Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Malinowski and God??

Today we met with the reverand Ignatius Katubai. He is the Convenor for the entire United church community throughout all the Trobriand islands as well as some of the other outlying islands. His circuit is in the village of Tukwaukwa. We thought it would be good to get an opinion from him on Malinowski but upon arriving we found out that more than just having an opinion, he had written an undergraduate thesis in Theology and Anthropology, using Malinowski as his main source!

His thesis was entitled Tuma: the Trobriand Heaven. Now Tuma, as Malinowski recorded, is the island to the northwest of Kiriwina where the Baloma (spirit) goes after it's human counterpart has died. There the Baloma lives the regular life of a trobriander doing all the daily activities they might do in life and eventually dies after which he is reborn in the world of the living by being inserted in a woman's belly by another ancestor(the stories differ according to M's different informants). According to M's informants the Baloma has a body and looks pretty much like a regular person. But Ignatius' idea of Tuma as the Trobriand christian heaven is quite a spin on Mal's work. How would he feel about a Trobriand christian using his anthropology to combine christianity and traditional culture. As we know, Malinowski was a lifetime agnostic and thought the missionaries were a threat and a menace to tradition and culture on the islands. But Ignatius argues that there is no conflict. Tuma is simply the Trobriand version of heaven.

a few days later we spoke with Numakala, the heir apparent to the current paramount chief. He is a hard core christian and his opinion on Tuma was quite different and very fervent: "My bible says that when you die, the soul leaves the body, dust to dust. . . but in Tuma the body is still there, Tuma is full of demons! . . . You'll go there and your dead grandmother will come up to you and speak with you just like she was alive. . . at night you'll hear the sound of the conch shell and the beating of the drum. . . they are demons, trapped." Numakala had apparently spent some time on Tuma and had some seriously freaky experiences. But we wondered why he would call his own grandmother a demon?

But even Numakala admitted to being visited by ancestors in dreams and gaining insight from them as to the mystical teachings of the island. Almost everyone we spoke with seemed to evoke their ancestors in some way. The spells for garden magic actually involve calling on the ancestors by name, a long lineage of teachers and magicians passing down the spell over time. I couldn't help but think about of what's been passed down by Malinowski to our generation. As my uncle Sebastian puts it, "He's a dark cloud that's been hanging over the family evr since i can remember!"

We considered a trip to Tuma but then decided against it after hearing the story of a National Geographic reporter who had gone there and then fainted due to a strange force that eminated from a vortex he was trying to take a picture of?? hmmmm. . .


Blogger walker said...

Loved all your entries, particularly profile hustler Tovesi son tobecome chief. Sounds like home. Also description of Tuma. Sounds like more fun than sitting on a cloud. Iwonder if you area Trobrian Muslim if you can have the 87 virgins on a tropical island. Keep the stuff coming. Lots of love. walker

2:31 PM  

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