Sexuality and Cargo Cults: The Politics of Gender and Procreation in West New Britain

Peer Reviewed

Essay Excerpt

In opposition to Christianity, for many bush Kaliai people, creation is not a product of a male creator but illustrative of the creative power embodied by woman. Such beliefs also challenge the Christian notion of a sacred procreative outside realm (for example, heaven, the garden of Eden, or God) which is re- moved from worldly procreation. If cargo cults celebrate (a black) woman, it is a counter hegemonic strategy that celebrates an inward and substantive indigenous power rather than an outward transcendental colonizing power. For them pro- creation is much too substantial, too embodied, to be transcendental. What Kaliai cargo cults reveal is that woman is God, that what underpins the shifting, changing diverse forms of existence is the begetting power of woman. She provides the universe with its organic connectedness.

Woman operates cosmogonically differently from a male God who creates while remaining physically separated from what He creates. Woman has a more organic relationship to procreation. She is its immanent embodiment rather than its transcendental source. She represents a negation of the other worldliness of Christian colonialism. Her everyday birth and nurturing powers are instantiations of her original cosmogonic powers. Woman's sexuality is situated within and made to be the bearer of an alternative cosmography of procreation and power.  (Lattas, 249-250)

About the Author

Andrew Lattas is a Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Bergen. Professor Lattas has done extensive fieldwork in Papua New Guinea, mainly on the island of New Britain where he has studied and written on millenarian movements, secrecy and trickery, sorcery, myths, modern folklore, gender relations and race relations. He has also written extensively on race and ethnic relations in Australia. His PhD was on Australian newspapers between 1803 and 1830 in the convict colony of New South Wales. His publications include one book, 2 edited collections, 33 refereed articles and 25 book reviews. Currently, Lattas is finishing a new manuscript entitled “Dreams, Madness and Fairy Tales in New Britain,” which is an ethnography of the politics of creativity in rural Papua New Guinea.

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