Van Heekeren, “Why Alewai Village Needed a Church”

March 13, 2014

Van Heekeren, Deborah.  2014.  Why Alewai village needed a church: Some reflections on Christianity, conversion, and male leadership in south-east Papua New Guinea.  The Australian Journal of Anthropology.  Early online publication.

Abstract: In the Vula’a villages of south-east Papua New Guinea, the experience of more than a century of Christianity has been incorporated into local understandings of identity and tradition. Church-building (in both the architectural and ideological sense) is at the centre of village life. Even though it was a general policy of the London Missionary Society to build a church in every village in which conversion was undertaken, they did not build a church in the Vula’a village of Alewai. In 2001 the fact that Alewai did not have a church initiated a chain of events that draws attention to a situation of current relevance for Papua New Guinea, as evangelists no longer work to convert the ‘heathen’ but to convert Christians from one denomination to another. As a case study the article is focused on the pastors and deacons of the United Church and thus also serves to document some of the changes that have occurred in male leadership since the early colonial era.

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