the day of the revivalists’ arrival, I was helping to prepare their welcome meal in the community hall. As we were more than enough people for the task, I took a break with Arthur, a senior man who was both a custom expert and retired deacon in the church. Arthur told me he was looking forward to the arrival of the visitors. The young people from South West Bay were not, as those in the older generation, afraid to spell it out if they knew anyone was practicing posen, he claimed. He continued:
Nobody will be able to keep it (your posen acts) secret anymore. Some people are nervous (shek in Bislama) now, when they hear that the group is coming. It is because they are hiding something. The group from South West Bay has come to help us. Because when we die, we must enter the kingdom of God. That is why those who have posen must let go of it. The life of posen has become too strong. This means that the life of church must become equally strong to meet that challenge.
Ben, a man in his forties, joined our company and added that we were lucky to have such a group in Malekula who could pinpoint bad things that people were hiding:
If you go to worship with them and you feel that you cannot breathe or that your body is “not right”, it is because you are hiding something that is “not good”. It is the Holy Spirit that works in you. You cannot hide anything that is “not good” anymore, whether it is fighting with your wife, having cross with your children, practicing posen or something else.
Elder Edward and his revival
group stayed for two days and ran two services in a crammed church before their main program on the last night. This was held outside the church and the area was packed with just about everyone in the community and many Ahamb islanders living on mainland Malekula. At the center of the area was an impressive tent-like construction of white and red textiles. It was a ‘Tabernacle,’ known from the Bible’s Old Testament as a portable dwelling place for God. The original Tabernacle was built to specifications revealed by God to Moses on the Mount Sinai, and similarly, the specifications of this Tabernacle had been revealed by God to some of the visionary children from South West Bay prior to the program. As in the original from the Old Testament, God was present with his full power inside this Tabernacle.
The program involved sing-a-longs and prayers to ask the Holy Spirit
to come and take place inside the Tabernacle, as well as on Ahamb itself, and in us who were present. The part of the program perhaps filled with most anticipation was the one dealing with sorcery. It was believed that sorcerers would have no choice but to surrender during the program because the visiting visionaries would be able to point them out at once. After a service of singing, Bible readings, preaching, and prayers, Elder Edward spoke: “If anyone accuses you of doing posen, if you are a woman or man who has a bad reputation for these things you must go inside the Tabernacle now.” The message was clear. If you were a sorcerer this was your chance to get forgiveness and make a pledge to God to quit once and for all. If you went inside but continued practicing posen at any time, God would “pay back” and cause you serious sickness or death. If you had a false reputation for sorcery, however, no one would be able to accuse you again as you had made this powerful pledge with God.
There was gravity and anticipation in the air as Elder Edward made the appeal. Two well-known sorcery suspects suddenly came through the crowd and entered the Tabernacle. Then a third man, Kevin, entered. Nobody accused him of sorcery but he was popular for his traditional herbal medicine that is associated with good sorcery. It is believed that if you know the good side of these plants, you are also likely to know the “bad side” that can be used for posen. Kevin went inside in order to clear any doubt. Elder Edward then called for others who had done something wrong (no gud in Bislama) to come inside. A special appeal went out to those who had stolen the big battery of the community hall’s solar system 3 weeks earlier. If they came, they would receive their forgiveness from God and the community. We waited in silence, looking curiously around to see if anyone moved. No one came. Meanwhile, the reputed sorcerers kneeled down inside the Tabernacle. Everyone present was asked to join in prayer for the three men and to ask God to work in their lives.
The concluding part of the program involved a big communal meal that worked as a Holy Communion with food and water prepared inside the Tabernacle. Consuming the Holy meal would wash us with Jesus’ blood and make God forgive our sins. As our bodies were spiritually clean, it would be possible for the Holy Spirit to enter into us. When the Spirit resided in our bodies, God’s work would finally begin and spiritual gifts would be granted to the people on Ahamb as they had been to the people of South West Bay.
It was late night when everyone had finished their meal and the program came to an end. In the calm and quiet air, Elder Edward announced that the island was now clean. He declared that the Holy Spirit
was present on the island, that Jesus had arrived, and that there was no one on Ahamb living in darkness anymore. Now it was up to the Ahamb community to make room for the Spirit to prosper by continuing to pray.
“Fresh news from Heaven”
We cannot hide anymore! Where will you hide now? There is no place to hide. If you do anything not good, if you think badly about another man, steal or have posen, the children will tell you right away now. Because they can see it.
Mary and George, middle aged husband and wife on Ahamb
When the South West Bay group had left, Ahamb church leader Elder Cyril took over and started up nightly revival worships in the Presbyterian community church. Elder Cyril was himself oriented toward the spiritual aspects of Christianity, and knew well the work that a revival entailed. It took about a week of worships before the Ahamb children also started to slen and convey messages. After a month, the number of children who slen was around 10–15, and a total number of about 25 were seeing visions and receiving messages. At the most, around 30 gifted children, youth, and women would slen during the revival worships and sometimes in school, in the garden or in their villages. The revival worships did not have a fixed program but were arranged after directions from the Holy Spirit given to the visionaries or to Elder Cyril.
worships were especially popular among women and children, who were present every night. The attendance of men varied, as the services interfered with their popular kava
drinking sessions. Kava was thus often criticized in the messages of the Holy Spirit as it kept the men away from the church. The climax of the worships was when the gifted lined up and told their revelations one by one in the microphone. Some had several messages to share while others had one, and they varied in length and detail. Visions often involved parables, where the simplest ones could be seeing one dark and one light house symbolizing those who had faith and a clean heart and those who lived in sin and disbelief (tu tingting in Bislama). Elder Cyril who led most of the revival worships emphasized that the messages were “fresh news from Heaven,” messages given directly from the Holy Spirit
to the children. They did not come from any human being, and therefore we had to take them seriously.
Central to the revival was the need to “prepare one’s life” to meet God in this life and in the afterlife. To be aligned with God, it was important to fight the “life of this world” (laef blong wol ia in Bislama); the deceptive worldly enjoyments that kept people away from a holy lifestyle. This included everything “not good” such as stealing, adultery, unfaithfulness, envy
, anger, swearing, fighting, selfishness, being obsessed with money and material things, kava drinking, not going to church, not participating in community work, doubting God, and practicing sorcery. The actions and values that were encouraged as “good” and representing “the life of Heaven” included humility, generosity, kindness, helping people, moderation, faithfulness, going to church, and a full devotion to God. The revival
was, in short, recruiting people to a more pious, empathetic, and ascetic lifestyle. It was warning against the corrupting temptations of this world and directing people’s attention to the rewards of the next (Hefner 2013: 20; see also chapters by Blanes and Pype, this volume). The revival was therefore not promoting the form of Pentecostalism known as «prosperity» or «health
and wealth» gospel where the message is that it is God’s will for believers to be rich, healthy, and successful (see, for example, Coleman 2000; Haynes 2012). The revival rather had as its aim for individuals to achieve a state of inner purity which would further lead to a restructuring of society. Attention to money
and material prosperity was seen as an obstacle to this process.