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  • The New Face of Christianity in Oceania: A Major Reference

    medium_couv-globalisation.2.jpgOn July 13th of this year, the Fijian Vice-President participated at the Pacific Theological College in the official launch of a collective book edited by Manfred Ernst, Globalization and the Re-shaping of Christianity in the Pacific Islands, dealing with the contemporary changes of Christianity in Oceania: Mormon and Adventist Churches taking root, declining Historical Protestant Churches and rapidly growing Evangelicals and Pentecostals.
    In 1994, M. Ernst published a first study, Winds of Change, a project founded by the Pacific Conference of Churches that gathers Catholic, Historical Protestant and Anglican Churches in Oceania. The heads of these churches wanted to get information and analysis in order to understand and foil what they saw as an invasion of “foreign” (and more specifically American) Churches and beliefs. Despite some arguable points (notably the supposedly impossible conciliation between “community” local Christian cultures and movements described as “individualists”), Winds of Change became a major reference for those interested in the study of contemporary Christianity in Oceania. The very expected book launched in July will certainly be an even more precious source of information and analysis. Ten years after, it draws up a new inventory, once again with the support of the Pacific Conference of Churches. During these ten years, the “new” churches have deeply taken root in the Oceania religious landscape and it has become more and more difficult to think that they still have “nothing to do” with the local cultures and societies. So we need to understand in what extent they go with and/or contribute to social and cultural changes experienced by the Oceania Islands, how they articulate local specificities and a religious globalisation. The heads of the Historical Churches now understand that these “new” Churches compensate for many of their own deficiencies: too hierarchical structures of authority controlled by the old generation, small part given to the youth in the making of decision, an obsolete rigorism left by the missionaries (dresses, music, role of women), a discourse focused on the inherited belonging to an ethnic-cultural community rather than on individual needs, etc. To dream on the “good old time” coming back is vain, the time when these churches organised the religious and social life of Oceania populations and the urgent task is now to think on the main challenge of the next years: the modalities of religious pluralism. The second part of the book is made of detailed case studies of the religious landscape in 14 Pacific countries, Gwendoline Malogne-Fer and I wrote the chapter on French Polynesia. The book can be notably purchased on the website of the USP (University of the South Pacific) or with an order form.

  • Hakka Protestants in Tahiti

    medium_nz_japon.jpgA few months ago, I made my article on Hakka Protestants in French Polynesia, published in 2004 in Perspectives Chinoises, accessible on the web in its French version. This article was also published in English (China Perspectives n°57, 2005).
    Those who already know the history of Chinese migrations know that Hakka outside China form a very strong Diaspora. In French Polynesia, migrations began in 1865 and were organized by the French Colonial Administration to fit the needs of workers expressed by a big plantation established in Tahiti.

    Here is the abstract of this article:
    While Pentecostalism exists today in French Polynesia, as in all the South Pacific States, it has followed an unusual path there, taking roots initially (during the 1960s) within the Hakka Chinese immigrant community. Long perceived by the historic Protestant Church as “Chinese-style Protestantism”, it initially gave birth to several Hakka Churches, each of which combined cultural identity, integration into Polynesian society and adherence to Christianity in different ways. However, after a series of secessions, a significant number of Hakka converts and their children are to be found in a transcultural Church, the Assemblies of God of French Polynesia. The intersecting histories of Pentecostalism and of the Hakka community in French Polynesia thus bear witness, in an exemplary fashion, to the gradual construction of a plural society (both multicultural and multi-confessional), which is in tension with the adherence of (almost) all the population to Christianity, as well as with individual cultural identities.

    To read this article, click on "Hakka History" in the left column (À lire PDF).
    [Nb.This PDF file has been recorded backward, so the last page of the document is in fact the first page of the article].

  • Presentation

    With this first text of presentation, I am beginning to build the English side of this blog. It may be not perfect, as you can guess English is not my mother tongue, but I hope it can be useful to those interested in these matters.

    medium_CICC_Matavera.JPGThe islands of Polynesia are located in a triangle whose three corners are New Zealand (South), Rapa Nui also called Easter Island (East) and Hawaii (North). French Polynesia is roughly at the centre of this triangle and is made of five archipelagos: The Windward Islands (Tahiti and Moorea), the Leeward Islands (the most famous being Bora Bora), the Austral Islands, the Tuamotu-Gambier and the Marquesas.
    Those who know contemporary Polynesia and more widely Oceania, know how essential is the place of Christianity in these societies. This is obviously not what the tourism industry chooses to sell destinations like Tahiti, even if one can see every Sunday morning some tourists – on the advice of their guides – attending the services of the Protestant Churches in French Polynesia, Cook Islands or elsewhere to hear the traditional hymns. Until recently, the Oceanists haven’t seen Christianity either as a valuable object of study, considering it as a fatal danger for local cultures or preferring to ignore it in order to focus on what seemed to have “resisted” or what was going to be shortly erased from memories.
    The subject of this blog is Polynesia of today, that has been Christian for more than 100 years, and more specifically the last wave of Christianity in Polynesia: Evangelical and Pentecostal Protestants, who are experiencing since the 80’s a rapid growth, mainly at the expense of the Historical Protestant Churches.
    Speaking about Polynesia of today means to take into account the 232000 Pacific people living in New Zealand, Samoans, Tongans, Cook Islanders (more numerous in New Zealand than in their country of origin), Tuvaluans, Niueans… Auckland is the Capital of this Polynesian Diaspora, concentrated in the South suburbs of Otara and Mangere. Polynesia is nowadays also urban: 53% of the inhabitants of French Polynesia are living in town, 48% in the American Samoa, 32% in Tonga.
    The choice of Polynesia as a field of research is not a way to escape from the strong currents of the contemporary word to take refuge in the quiet lagoons of exotic paradises. It is a way to understand evolutions of Christianity whose scale and consequences are still largely unknown: the worldwide expansion of Evangelicals and Pentecostals, the rise of new missions from Africa, Asia and Oceania that aim to re-evangelize the Western countries… among other things.
    (Photo : the Protestant Temple of Matavera, Cook Islands Christian Church, Rarotonga. Copyrights G. Malogne-Fer)