United and divided: Christianity tradition and identity in two south coast Papua New Guinea villages

Michael Goddard*, Deborah Van Heekeren

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


The Motu and the Hula, two south coast Papua New Guinea societies, are linguistically related, have similar social organisation and were economically linked before European colonisation. They were both introduced to Christianity by the London Missionary Society in the late 19th century, and each appeared to incorporate the new religion into their social life and thought quickly and unproblematically. More than a century later, however, generalities about the similar adoption of Christianity by the Motu and the Hula are no longer possible. Nor are generalities about the engagement with Christianity within one or the other group, as individual Motu and Hula villages have unique histories. In this regard, while Christianity has now arguably become part of putative tradition among the Motu, some Hula are experiencing conflict between Christianity and their sense of tradition. In particular, while in the Motu village of Pari Christian virtues are appealed to as part of Pari's conception of itself as a 'traditional' Motu village, the situation in the Hula village of Irupara is more or less the contrary. Many people in Irupara are now lamenting 'tradition' as something lost, a forgotten essence destroyed or replaced by Christianity. Based on fieldwork in both villages, this paper discusses some differences in their engagement with Christianity and compares contemporary perceptions of religion, tradition and identity in both societies, informing a commentary on notions of tradition and anthropological representations of the Melanesian experience of Christianity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)144-159
Number of pages16
JournalThe Australian Journal of Anthropology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes


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