van Heekeren, “Hiding Behind the Church”

van Heekeren, Deborah.  2016. Hiding Behind the Church: Towards an Understanding of Sorcery in Christian Papua New Guinea. The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 17(1): 1-16.

Abstract: This paper considers the assumption that the long-term success of the Christian Churches in some parts of Papua New Guinea (PNG) will eliminate or even regulate the magical practices that are nowadays commonly described as ‘sorcery’. Among the Vula’a of PNG men seeking prestige and influence turn to the Church, and some of them are said to be sorcerers who ‘hide behind it’. Most deaths continue to be attributed to sorcery, and fear of sorcery and the need to counter it with other sorcery eclipses Christian proscriptions. It is power – rather than the introduced concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ brought by Christian colonizers that dominates current discourse – that contributes to the persistence of sorcery albeit in a variety of new and introduced forms. Sorcery is effective because it creates a culture of fear. I conclude, then, by applying Heidegger’s analysis of fear to Vula’a sorcery to suggest that an anthropology of fear will contribute to a better understanding of sorcery in contemporary PNG.

Van Heekeren, “Why Alewai Village Needed a Church”

Van Heekeren, Deborah.  2014.  Why Alewai village needed a church: Some reflections on Christianity, conversion, and male leadership in south-east Papua New Guinea.  The Australian Journal of Anthropology.  Early online publication.

Abstract: In the Vula’a villages of south-east Papua New Guinea, the experience of more than a century of Christianity has been incorporated into local understandings of identity and tradition. Church-building (in both the architectural and ideological sense) is at the centre of village life. Even though it was a general policy of the London Missionary Society to build a church in every village in which conversion was undertaken, they did not build a church in the Vula’a village of Alewai. In 2001 the fact that Alewai did not have a church initiated a chain of events that draws attention to a situation of current relevance for Papua New Guinea, as evangelists no longer work to convert the ‘heathen’ but to convert Christians from one denomination to another. As a case study the article is focused on the pastors and deacons of the United Church and thus also serves to document some of the changes that have occurred in male leadership since the early colonial era.

Van Heekeren, “Singing It ‘Local'”

Van Heekeren, Deborah. 2011. Singing it “Local”: The Appropriation of Christianity in the Vula’a Villages of Papua New Guinea. The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology. 12(1): 44-59.

Abstract: The Vula’a people of south-eastern Papua New Guinea have been Christians for more than a century. Through a phenomenology of the transformation of their song and dance styles, this paper sheds light on the nature of the engagement between globalising religions and localised practice. It draws attention to the importance of the appropriation of the Polynesian prophet songs (peroveta), initially as part of the process of conversion undertaken by the London Missionary Society, and presently as an expression of local Christian identity that is shaped by ‘traditional’ exigencies. Song connects the living community and extends the bounds of that community to the non-living, promoting an existential plenitude. I argue that the Christian song styles which replaced traditional dances reproduce a distinctly Melanesian ontology. Further, the instrumental position of early Polynesian mission teachers, both as agents for the new religion and their self-representation as geographically distant ‘kin’ of the Vula’a problematises any easy division between the local and the global.

A part of the special issue: Negotiating the Horizon-Living Christianity in Melanesia