Kava, the devil, and the snake: Pentecostal iconoclasm in contemporary Fiji
Aporosa, S. ‘Apo’. (2019). Kava, the devil, and the snake: Pentecostal iconoclasm in contemporary Fiji. Presented at the Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania Annual Conference (ASA019), University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.
Permanent Research Commons link: https://hdl.handle.net/10289/12449
In his book, The Polynesian Iconoclasm, Jeff Sissons (2014) explains that within a short period of time during the early 1800’s a number of island societies in eastern Polynesia desecrated or destroyed many of their temples and sacred icons as part of their process of rejecting traditional cosmologies and embracing Christianity. This included the renunciation of kava use and the destruction of kava related utensils such as kumete and tanoa (kava bowls). Although some people within these societies recently have begun reengaging with kava and its related practices as part of cultural renaissance, scepticism remains. In Tonga, Samoa and Fiji (with Fiji having both Melanesian and Polynesian influences), iconoclasm was experienced with less intensity than elsewhere in Polynesia. For instance, although the early missionaries encouraged the destruction of weapons of warfare and objects linked to traditional worship, kava and its use was mostly ignored. Indeed, in the case of both Methodism and Roman Catholicism, kava was incorporated into Christian rituals. However, over the past thirty years, Pentecostal Christian groups have gained traction in Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. Their teachings call for the necessity to be ‘born again’, which often includes the rejection of traditional cultural conventions. For some, particularly in Fiji, the ‘born again’ message includes the renunciation of kava, a practice these Christian groups argue has its foundations in ancestral worship and ‘the workings of the Devil’. After the preaching of anti-kava messages, Church services and rallies can conclude with fervent displays of kava utensil destruction. This paper considers the recent aspect of Pentecostalism, with its anti-kava ideology and associated destruction of kava-related implements, as a present day manifestation of a much older pattern of “Polynesian Iconoclasm”.