Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, Vol 28, No 3 (2015)

Mobile Religion on Ancestral Ground: Rituals of Christian Conversion in the Western Solomon Islands

Debra McDougall
Issued Date: 18 Jan 2016


Conversion to Christianity from an ancestral religion is often depicted as a move from a closed world of local spirits to a radically open world of a transcendent God. This article focuses on the Pacific Islands, one of the most thoroughly Christian parts of the world, where people themselves often describe conversion as a move from a local to a global world. Drawing on ethnohistorical research conducted over a period of decades on the island of Ranongga in the Western Province of Solomon Islands, this article focuses on narratives about the arrival of Christianity and stories recounting the efforts of indigenous missionaries to establish Christianity in local places. It complicates a simple but compelling contrast between Christian universalism and ancestral localism by showing that many ancestral powers had themselves come from afar and new converts drew on old ritual techniques for conquering localized powers and installing their new God.

Download Media

PDF (Price: £17.50 )

DOI: 10.1558/jasr.v28i3.28943


Acciaioli, Gregory L.
2015 The Place of Non-Place in Bugis Ritual. In Keeping Indonesia in Mind: Excursions with the work of E. Douglas Lewis (published in Indonesian as Pemburu Yang Cekatan: Anjangsana bersama karya-karya E. Douglas Lewis), 7-58. Penerbit Ledalero, Indonesia.
Bensley, A. A.
1931 A Difficult Village. The Open Door 10 (3): 10.
1932. Church Opening at Kubokota, Ronongo, Bilua Circuit, Solomon Islands. The Open Door 11 (2): 10.
Besnier, Niko
2004 Diversity, Hierarchy, and Modernity in Pacific Island Communities. In A Companion to Linguistic Anthropology, edited by Alessandro Duranti, 95-120. Blackwell, Malden, MA.
Beyer, Peter
2007 Religion and Globalisation. In The Blackwell Companion to Globalization, edited by George Ritzer. Blackwell, Malden, MA. DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405132749.2007.00026.x
Bonnemaison, Joel
1994 The Tree and the Canoe: History and Ethnogeography of Tanna. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu.
Carter, George C.
1973 A Family Affair: A Brief Survey of New Zealand Methodism's Involvement in Mission Overseas 1822-1972. Wesley Historical Society of New Zealand, Auckland.
Dureau, Christine
2001 Recounting and Remembering "First Contact" on Simbo. In Cultural Memory: Reconfiguring History and Identity in the Postcolonial Pacific, edited by J. M. Mageo, 130-62. University of Hawai'i Press, Honolulu.
Errington, Frederick, and Deborah Gewertz
1994 From Darkness to Light in the George Brown Jubilee - the Invention of Nontradition and the Inscription of a National History in East New Britain. American Ethnologist 21 (1): 104-122.
Filer, Colin.
2011 The New Land Grab in Papua New Guinea. Pacific Studies 34 (2/3): 269-294.
Gewertz, Deborah and Frederick Errington
1993 First Contact with God: Individualism, Agency, and Revivalism in the Duke of York Islands. Cultural Anthropology 8(3): 279-305.
Hilliard, David
1966 Protestant Missions in the Solomon Islands 1849-1942. Ph.D. diss, History, Australia National University, Canberra.
Hocart, A.M.
1922 The Cult of the Dead in Eddystone of the Solomons (Part 1). Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 52: 71–112.
1931 Warfare in Eddystone of the Solomon Islands. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 61: 301–24.
Horton, Robin
1971 African Conversion. Africa 41(2): 85–108.
1975 Rationality of Conversion. Africa 45 (3): 219–35, (4): 373–99.
Hviding, Edvard
1996 Guardians of the Marovo Lagoon: Practice, Place, and Politics in Maritime Melanesia. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu.
Lawrence, David Russel
2014 The Naturalist and His “Beautiful Islands”: Charles Morris Woodford in the Western Pacific. ANU E-Press, Canberra.
Jolly, Margaret
1982 Birds and Kastom Banyans of South Pentecost: Kastom in Anticolonial Struggle. Mankind 13 (4): 338–56.
Juergensmeyer, Mark.
2006 Thinking Globally about Religion. In Oxford handbook of global religions, edited by Mark Juergensmeyer, 3-14. Oxford University Press, Oxford. DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195137989.003.0001
Macintyre, Martha
1983 Warfare and the changing context of 'kune' on Tubetube. Journal of Pacific History 18 (1): 11-34.
1995 Violent Bodies and Vicious Exchanges: Personification and Objectification in the Massim. Social Analysis 37: 29–43.
McDougall, Debra
2016 (in press) Engaging with Strangers: Love and Violence in the Rural Solomon Islands. Berghahn Books, New York.
Patterson, Mary
2002 Moving Histories: An Analysis of the Dynamics of Place in North Ambrym, Vanuatu. Australian Journal of Anthropology 13 (2): 200–18.
Rutherford, Danilyn
2003 Raiding the Land of the Foreigners: The Limits of the Nation on an Indonesian Frontier. Princeton University Press, Princeton.
Sahlins, Marshall D.
1981 Historical metaphors and mythical realities: Structure in the early history of the Sandwich Islands kingdom. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.
1985 Islands of History. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Scott, Michael W
2007 The severed snake: matrilineages, making place, and a Melanesian Christianity in southeast Solomon Islands. Carolina Academic Press, Durham.
Sissons, Jeffrey
2011 Anthropological Understandings of Hapuu and the Improvisation of Social Life. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 17 (3): 628–31.
2014 The Polynesian Iconoclasm: Religious Revolution and the Seasonality of Power. Berghahn Books, New York.
Solomon Islands Statistics Office
2012 Report on 2009 Population and Housing Census: Basic Tables and Census Description, Vols. 1 and 2. Honiara: Solomon Islands Government. Retrieved 5 Feb 2015 from:
Spriggs, Matthew
1997 The Island Melanesians. Blackwell, Oxford.
Steley, Dennis
1989 Unfinished: The Seventh-Day Adventist Mission in the South Pacific, excluding Papua New Guinea, 1886-1986. Ph.D. diss, Department of History, University of Auckland, New Zealand.
Taylor, John Patrick
2008 The Other Side: Ways of Being and Place in Vanuatu. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu.
Van der Veer, Peter.
1995 Introduction. In Conversion to Modernities: The Globalization of Christianity, edited by Peter van der Veer, 1-22. Routledge, New York.
White, Geoffrey M.
1991 Identity through History: Living Stories in a Solomon Islands Society. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
2013 Chiefs, Church, and State in Santa Isabel, Solomon Islands. In Christian Politics in Oceania, edited by M. Tomlinson and D. McDougall, 171-97. Berghahn Books, New York.
Young, Michael W.
1997 Commemorating Missionary Heroes: Local Christianity and Narratives of Nationalism. In Narratives of nation in the South Pacific, edited by Ton Otto and Nicholas Thomas, 92-132. Harwood Academic Publishers, Amsterdam.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Equinox Publishing Ltd - 415 The Workstation 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)114 221-0285 - Email:

Privacy Policy