Mixed blessings: Christianity and history in women's lives on Simbo, Western Solomon Islands
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 10:26 authored by Christine May Dureau
This thesis considers the ethnographic history of Simbo, a small island in the western Solomon Islands. The particular focus is upon the significance of conversion to Christianity and subsequent Christian practice, in shaping social and cultural issues and practices in the 1990s. Women's lives, in particular those aspects concerned with kinship, are the lens through which historical changes are viewed. By juxtaposing the structures suggested by indigenous lifecycle categories and the differentiation inherent in individual biographical material, I try to reflect the regularities and continuities within Simbo society as well as the variability and unpredictability of sociality at any given moment. At the same time, the mutability of structure is reflected in the transformed significance of institutions and ostensibly similar practices. -- The period under scrutiny is that between c. 1900-1990, which covers social practices and events from immediately prior to pacification and the Methodist Mission's establishment in the New Georgia Group in 1902 up until the present. I argue that since pacification, the progressive development of indigenous Christianity has been the major determinant of Simbo responses to the world system. This is not to argue that pacification represented the first intrusion of Europe or the beginning of social transformations. Constructions of indigenous societies as having been static entities before contact with Europe are critiqued. Pacification, after more than a century of contact with Europe, had revolutionary implications because of its significance from local worldviews, as much as for its demonstration of British political "legitimacy". -- Christianity, then, cannot be divorced from the reality of political and economic subordination throughout the twentieth century. Nor, however, can it be simpHstically treated as merely the ideological face of expanding capitalism. Following J. Comaroff and J.L. Comaroff, I treat the non-material aspects of social life as being as significant as the material. From its earliest days, the Methodist Mission both facilitated and hampered the interests of government and traders. But it is not only mission personnel who are important here. Simbo people have consistently shaped and deployed their own Christian frameworks. If they never resisted it, they have certainly transformed what was imposed on them ninety years ago from ideology to lived hegemony.