USP Theses Collection


close this section of the library Methodist Church -- Fiji -- History

View the PDF document Sere dina ni lotu Wesele e Viti : "true songs" : the history, culture and music of Fijian Methodist indigenous liturgy
Author: Black, Helen
Institution: Australian National University.
Award: Ph.D.
Subject: Methodist Church -- Fiji -- Liturgy -- Texts, Methodist Church -- Fiji -- History, Church music -- Fiji, Church music -- Methodist Church
Date: 2010.
Call No.: Pac BX 8316 .F5 B53 2010
BRN: 1197102

Abstract: In 1835 Fijian society was a complex web of discrete social groups, connected either by common ancestry or political affiliation, ruled by chiefs with varying degrees of authority. The largest and most powerful were the political matanitu (confederations) whose paramount chiefs ruled through turaga bale kei Viti, a powerful chiefly system sustained through tribute, approbation and reciprocity. Maintaining their power was a paramount force at the time of missionary contact when constant warfare embroiled all Fijian societies to a greater or lesser extent. The Methodist evangelists, first Westerners to make an impact of consequence on Fijian society, realised the overwhelmingly challenging task of introducing Christianity to so complex a society: tyranny of distance, deified chiefs, rigid mores, dialectic differences, diverse religious beliefs, priests with a vested interest in maintaining power; all these strands omnipresent in an ancient society with limited Western contact. Acceptance of the Christian God would challenge fundamental tenets of chiefly authority and power, as well as Fijian spiritual belief and worship. Making meaningful progress involved the missionaries acknowledging Fijian authority, working within the Fijian social system and, of paramount importance, training and providing Fijian Christian acceptors with the tools for their work of evangelisation. Most effective of all the tools of written language, single dialect, literacy and education, was the utilisation for a Christian liturgy of the meke. Meke, all indigenous sung poetry, is the repository of Fijian oral culture and the one unifying factor in Fijian societies at the time of missionary contact. Events of consequence, past and present, are recorded in the music text known and sung by all indigenous Fijians. Here then was the vital tool for imparting the principles of Christian theology in the semiotics of their first language. Known as taro (catechism), same and polotu, these compositions together with Methodist prayers gave Fijians a complete theological framework in the tradition of their music. ii This thesis examines the pivotal role of Christianised meke as an evangelising tool in the introduction of Christianity. The text of this music spoke directly to Fijians in their oral tradition. Understanding the impact of that contact is to know the elements constituting Fijian society at the time of missionary contact, to be studied with the ethos of the missionaries and the process of adjoining Methodist theocracy to a polytheistic society. Examination of the music and text of the liturgy will show how an indigenous form so completely and uniquely accommodated a rubric for Christian worship.
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