Abstract: In early 2000s, a large group of Gogodala-speaking villagers in the Western Province (WP) of Papua New Guinea, led by a man I refer to as Henry, claimed to be members of the Lost Tribes of Israel. Henry and his supporters arranged for the visit of Tudor Parfitt, then Director of the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of London, to WP. In this paper, I suggest that an ongoing local interest in ‘origins’ has been framed in light of biblical teachings, and this more recent claim of a connection between the Gogodala ancestors and the Lost Tribes of Israel. I explore the generation of such ideas and claims through an examination of the significance of babala (‘rules’ or ‘laws’) as practices vital to the maintenance of village-based life, and biblical teachings on behaviour and practice focused on by the local Unevangelised Fields Mission. In this context, I explore the implications of the conjuncture of babala and the Bible, and the visits by Parfitt and his team, through the recent development of a ‘Messianic Church’ in Balimo with explicit forms of worship associated with Judaism.
Dundon, Alison (2012) “The Gateway to the Fly: Christianity, Continuity, and Spaces of Conversion in Papua New Guinea” in Lenore Manderson, Wendy Smith, & Matt Tomlinson (eds) Flows of Faith: Religious Reach and Community in Asia and the Pacific (Springer, New York).
Abstract: By foregrounding space and the role it plays in the experience and recollection of conversion, Dundon illustrates how people conceptualise conversion to Christianity as meaningful. Her analysis of cultural continuity in terms of the parallels between practices and experiences of the ancestors and those of the missionaries draws attention to the importance of the places in which Gogodala live and move, and how they imagine the place to which they will travel to when they die (Wabila/Heaven). Conversion to Christianity, instigated by UFM missionaries and the establishment of the first UFM stations, churches and educational and health facilities, is perceived as a rupture, but not as traumatic and destructive. Rather, conversion is understood as a disjuncture between ‘before’ (when the ancestors did not know where they came from and its significance) and ‘now’ (when this has been revealed to them over time and through the spaces opened up between mission, church and community).
Abstract: This paper critically evaluates the ‘transformative engagement’ between expatriate missionaries and the Gogodala of Western Province, PNG, in light of a recent claim for Jewish ancestry and Israeli nationality. This claim is based on the contention that the original Gogodala ancestors, whose migration to the area is detailed in formal ancestral narratives or iniwa olagi, were members of the Lost Tribes of Israel. In July 2003 this culminated in a visit by Professor Tudor Parfitt, Director of Jewish Studies at the University of London, to investigate. This paper examines the extent to which this claim for identification with Israel represents ongoing dialogue about the origins and nature of Gogodala Christianity, and outlines the extent to which Gogodala communities are substantially connected to places and people beyond their village, province and even country, blurring the boundaries between local and global through their engagement with Christianity.
A part of the special issue: Negotiating the Horizon-Living Christianity in Melanesia