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Christianity to Oceania

Both Christian missionaries and Pacific islanders viewed the universe as occupied by good and evil spirits. Islanders offered blood sacrifices to cleanse their land of evil pollutions. Missionaries, it was observed by one of their number, William Ellis, preached that conversion to Christianity would purify the islanders themselves, through the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ "which cleanseth from all sin." (Footnote 1) 

The culture of the missionaries often clashed with that of the islanders. For islanders, sharing goods had been connected with their gods and a part of their kinship and patronage (status) relationships. Missionaries violated this view by not giving away the wonderful things they brought with them and not seen before by the islanders. For many islanders, at least, the preaching and prayers of the missionaries was not as much a religious act as would have been the giving of axes, knives, scissors and cloth. One Westerner, a Russian scientist, who did share his goods, Nikolai Mikloucho-Maclay (1846-88), was viewed as god-like. Before Mikloucho-Maclay left, people in that part of Papua New Guinea today known as Madang had incorporated Mikloucho-Maclay's goods into their rituals of exchange and into their mythology about divine beings. (Footnote 2) 

The Germans who followed McClay into New Guinea, arriving in 1884, violated the religious sensitivities, not only hanging on to what they brought with them but confiscating land and forcing people to work.


1. William Ellis was an agent of the London Missionary Society. This is described in Christianity, a Global History, by David Chidester, page 472.

2. Ibid., pages 474-6. 

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