Wednesday 20 September 2017 – OAS Lecture 6:30 arrival, 7:00 lecture in The Centenary Auditorium, Art Gallery of NSW. Refreshments available afterwards in the Art Gallery cafe and restaurant. Please note that this is the last of our free lectures at the Art Gallery for OAS members and friends, so bring as many as you can.
Dr Rod Ewins will be presenting an illustrated talk on: Fijian Gods, Sacred Objects and Temples
I propose that there is a link between Fijians’ widespread and sincere Christian belief today, and the profound religious practice of their forebears. Adopting Christianity, I suggest, was a transference of already strong religious inclination. As in other places such as Mexico, some of the old beliefs continue to coexist with the new ones.
Early Wesleyan missionaries noted the religious vigour and were frustrated by it. One of the earliest missionaries commented that “They take their religion into everything”, while another observed that “They are decidedly a religious people, and if they are cruel, revengeful, and addicted to the revolting propensity of eating human flesh, their religion is the poisoned source from which these demoralizing qualities have been derived.”
Just as they took their religion into everything, they brought many natural and man-made things into their religion. Almost anything could serve as vehicles, or shrines, for their gods — from trees, stones, shells and teeth to sacred double canoes, particularly valued weapons, food forks for feeding their chiefs and priests, even barkcloth. Some objects carried a specially significant religious purpose, such as wooden effigies, carved whale-teeth, priests’ bowls and dishes. Some of these objects became, in effect, the gods themselves. Finally, they built special “spirit-houses” accommodating sacred objects and the priests who attended the god of the particular temple. In some places, small model temples housed the gods snugly within the larger buildings.
In this talk I will focus on these man-made objects, many of which can be found in museums around the world, detached signifiers of the pervasive religious life of old Fiji.