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Transnational rituals and religious practices from a material perspective


Sebastien Galliot, Dr Vaoiva Ponton

Session presentation

Since scholars such as Hannerz, Appadurai and Marcus have contributed to develop the study of transnational practices, most anthropological and ethnographic accounts of Pacific transnationalism have revolved around the economic benefits of migration, the construction of Pacific identities abroad and the evolution of the social links with islands. Drawing on Epeli Hau’ofa and Lee Francis insights about reciprocity and inequality regarding the contribution of migrants to family obligations and ceremonial exchanges « at home », this panel wishes to expand this discussion by exploring the material aspects of religious mobility. In the Pacific, ritual knowledge and technical expertise are often imbricated and embodied on individuals of a particular status. On the other hand, religious knowledge, in general, have been continuously crucial for status reproduction and social differentiation. Experts, leaders and craftsmen are nowadays also engaged in transnational mobility. They contribute to the relocation of ritual, to the transmission of knowledge and to the circulation of a specific material culture. This panel invites contributors to explore the following interrogations: What is the effect of ritual mobility on the islands home, how does mobility affect the content of religious materiality and embodied knowledge. How does contemporary Pacific religiosity materialize across borders?

Paper submissions are closed

Accepted papers


Sebastien Galliot (Aix-Marseille University, CNRS, EHESS)

Dr Vaoiva Ponton (Manawise Group)

This session will form an introduction focusing on the keys issues raised by this panel.

GLOBALISING INDIGENOUS SPIRITUALITY: The festival Lo Spirito del Pianeta (Bergamo, Italy) from the perspective of a dance group from Tufi, PNG.

Elisabetta Gnecchi-Ruscone (Università di Milano Bicocca)

This paper is the outcome of recent fieldwork with a group of 10 dancers from Tufi (PNG) who attended a festival of Indigenous peoples in Chiuduno (Italy). The festival, Lo Spirito del Pianeta, aims at bringing together indigenous peoples from all around the globe so that through their dancing, singing and art they may teach Westerners about their spiritual relationship with “Mother Earth”, helping them to rediscover their own spiritual connection with the environment and find salvation from contemporary problems. Another aim of the festival is for indigenous people from different continents to meet and discuss their problems, forming alliances and networks, and thus feel less alone in their own struggles at home. On their part Tufi dancers and their sponsors in PNG had different agendas and rhetoric, aiming at promoting cultural tourism as a form of sustainable development in their villages.
I will focus on Tufi performers’ responses to the constant requests made on them by festival organisers, other participants and the public to exhibit and share a presumed deep spiritual connection to the Earth. Such expectations are problematic in consideration of cultural norms about secrecy and sharing traditional ritual knowledge, which at home is the preserve of elders of specific clans and is linked to individual and clan status on one hand, while on the other hand it has long been denigrated as primitive and pagan by colonial but now indigenised Christian rhetoric.

Transnational community ritual in PNG-Australian diaspora communities: The case of the Blessed Peter To Rot.

Anna-Karina Hermkens (Macquarie University)

This paper engages with religious mobility by looking at how migrants from Papua New Guinea (PNG) are relocating Catholic shrines and ritual celebrations to Australia in order to celebrate their National Patron Saint Peter To Rot. In relocating rituals, regalia and images associated with Peter To Rot, migrants generate ‘belonging’, as well as new connections and communities, fostered through the circulation of specific material religion. By looking at Peter To Rot celebrations in both Australia and PNG and migrant pilgrimages to the site of the Blessed Peter To Rot in Rabaul (East New-Britain, PNG), I aim to unravel the effects of ritual mobility in both locations. This shows how religious rituals and regalia can be an important source of identity and belonging for both Catholic and non-Catholic migrants. This confirms observations made elsewhere that mobility is implicated in re-assertions of the importance of place for the religious, and that religion is at the centre of many migrants’ identities, with religious institutions, such as the Catholic Church, becoming a focal point for PNG migrant gatherings and opportunities to share and circulate knowledge and information.

Sakau en Pohnpei in Motion: Enacting Pohnpeian Kava Rituals on Guam

Jacqueline Hazen (New York University)

Sakau en Pohnpei, or Pohnpeian kava, is cultivated as a sacred, highly-valuable resource on the island of Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia. Conducted by several ritual specialists leading a team of men and women, the sakau ceremony involves not just the bodily incorporation of sakau, but also its ritual pounding on basalt slabs and formal presentation to chiefs during myriad activities in Pohnpeian custom that mediate relationships: ritual exchanges during feasts, marriage proposals, and petitions for forgiveness. Drawing on multi-sited ethnographic research in Micronesia, this paper explores how diverse Pohnpeians use this sacred ceremony with imported sakau on the U.S. island territory of Guam. At the 2016 Festival of Pacific Arts, visiting Pohnpeian ritual and government leaders, a paramount chief, dancers, and members of the Pohnpeian diaspora living on Guam enacted a sakau ceremony for their Chamorro hosts, local and international tourists, and festival delegates from 27 Pacific nation-states, states, and territories. What were these Pohnpeians aspiring to do by bringing the materials and ritual of the sakau ceremony into this highly performative, transnational festival space? In the 20th century, sakau began to be drunk at local bars on Pohnpei — and now, in similar spaces on Guam — while a sakau ceremony became part of Catholic community reconciliation services. How and why does a fledgling diaspora congregation materialize this Pohnpeian Catholic rite on Guam?

The Drink and Gift of the Pacific: The interface of Tongan social spaces and cultural practices.

Edmond Fehoko (Auckland University of Technology)

According to Tongan legend on kava:

The sacrificial obligation of kava highlights the importance of keeping social relations between the kingly and other classes. This is reflected through the performance of their reciprocal social obligations to one another as a means of creating good relations. The bitterness of the kava and sweetness of the sugarcane plants are figurative of the huge sacrifice made by Fevanga and Fefafa, The sacrifice resulted in the creation of the kava ceremony as a lasting social institution of immense value to Tongan society.

Many countries have certain beverages and activities that are unique and distinctive to that country, for
example, Guinness for the Irish, Tequila for Mexicans and Whisky for the Scots and Ouzo for the
Greeks. As such, one’s national identity and activity can become a powerful expression of one’s
loyalties and cultural identity. For this paper and in line with the Tongan legend of kava, I explore the
social space of the faikava, a cultural practice that has evolved from the traditional kava ceremony to a
modern day “cultural classroom” where Tongans born and raised in diasporic communities in New
Zealand, Australia and the United States of America. Other significant contributions was how the faikava
played a significant role in teaching and reinforcing the notion of ‘pukepuke fonua’ or maintain the lea
and anga fakatonga. In addition, the fostering of intergenerational harmony allows for Tongan elders to
bridge generational gaps with Tongan youth. Finally, this cultural practice contributes to the deterrence
of social issues such as excessive alcohol consumption, youth gang affiliation, drug abuse and youth