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Tuesday, July 08, 2008
  SBL International: The Bible in the Pacific
One really interesting session I attended yesterday was "The Bible in the Pacific", appropriate in a city which is home to more Polynesians than the other South Pacific Islands put together (I believe, if this is urban myth someone correct me!). I'll mention the two papers in the reverse of the order they were presented, since they represented two generations of Pacific Biblical scholarship.

Sione Havea is a well-established Tongan biblical scholar, now at Charles Sturt University. His paper "Displacing Bible, Drifting Homes, Restless Tellings" was a lively repeat of the usual post-colonial warnings about the ways in which the (Western) missionary enterprise of the 19th and 20th centuries left the Bible as a problematic book. It was engagingly delivered, and even the jibes at "Western Men" did not seem to hurt the Western males in the audience ;-)

The words were enlivened by "
works by artists from Oceania who expose the partnership of the Christian mission with Western colonization"). I somehow missed the argument of the second part, where he spoke about "how and why the Western bible [failed to] function as 'home' for the natives (for whom 'stories give home'). The third part, spoke of "the power of telling" this was a passionate plea, but sadly the example based on the "witch of Endor" (which was promised in the abstract) did not feature in the paper as presented.

Nasili Vaka'uta, a doctoral candidate at the University of Auckland (declaration of interest: I have co-supervised his thesis for the last few years) belongs to the next generation of Pacific scholarship. Nasili spoke on "Myth of (Im)Purity and Peoples of the (Is)Lands: A Tongan Reading of Ezra 9-10" To me Nasili's great achievement is to have prodcued a reading of his text which uses Tomgan vocabulary and culture as the categories that shape the reading. His "Tongan reading" is not merely a Western reading in Tongan clothes therefore, but more genuinely Tongan. I remember encouraging my Congolese students in the 80s to begin, trying to achieve this task, of discovering the thought patterns and processes that would lead to African readings that were African in their intellectual framework as well as their appearance! Back then we made little progress, but I think Nasili's paper represents a strong beginning to such a process for Tongan Tu'a readers. Here is his abstract:

Ezra 9-10 is narrated with a gaze. It gazes at the “peoples of the lands” not merely to identify, but also to belittle and discriminate against. In this paper, I offer a Tongan reading of Ezra 9-10 with attention to objects of deriding gazes, and the myth/ideology behind the gaze vis-à-vis the colonial construction of the Oceanic island 'natives.' This reading is situated in the social location of Tongan commoners (tu'a), and theorized with the Tongan notion of fonua (land, place, sea, and people). Methodologically, it weaves together insights from various methods and categories from Tongan culture. This interpretive framework provides the lenses for enga[g/z]ing (gaze back at) the text.

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