First Contact with God: Individualism, Agency, and Revivalism in the Duke of York Islands

Essay Excerpt

...  We see in this case the emergence of Papua New Guineans who, more than a century after Brown's arrival, have come to share in significant measure his sense of the portentous making of history.[2] Through a discussion of who these evangelicals were and why they emerged when they did, we explore the way that the "structure(s) of the conjuncture(s)" (Sahlins 1985:xiv) during the colonial and postcolonial periods played out so as to affect and empower a specific kind of person: a Christian citizen, operating in the context of a nation-state, who envisioned a society of like-minded persons and a self capable of effecting that society. In this exploration, we extend and ethnographically embody Chakrabarty's contention that the idea of " 'history' [and its concomitant concept of anachronism] was absolutely central to the idea of 'progress' (later 'development') on which colonialism was based and to which nationalism aspired" (1992:57). Along the way, we draw certain perhaps surprising comparisons among disparate characters and contexts in the contemporary nation-states of Papua New Guinea, the United States, and beyond.

In sum, our goal is to provide a social history (albeit partial) of the development of a particular sense of history: the acceptance by certain Duke of York Islanders, within the institutional context of the Papua New Guinea state, of central aspects of the view of individualism and agency that brought George Brown (and Michael Leahy) to Papua New Guinea (280).

Gewertz, D. and Errington, F. "First Contact with God: Individualism, Agency, and Revivalism in the Duke of York Islands." Cultural Anthropology 8.3(1993): 279–305.

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