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
their own political movements. The "Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels" of the war, emerging from the bush with
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
The Tuka Cult of Fiji 3
About 1885 a prophet arose among the hill tribes of Fiji.
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.