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Flows of Faith pp 215-231 | Cite as

Passports to Eternity: Whales’ Teeth and Transcendence in Fijian Methodism

  • Matt Tomlinson
Chapter

Abstract

Christianity is often considered a religion of transcendence, in which divinity “goes beyond” human space and time. Recent anthropological scholarship has noted, however, that claims to transcendence must be expressed materially. This chapter examines the ways in which Fijian Methodists attempt to achieve a kind of Christian transcendence in which they escape negative influences of the vanua (land, chiefdoms, and the “traditional” order generally). They do so by offering sperm whales’ teeth to church authorities in order to apologise and atone for the sins of ancestors. Such rituals do not achieve the transcendence they aim for, however, as the whales’ teeth–the material tokens offered to gain divine favour–gain their ritual value precisely because of their attachment to the vanua.

Keywords

Fijian Methodists Christian transcendence vanua church authorities powerfull political force ‘chain prayers’ 

Notes

Acknowledgments

This chapter is dedicated to the memory of the Tui Tavuki, Ratu I. W. Narokete. The final version has benefited from the criticisms of Matthew Engelke and Rod Ewins, as well as the expert linguistic advice of Sekove Bigitibau. Thanks also to Apo Aporosa and Matti Eräsaari for their observations on counterfeit tabua. All errors are my own.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Asia and the PacificAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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