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Of Drums and Gods: 'Tradition' and Christianity in Oksapmin Church Soundscapes

Based on ethnography undertaken since 2008, this paper seeks to interrogate and probelmatise the relationship between aesthetic form and conceptual meaning within the mainly Baptist church services of the Oksapmin, a group of principally subsistence gardeners living in the mountainous headwaters of the Fly and Sepik Rivers near the Indonesian border, a region home to the Min people known through the work of Barth (1975, 1987), Robbins (2004), Crook (2007) and others. The most striking aspect of these services is their regular employment of walon (wooden hand drums), tiambel (luminescent shells for personal adornment), as well as the plumage of various bird species, again for aesthetic appeal. The paper resists the analytical temptation to treat the use of these instruments and adornments as merely the continuation of indigenous form imbued with a new Christian meaning, thereby becoming mired in the binary of traditional vs Christian culture, and instead seeks to develop a new vocabulary for describing synthetic religious forms such as these that are more in line with the perspectives of the Oksapmin people themselves. Exploratory and experimental in nature, then, the paper moves toward an ontologically nuanced approach with recursive dimensions.
Conference Contribution
Type of thesis
Macdonald, F. (2017). Of Drums and Gods: ‘Tradition’ and Christianity in Oksapmin Church Soundscapes. Presented at the Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania (ASAO); Sounds of the Pacific panel, Kaua’i, Hawaii, February 7th-11th, 2017.
© 2017 copyright with the author.