The Australian Outlook

The Significance of Modern Cults in Melanesian Development

Cyril S. Belshaw.   

Although we know that in New Caledonia and Fiji the Melanesian people have shown themselves capable of considerable political  development,1 many of us who know the Melanesian2 in the New  Hebrides, British Solomon Islands, and New Guinea are inclined  to doubt the possibility, at least in the near future, of Melanesians  organising their own political movements. The "Fuzzy Wuzzy  Angels" of the war, emerging from the bush with hardly-come-by  garden produce, resisting many forms of agricultural innovation,  chewing betel nut, wearing cast-off clothing, speaking seemingly  mutilated forms of English, appear to be far removed, from any  form of modern organisation. The British Solomon Island experi-  ments in Native Courts and Councils, though a tremendously pro-  mising innovation, have been temporarily arrested by a strange  native cult. The suggestion that there might before long be a pan-  Melanesian nationalist movement would evoke incredulous smiles  from most European island-residents, who point to the impossibility  of persuading labourers from different communities to work to-  gether in harmony, to the multifarious languages and cultures, and  to the absence of anything approaching a centralised organisation  in traditional life.   

It is the purpose of this article to suggest, however, that this is  far too simple an interpretation of Melanesian possibilities. An  analysis of certain apparently isolated Melanesian cults, which have  grown up in European times, will give an indication of some of  these possibilities. We may begin by a brief summary of their feat-  ures.                           

The Tuka Cult of Fiji 3  

About 1885 a prophet arose among the hill tribes of Fiji. He

1. In both colonies there are indigenous tribal systems not found elsewhere in Melanesia. In New Caledonia the Melanesians have a limited franchise, in Fifi they play a prominent part in local politics. 

2. For the purpose of this article I do not attempt to distinguish between Papuans and Melanesians.  

3. See A. B. Brewster, The Hill Tribes of Fiji, Seeley Service, 1922.                                            

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