not the Churches, but the Japanese colonial power. Still, "Civilization" and "Faith" were realities unduly equated by most western missionaries; for a long time, they proved to be unable to read the Gospel in a light different from the one provided by their own culture. And yet, what freedom of judgment and action does Jesus bring with him, what power of liberation, what reconciliation of the past with the present can his words and his deeds foster... I feel often torn between my experience of the Gospel's liberating power and my awareness of the way it has been distorted by the Western expansion and modes of thought throughout modern history.

The following is a video of renowned anthropologist Pierre Maranda discussing the devastating impact of new evangelical missionaries on the native culture of the Solomons: 

Readers in Mainland China can watch it here on tudou.

Benoit Vermander (魏明德)

Benoit Vermander lives in Shanghai. He teaches philosophy and religious anthropology at the University of Fudan.

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