Use this URL to cite or link to this record in EThOS:
Title: Unwrapping gods: encounters with gods and missionaries in Tahiti and the Austral Islands 1797-1830
Author: Jessop, Maia Kerr
ISNI:       0000 0001 3590 4032
Awarding Body: University of East Anglia
Current Institution: University of East Anglia
Date of Award: 2007
Availability of Full Text:
Access from EThOS:
The notion of tapu in eighteenth century Polynesia was all-pervasive: a system of fluid boundaries and thresholds in the landscape pertaining to islands, bodies and objects. The thesis aims to isolate a body of Austral god images from within the London Missionary Society collection and think through this corpus in terms of its materiality - complex assemblages of whalebone and ivory, wood, feathers, hair, tapa and sinnet bindings. Approaching these god images as tapu vessels which trap potency and confer mana, an analysis oftheir assembly and use by ritual' experts or tahu 'a, allows us to explore the way in which they were specifically designed to breach thresholds during ritual procedure. The collection is also significant as amaterial index of the dramatic sociopolitical and cultural shifts which followed the establishment of the London Missionary Society in the region. Critical analysis of missionary sources within the archive allows us to recover aspects of the complex encounters between islanders and missionaries which were often fraught, tense and certainly volatile. Details ofthe acquisition of these god images by London missionaries in the first two decades ofthe nineteenth century allows us to reconfigure the parameters of a series of accepted assumptions about idolatry and iconoclasm in central Polynesia and contests the notion that the conversion of the Austral Islands in particular was a straightforward transition to Christianity. Having established a set ofhistorical and contemporary frameworks for understanding these objects, the thesis finally explores the series of distinct thresholds through which these objects have moved since they were collected and sent to England and thinks about how contemporary display can be used as a critical means of recovery. In this way objects, their histories and display become a means ofre-addressing the missionary encounter in all its rich complexity allowing us to re-assess its resonance for Polynesians and Europeans today.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available