Baha'i News -- Crisis in Christian country in Western Province, Papua New Guinea

Dancing around development: Crisis in Christian country in Western Province, Papua New Guinea

Source: Oceania
Publication date: 2002-03-01
Arrival time: 2002-08-01


This article explores the conjuncture of Christianity and development in light of the establishment of a new Gogodala church in Western Province, Papua New Guinea. In the paper, I examine the ways in which members of this new church, the Congregation of Evangelical Fellowship (CEF), are utilising the concept of dance to comment on the failure of both expatriate missionaries and the dominant Evangelical Church of Papua New Guinea (ECPNG) to prepare the Gogodala community for development. I trace how mission- instigated abstention from dance became emblematic of a Christian lifestyle, and remains central to the constitution and articulation of `Christian country' in this part of PNG. The incorporation of dance into CEF services and conferences, then, posits a challenge to the expatriate mission and ECPNG. In the process, dance has become a metaphor for a communal search for development as well as a reinterpretation of the Christian and pre-contact past.

In late 1997, a travelling evangelist preached to an excited Gogodala crowd gathered at the Balimo Council Chambers in Western Province. `This is Holy Spirit party time', he yelled; `you can dance as much as you want' and the roar of approval that followed echoed down the main road of Balimo. The noise of electric guitars split the night and people broke into dance, moving their bodies in frenzied activity. `Everybody went crazy' recalled one man, smiling as he remembered the hundreds of people who attended that night. Laden with electric guitars and speakers, several Melanesian evangelists spoke in English and Tok Pisin to the crowds gathered at the Council Chambers. As the crowd danced, a preacher from Manus compelled those present to `come out from under' the Evangelical Church of Papua New Guinea (ECPNG), to `come out from what you are doing now'.

This event marked the first public convention of a new Gogodala Church called the Congregation of Evangelical Fellowship or CER.1 As such, it posited an explicit challenge to the dominant ECPNG and a closely associated expatriate Christian mission called the Pioneers. When I arrived in Western Province for the first time in January 1995, accompanied by my partner Charles, the ECPNG was the predominant religious organisation in the Gogodala region, as it had been since the 1960s. But it was obvious even then that there were substantial and ongoing critiques concerning the relevance and policies of both white mission staff and the local ECPNG hierarchy. There were rumblings of insurrection and dissatisfaction at various levels. However, when we returned in late 1998, the crisis had become public. Suddenly there were several new churches available, not just in Balimo but in many of the outlying villages as well.

Appealing to pan-Melanesian evangelical ties, the Gogodala leaders of this new church are challenging the basis of the intimate relationship between mission and the ECPNG. For, although the seventy-year relationship between white missionaries and the Gogodala has been strained in recent years, mission staff continue to be defined in terms of their central role in the development process. The Pioneers, who derived from the Unevangelised Fields Mission (UFM) and, more recently, the Asia Pacific Christian Mission (APCM), have resided with the Gogodala since the 1930s.2 From the outset, the mission was central to perceptions and experiences of development. Mission effort, finances and personnel facilitated the establishment of schools, medical centres, a nursing school and an evangelical church. Despite this, there has been a growing critique of the failure of the mission to adequately prepare the Gogodala for development. At the CEF convention, those gathered were encouraged to distinguish themselves from expatriates and the established leadership of the ECPNG, to `come out from being those sort of people' and explore new forms of expression and creativity - in this case, through dance.

In this paper, I not only explore the ways in which dance has become a pivotal concept in the conflict between CEF and ECPNG, but also the way it prefigures a more general dialogue about the relationship between development, custom and Christianity. Just why these people have recently challenged the ECPNG's version of their Christianity is a central question; this paper brings into focus some of the reasons that Gogodala people are metaphorically dancing around the issue of development and how it relates to Christianity and what they call iniwa ela gi or `customary ways'.

I also examine the extent to which the first CEF conference made public a general sense of dissatisfaction with the Gogodala experience of development, and analyse how local ideas about it are intertwined with Gogodala understandings of evangelical Christianity.3 The public affirmation of a new Church, with dancing at the centre of its worship, has raised concerns about what the future entails for the Gogodala. Henry, Magowan & Murray (2000:256) argue in a recent volume on the politics of dance that dance presents 'a medium for political engagement' that can be 'a means of interpreting, legitimating, reproducing and/or resisting categorical identities'. Dance, or the absence of it, has been an important indicator of Christianity since the period of early evangelisation. Dance, like `customary ways' and carvings associated with past ceremonial knowledge and practices, plays a significant role in the dialogue revolving around the confluence of Christianity, custom, and development. The incorporation of different dance movements into Christian worship underscores an increasingly strident critique of both expatriate missionaries and leaders of the ECPNG Church. CEF members are utilising this discourse on dance to engage the relationship between mission and church in the hope that by thus empowering themselves they can affect the course of their own development.


From the outset, dancing was one of the main activities targeted by early missionaries and subsequent local pastors and Christians. In evangelical missions in the Pacific, dance was discouraged and there was particular concern about those dances `that involved vigorous and uncontrolled bodily movement' (Eves 1996:93). This is not perhaps surprising as dance has often occupied the space between colonialism and culture, the suppression, or transformation of dance by colonial authorities a sign of its potential to create `considerable political and moral anxiety' (Reed 1998:506). For evangelical missionaries in particular, the cessation of these bodily comportments was seen to be a sign of the acceptance of a Christian lifestyle.4

Although James Chalmers, from the London Missionary Society, contacted Gogodala Fly River villagers in 1898, the contact was brief. It was not until 1932 that missionaries from the non- denominational evangelical UFM arrived in the area. These missionaries were intent on moving north from their base at Madiri Plantation on the southern bank of the Fly River and saw the Fly as their way into the interior of Papua.5 Gogodala plantation workers informed missionaries of the presence of numerous villages inland on the northern side of the Fly.6 Impressed by the Gogodala work ethic, Albert Drysdale of the UFM organised an expedition across the river from Madiri to contact these villages in 1932.7 After establishing a mission station at Wasua, Drysdale moved forty kilometres inland to find new villages and in 1934 set up a second mission station at Balimo, a large village on Kabili lagoon. Balimo subsequently became the mission and administrative centre of the Gogodala area and is now the headquarters of the Middle Fly District of Western Province.

From the early 1930s, UFM missionaries maintained a constant presence in the area, as well as making their way further up the Fly River. Many of the early missionaries to contact other areas in Western Province and neighbouring districts were Gogodala pastors and converts.8 For Gogodala communities, it was the first experience of living in close contact with white people and formed the basis of images and conceptualisations of development based on the capabilities, medicines, bodies and equipment of Europeans (Dundon 1998; Wilde 1997).

From its inception, the local form of Christianity was predicated on certain prescriptions about activities associated with past 'heathen' practices and beliefs.9 Tobacco smoking, for instance, a common habit for both Gogodala men and women, was targeted as was the drinking of i sika or kava, which was locally grown. The chewing of betelnut was also forbidden. In reference to these prohibitions on smoking and drinking, many Gogodala in the late 1990s suggested that they were given twelve commandments rather than ten like other Christians. Missionaries also maintained that ceremonies, objects and dances associated with male initiatory processes, which culminated in Aida ceremonies, were anathema to a burgeoning interest in Christianity (Weymouth 1978:140-1).10 Missionaries and Gogodala Christians travelled around neighbouring villages, encouraging the destruction of Aida male ceremon\ial objects and the cessation of dances and activities associated with them.

Dances, called maiyata, were an integral part of Aida Gi, the male initiatory cycle and other major feasts and celebrations. Indeed, the different stages of these ceremonies were known as Aida Maiyata `Aids dance', Gi Maiyata `preparatory dance', and Gawa Maiyata or `canoe dance'. Fuelled by the sound of the sacred diwaka drum and small hand-held drums, these dances involved men and women, with clan insignia painted on their bodies and on elaborate masks, headdresses and drums, engaged in formalistic and often sexually explicit movements. They danced inside and underneath the enormous longhouses, concluding the celebrations with the consumption of large amounts of prepared foods, including sago and yams. It is not surprising, then, that these maiyata were discouraged by the early missionaries and their Gogodala companions. As Thomas (1991:153) notes, throughout the Pacific evangelical missionaries in particular focussed on the repudiation of `emblematic customs' and the destruction or public display of local 'idols'.

Kawaleya Gauba from Kini village was a young boy when the first missionaries came to Kimama village, near Balimo. He recalls that they came to the village and said to those gathered: `do (you) want Aida or Jesus?'. In 1936, several men from Kimama led by Pasiya, a recent convert to Christianity and a `head man' of Kimama, presented a piece of paper to these missionaries on which was written `sae paepae iwiminenae Aida lopala sae iwiminenae Jesus' which means `we don't want Aida things, we want Jesus'. Much contemporary significance is attached to this 'vow' made by Pasiya and others at Kimama in the 1930s. Many in Balimo in the late 1990s attributed the local acceptance of Christianity to the vow that Pasiya took at this time. They suggested that Pasiya resolved the debate over whether to `go with Aida or Jesus'.

Many villages were resistant to the teachings of the missionaries and their young converts. Some imposed heavy fines of sago on those who converted to Christianity, while others hid their ceremonial objects and decorations in the bush. Missionaries were threatened and local Christians were given extra cleaning and clearing duties in the village for failing to participate in dances and ceremonies. Despite this, there were repeated instances of the destruction of decorated canoe prows as well as the public display and burning of primary ritual objects including shields, drums, figures and rattles.11 Consequently, within twenty years of the mission's arrival, the salience and practice of much ceremonial life, particularly that based on maiyata gi or dance, had waned.


In July 1966, the Evangelical Church of Papua (ECP) was inaugurated in Balimo, based on a constitution drafted by Charles Home, a UFM missionary. It marked the beginning of the separation of the expatriate mission from the Gogodala church, an institution that had been developed by both Gogodala pastors and white missionaries. At first, the ECP leadership, which was dominated by Gogodala pastors and lay Christians, administered some ten districts designated by either linguistic categories or geographical proximity (Prince & Prince 1991: 10-11). By the mid 1970s, however, the Church had grown considerably and these districts became incorporated into a limited number of regions, of which the Gogodala region was but one (Prince & Prince 1991:85-6). By 1990, the ECP had become the Evangelical Church of Papua New Guinea (ECPNG), a title more indicative of its emerging national character.

When Charles and I first arrived in Balimo in 1995, Gogodala communities had a reputation for being particularly uncompromising in their Christianity. The ECPNG community had maintained, over the intervening years, a general policy that included the prohibition of the consumption of alcohol and other drugs, the smoking of tobacco and the chewing of betelnut and, to a certain extent, dancing. Although there are a limited number of stylistic movements and actions that accompany the repertoire of songs in ECPNG church services, vigorous or uncontrolled bodily movement is still strongly discouraged. Gogodala people referred to themselves as living in `Christian country', which distinguished them from others, Christian and non-Christian, in Papua New Guinea. Many Gogodala argued that other communities had not embraced Christianity with the same fervour, and continued to utilise magic, sorcery and other aspects of their past that the Gogodala had rejected. Thus their Christian lifestyle set them apart from other people and places.

In the 1970s, an expatriate Assistant District Manager organised public dances at which he insisted that men partner women.12 The dances were held in the afternoon and evening, often continuing into the night, where couples danced to the light of kerosene lanterns. During this time, there were `string bands' in many villages who presided over nightly parties or 'discos' in which young people, in particular, participated. `Disco dancing' was a common feature of these parties, the young people dancing to music on the radio if bands were not available. ECPNG Christians were instructed not to attend, and those that did were encouraged not to participate. In the late 1980s and 1990s, EC!PNG village pastors began a concerted campaign in village churches, against these dancing parties arguing that they were the source of illegitimate children. There was general wrangling over whether the people who attended these dances were Christians or not and much discussion of the issue in village churches.

Dancing is known to provoke passionate or violent responses. In one incident in 1998, a deacon of a local church heard about the organization of a party and set out to find and stop it. Coming across some girls, the deacon and his wife tried to catch them but they ran off. The party, however, was broken up and the young people quickly dispersed into the night. The deacon found only a young man sitting on the grass and he was so angry that he hit him over the head with his lantern, breaking the lantern in the process. The boy, in return, threw a punch at the deacon splitting his lip and chin.

In 1995 and 1996, for the length of our initial stay at Tai village, a commitment to the ECPNG Church formed the basis of a local lifestyle or way of life, expressed in Gogodala as ela gi. At Tai, the Church building dominates the village and is the primary public and social space. It was used as the basis of every major village event, from the annual Christmas feast, church services, medical clinics, to meetings about cows and other local business concerns. It was the place where village matters were made public or `brought out to the people', an arena for the resolution of conflict and concern.13

There were several ECPNG conferences and celebrations held throughout the year and most Tai villagers attended at least one of these conferences, although this meant travelling to villages located throughout the district.14 Church attendance was high and fairly regular, although there was a constant dialogue about those considered lax. In 1995, ECPNG members in all twenty-eight villages had their photographs taken in preparation for the development of ECPNG identification cards. Many felt that this process would weed out `skin Christians', by definition less committed to the Church, and confirm their own identification with the ECPNG. Certainly in 1995-6, it was impressed upon me that there was a village and wider community commitment to the tenets and activities of the ECPNG Church.

Returning to the area in 1998, after a two-year absence, we were confronted with several significant changes to Christian country. Most noticeably, an American Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) missionary, had established himself and his family at Kotale village on the Aramia River.15 Although facing considerable opposition from members and officials of the dominant ECPNG Church at Kotale, this SDA man continued to live quite harmoniously with other Kotale villagers. By 1999, he and his wife had established a SDA school for Kotale children that was proving an attractive alternative to the local community school run by the Department of Education. In 1999 and 2000, many families began attending the revitalised SDA Church at Kotale so that they could send their children to the new school.

We became increasingly aware that there were a growing number of new churches and missions in the area. Even those that had been established for some time, as an alternative to the ECPNG, were experiencing new impetus and support. In 1995 and 1996, there had been several different churches operating but they had seemed peripheral and largely ineffectual, tending to be small groups loyal to Baha'i or SDA, Lutheran, and Baptist Churches. In 1998 and 1999, however, the schisms barely apparent to us three years earlier had become more obvious.

But the establishment of the CEF was the most disturbing development for members of the ECPNG, as it represents considerable disquiet with the politics and policies of the ECPNG hierarchy. Much of this criticism can be traced to celebrations held for the ECPNG Silver Jubilee in 1991 during which a group of educated Gogodala came together, from various areas of PNG, and began to question the role and commitment of Pioneer staff and the ECPNG leadership. They raised the issue of initiating training programs in which ECPNG pastors and local church leaders could be trained to take over from mission staff, as well as be qualified to deal with contemporary social problems related to money and the consumption of drugs and alcohol.

In 1992, as ECPNG leaders discussed the practicalities of such programs, the Gogodala region was suspended from Church activities by the ECPNG hierarchy in Tari, Southern Highlands, after the new leader of theChurch, a man from Lake Murray, accused the Gogodala region of plotting against him.16 Gogodala ECPNG members were furious and several began to preach insurrection against this new leadership.

Around this time, the CEF came into being in Port Moresby led by an ex-ECPNG pastor and former Chairperson of the ECPNG, who was concerned about the lack of trained Gogodala pastors and church administrators, arguing that ECPNG people in other areas were receiving this kind of education and support. He argued that the Gogodala had been integral to the development of the ECPNG and yet received little in return. His contention was that the Gogodala had formed the ECPNG Church and that they should play a prominent role in its administration.

Legal documents were processed for the establishment of this new church and the first CEF convention was held in 1997 in Western Province. At the next conference, held a couple of months later, it was pointed out that the ECPNG was not registered as a church but was instead part of a Property Trust in collaboration with the APCM mission. Hundreds of photocopies of CEF registration papers were distributed for people to look at. People were amazed and shocked and many argued that the mission had 'tricked' them, as they are aware that the registration of an institution acknowledges its public legitimacy.17 The organisers of the convention argued that the CEF was the only `true Gogodala Church' and that, as such, they had `come to take over ECP properties'.

CEF now has a large following in Port Moresby, where it was first established amongst the resident Gogodala, as well as in the Gogodala region in Western Province.18 Since its registration as a Church, the CEF has grown into a considerable group of politically aware and active Gogodala. One of the founders is the first Gogodala man to hold a Bachelor of Divinity from Banz Bible College, Hagen.19 Similarly, his supporters in the CEF are the educated and professional elite, who have grown up in the ECPNG as the children of ECPNG pastors. In the past, it was primarily children of pastors who were given preference in terms of mission-run education. Ironically, many of these now preach dissent against the ECPNG, though one person suggested that these pastors and educated Christians were those 'children who managed to sneak through and get educated. They are the ones bringing other churches'. Many are teachers, workers and business people. CEF converts also include significant members of local villages. We discovered that a prominent man in Tai village, together with his extended family, had stopped attending the ECPNG Church and had declared himself a pastor of CEF. The defection of this man exacerbated a major rift between himself and the local ECPNG pastor, resulting in several public confrontations. It has split families and villages, with stories of women leaving their husbands to join the CEF and becoming involved with other men in their new church.


If the declaration of the CEF represents a crisis for Christian country, it also prefigures and makes public an internal and local discourse about the continuing role of expatriate missionaries in development and Christianity. The context of this particular discussion relates to a story that traces the relationship to an original moment when the ancestors of Europeans and Gogodala were brothers. In this ancestral story, the Gogodala man was the elder brother, his younger brother the ancestor of white people. Their father made the brothers choose between guns, and bows and arrows. The elder brother took the bows and arrows, to the chagrin of his descendants. The father then gave the gun to the white brother and took him away to another place, imbuing him with material and educational advantages. As a result of ancestral error, then, Gogodala do not have the same access to material goods, houses, equipment, and education as white people. The return of expatriates to the area in the 1930s, in the form of UFM staff, is often said to represent a `second chance' for Gogodala people (see Wilde 1997).

This is linked to the belief that white people are the returned dead of the Gogodala, who have travelled away to Wabila, the place of the dead, and returned some years later to assist their relatives. It is also based on an ancestral story that relates how, on the journey from the living to the dead, Gogodala go through a cleansing process whereby their skins become white. This kind of belief about the role and intention of white people in the area is not stated publicly or as vociferously as in previous times. Pastors preach against such beliefs and expectations in village churches on a weekly basis. Yet it remains an underlying perception that underpins the critique of white missionaries.

When missionaries first arrived, the Gogodala demeanour was characterised in mission and administrative accounts as both passive and welcoming. By local accounts, interest in the newcomers was based on an idea that white and black were intimately related. Integral to this was the notion that missionaries were morally obligated to teach their Gogodala 'brothers' the basis of their lifestyle in Australia and Britain. Gogodala people were also quite aware of the importance of these missionaries in the establishment of schools and medical facilities in their villages. The early mission to Balimo concentrated on education and literacy, believing that fostering an indigenous Christianity based on the Bible was paramount. The missionaries set up schools, dispensed medical supplies and expertise, traded axes, knives and calico for fresh food, as well as conducting daily services and initiating the translation of the Bible into the vernacular (Lea 1940: 10-11).20

Local feelings of discontent are based on the belief that the missionaries failed to, firstly, understand and respect this intimate relationship; and, secondly, to fulfil the obligations of it through the development of the local community. There is a widely- held community conviction, even by those educated and living in Port Moresby, that the missionaries didn't `teach the Gogodala properly': that they obscured rather than educated and that they hid significant parts of the Biblical text. And, although early mission staff concentrated on education at the local level, Gogodala play little role in higher educational institutions in Papua New Guinea.21 Resentment towards mission staff has only intensified with the imminent withdrawal of the Pioneer missionaries from the area.22

Concern about the continued presence of expatriates in the region has taken various forms over the last few years. There have been discussions about the presence of certain missionaries and threats to withdraw visa support by the leaders of the ECPNG. In 1996, a fire was lit under the house of an expatriate doctor and his family, and there have been numerous break-ins and thefts in mission facilities in recent years. There have been protestations about mission houses and facilities remaining under the control of missionaries and, in the last two years, access to and administration of these premises has been granted to the ECPNG.

Complaints about missionary control of the resources and equipment of mission stations in Balimo and Kawito have an important subtext. Educated Gogodala, often teachers, who have experience of other places and people throughout PNG, have denounced the relative poverty of the ECPNG Church. Catholic and other Protestant Churches in PNG have access to much larger revenues than the ECPNG. The issue of money is salient in this context and linked to understandings of development. Throughout the years, the mission and the ECPNG have maintained their critical stance on money and business, despite establishing a Christian company called PASUWE in an attempt to marry development and Christianity at the local level in PNG.23 This has resulted, Gogodala believe, in a dearth of local business acumen, and my attention was often drawn to the lack of viable Gogodala businesses in the area. Gogodala, people say, do not understand money and cannot seem to manipulate it like others in PNG can and do. Yet ECPNG pastors continue to preach about the love of money as `the root of all evil' and argue against the establishment of local businesses.

From the beginning, missionaries were concerned with the moral character of the Gogodala and sought to counterbalance the degrading influence of white people and other colonial agents on indigenous people witnessed in many areas of Papua New Guinea. They moved to initiate a modest lifestyle amongst the Gogodala, based on a marriage between Christianity and the local subsistence economy.24 In this process, money was portrayed as one of the attendant evils of white people, to be avoided where possible.25 The blame for a lack of financial equity for the ECPNG, and for its relative insignificance on the national stage, has, to a large extent, been laid at the feet of the mission.

By late 1999 and early 2000, much of the furore over the establishment of the CEF had died down. The ECPNG, however, is going through an internal examination of its primary policies and tenets, particularly in the Balimo region, as remaining expatriate missionaries prepare to withdraw permanently. Meanwhile, the SDA Church in Kotale gathers Gogodala villagers with the effort and presence of American missionaries, and CEF and other churches continue to draw people, both urban and village-based, to their services with their emphasis on dance and music.


When this development is coming, I don't know where we are going to [be] - I don't know where we are heading. [I] don't know if we will be a successful people in a happy place. When [I was the] age of Bebema [15 years old], it was a dim light, it was very small. After the war we could see the development coming; it was a big light. We don't kn\ow what is coming. Things right now [are] getting better. Things those days were hard. Development [is] coming in and [the] light [is] coming in [and] things are getting better (Kawaleya Gauba, Kini village, November 1998).

The idea of development is a very salient one in Papua New Guinea. The issue of development, or lack thereof, foregrounds discussions about violence and raskolism in PNG (Goddard 1995; Kulick 1993; Roscoe 1999); about cargo cults and millenarian movements (Lattas 1992); about money and markets (Healey 1989); about bodies and Christianity (Clark 1992) and in discussions of land and resource rights (Brown & Ploeg 1997).

Michael Goddard (1995:67) writes in relation to the problem of violence in PNG and its links to development, that despite being a familiar term, even officially `the concept of development is opaque'. He continues, however, that:

[t]o most Papua New Guineans, in contrast, the concept presents itself simply and tangibly. Particularly in rural areas, the Tok Pisin transliteration developmen connotes cash, infrastructure, and services and medical centres. However, their acquisition is often influenced by complexities of prestige and obligation that are rarely anticipated by development planners (Goddard 1995:67).

Development is a term well known among the Gogodala, and is referred to as apela gi, a concept that is more closely associated with growing bodies, referring to the process of `growing up' or maturing. Its meaning for Gogodala people is not the result of a simple incorporation of colonial or post-Independence attitudes about economic growth and quantitative improvement in the quality of life, although these are certainly aspects. Neither is it only about specific development projects and projected outcomes. One person explained that apela gi is like a body or garden; `it grows up before your eyes from the ground up'. It is linked to the attainment of adulthood, a state of being associated with responsibility, maturity, and strength.26

Development results in a desirable lifestyle or ela gi. It is envisaged as the means by which these communities will transform their places and practices through the inclusion of European technologies and foods within the tenets of a local lifestyle. In the process, a new integrated way of life will be enjoined. In the search for development, Gogodala, like many others in PNG, are involved in an ongoing process of negotiating the types of people that they are, the places in which they live and the future that will result after the attainment of development.27 For many, the process of development and its outcomes are very troubling, however desirable (see Dundon in press). What kind of place will this area 'grow' into? Will it grow into a mature, responsible and prosperous place, or will it ultimately transform the people and their places beyond recognition?

These kinds of questions are central to the debate on the significance of dance in Christian worship, exemplified in the CEF - ECPNG division. Apela gi or development is predicated on the presence of responsible adults to ensure that people and things continue to mature in the appropriate way, and that they are provided with certain information and skills. For the majority of Gogodala, the UFM and mission staff have provided the impetus for this kind of growth. They have guided, disciplined and laid out the basis for the future, teaching small brother, the Gogodala, the ways in which certain forms of development can be initiated. Development and Christianity are firmly intertwined, so that the acquisition of development is not predicated on the denial of Christianity - indeed development will only come if people continue to act upon their Christian beliefs. It is, rather, a question of whether missionary teachers provided the foundation for such development.

Robbins (1995:212) has argued that the Urapmin of West Sepik Province view Christianity as the 'lens' through which development and transformation become visible. He writes: `it is through their understanding of Christianity and what it means for their view of themselves and their environment that the Urapmin have interpreted the possibility of development' (Robbins 1995:214). I have argued elsewhere that Gogodala view their Christianity and possibilities of development in terms of a local lifestyle, or ela gi (Dundon in press). Discussions about development, then, are always embedded in understandings and experiences of ela gi and Christianity. An elderly ECPNG pastor said in 2000:

Before it was UFM and then [the] ECP Church and now all the churches are coming in and I keep asking 'are we worshipping one God or many gods?' This development is coming in and different churches [are] coming in and I keep thinking 'do we have [a] different Bible or one Bible?' I was taught one Bible, one mission. [In the] early days [the] missionaries came and planted the Church and now the government is coming with changes. I can see the development coming - wa apelelo ['place is growing']. Changes [are] coming in, [the] mission came and [the] government came and this Gogodala area is changing.

The Gogodala experience of development has been limited. As the colonial administrative centre for Western Division was a considerable distance to the south, mission-based expatriates were the primary vehicle for local understandings and beliefs about white people. Few colonial administrators or explorers travelled through the complex of swamps that separated Daru, the District Headquarters, from Gogodala villages. The earliest community and high schools were established, financed and staffed by expatriate missionaries, as was the Balimo Health Centre. Although now funded primarily by the national government, expatriate doctors have continued to staff the centre since its inception. Awaba School, the only high school in the area, which services Gogodala as well as other neighbouring groups, still has several permanent expatriate mission members on the staff. Roads, airstrips and other colonial buildings were also constructed according to mission advice and effort. The Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF) continues to base itself at the Gogodala station of Kawito on the Aramia River, providing services between small centres and airstrips.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the hunting of crocodiles for skins yielded large return for local hunters, but was a transitory enterprise. Rubber plantations established at two villages on the Aramia River at the same time proved successful, with high levels of production and excellent yields. Nonetheless, local interest in these plantations was tepid at best (Weymouth 1978:253-4). In 1975, the Department of Primary Industry (DPI) initiated a cattle project on the Aramia River, providing 132 cows and 16 bulls (Weymouth 1978:260-2). Appropriate slaughtering practices were established and facilities and freezers provided. Although there are now numerous cows that wander around the lands surrounding villages like Tai, little is done in terms of breeding or butchering cattle for sale. The slaughterhouse at Balimo, one of the last to be used, has been inoperable for some years. And although eight Gogodala villages on the Fly River receive regular compensatory payments for degradation of land and water as a result of the activities of Ok Tedi Mining Limited (OTML), and Phillips Petroleum unsuccessfully tested for oil in Balimo in 1995, little of substance has resulted from these experiences.

One of the most influential experiences for Gogodala understandings of development occurred in the 1970s and 1980s in Balimo. During this time, the significance of `customary ways' or iniwa ela gi - `the ways of the ancestors' - to the initiation of development became apparent. In the early 1970s, an expatriate Australian, Anthony Crawford, came to the area in collaboration with the Australian Arts Advisory Board. Inspired by photographs and artefacts of Gogodala dance masks, racing canoes, paddles, spears, shields and other ritual objects collected during the early colonial period, Crawford arrived to acquire some of these carvings for the Art Board. He found that the majority of these objects were no longer produced.

Sporting an inventory of over one hundred black and white photographs of the art that he had come to collect, Crawford sat down with groups of Gogodala people and studied these pictures. Some of the carvings and objects, he writes, were easily recognised by the older people, while others were only marvelled at by those gathered. Crawford (1976:5) relates that when he asked whether such pieces could be reproduced, he was informed that it was against `mission law'. He writes that, it was preached that `to be a Christian the past was not to be allied with the present' (Crawford 1976:5).

Crawford was primarily interested in the brightly coloured, clan- based designs associated with male initiatory and Aida ceremonies targeted by the early missionaries. He encouraged some of the older men to recreate a selection of the carvings depicted in the images that he had brought with him. He gave them the impetus and confidence to teach younger men the techniques of carving and the principles of production of particular clan designs (Crawford 1981:164). As these carvings were based on stories about the original ancestors, information still vital for local communities, the recitation of ancestral stories was also encouraged. Bege Mula, the pre-eminent contemporary artist in Balimo, said that Crawford's legacy lies in the fact that he urged the local people to carve `their own things' rather than plain, unpainted carvings bought and encouraged by the missionaries.28

Crawford's encouragement and considerable local endorsement of the project led to the establishment of a Gogodala Cultural Centre in Balimo in the form of a traditional longhouse.29 It was constructed entirely from bush materials and was built to housethe growing number of carvings available for sale and display. The longhouse was also a site of renewed interest in old dancing techniques and sequences in which the carvings and musical instruments were utilised. Aida dances and others associated with male and female ceremonies of the past were reviewed and revived, as were other types of dance.30 When the longhouse was opened in 1974 by then Chief Minister of PNG Michael Somare, a group of women danced through the Centre to `chase the spirits from the house' (Crawford 1976:6; 1981:164). During this time, dancers travelled to Port Moresby, and danced before the Queen in the late 1970s, as well as participating in other cultural events in a newly Independent Papua New Guinea.

Despite this, and despite support from both provincial and national governments, the construction of the Centre was a source of considerable debate and recrimination. In the 1970s and 1980s, Crawford declared that the Gogodala had experienced a `cultural revival' after many years of missionary discouragement.3" Although Crawford insists that the idea of setting up a Cultural Centre was a local idea, the longhouse aroused much bitterness in the area, particularly between village groups. Lines were drawn between Christianity and `customary ways', not simply on the part of the white missionaries. Local pastors preached against the building of the longhouse, the revival of carving techniques as well as Aida dances. Many from villages not involved in the revival argued that carvings made by those at the Centre were evil and indicative of their general lack of Christian faith. The debate was framed in terms of practices deemed appropriate for Gogodala Christians. Christianity has long been the measure by which Gogodala compare themselves to other Papua New Guineans and the concept of Christian country crystallised at this time. Espousing a Christianity deemed essentially Gogodala, the recreation of dances and objects associated with a past 'heathen' lifestyle, then, stimulated a renewed and at times ferocious debate about the nature and extent of Christian country.

The revival and subsequent discussions also raised the possibility of a fruitful relationship between Christianity, custom and development. Crawford argued that the Gogodala could combine both customary ways and Christianity. Many agreed and saw the potential inherent in the sale of carvings to tourists and the promotion of Gogodala customary ways and traditional dances in light of favourable regional and national cultural policies. Some argued that these were `the selling days' that were `God's way of helping us make money'.

I have argued elsewhere that a concern with finding an appropriate path to development lies at the base of discussions about Christianity, custom and development (see Dundon in press). Various bodily and consumptive practices and comportments, as well as the continuation of links to environmental and ancestral beings are said to initiate this kind of development process. When the first missionaries came, dance was one of the signs of a person who continued to adhere to Aida and a 'heathen' past. Since the revival, however, the role of dance within a Christian ela gi has, to a certain extent, been renegotiated. Members of the CEF, through their emphasis on dance in Christian worship, are beginning to articulate the basis of another potential path to development.


Gogodala say that the desire to dance is initiated by music or sika; even in the old days, people couldn't resist the music.32 The beating of the drums would lure neighbouring villagers to the host village in anticipation of dancing and subsequent feasting. An ex- ECPNG pastor, recruited in the 1940s by Pasiya at Kimama village, suggested that he had joined the Baha'i because they danced to music. `In Baha'i Faith', he said, `dancing is not bad. Dancing was put on earth by God; it is for rejoicing and it is a time of happiness when it comes to dancing time'. It is music that is said to lure Gogodala Christians, particularly women, away from ECPNG to churches like the CEF, dividing families and villages. In this dialogue about dance and forms of worship, dance is represented as dangerous, as in the instance of parties held in 1999 to celebrate victory in Balimo rugby league grand finals. At each of the three parties, disco dancing followed the feasting. At the first village, the morning after the party was held, an old woman died. A week later, at a different village, the scenario was repeated and another elderly woman died. At the feast held at the third village, the Gogodala District Administrator, an ECPNG member, stood and urged those present to choose between `their culture' and Christianity.

In this paper I have suggested that a recent interest in dance in Christian forms of worship, instigated by various new churches in the region, forms part of an ongoing discussion about the confluence between custom and Christianity. 33 This debate reached a crescendo of recrimination and reconstruction during the cultural revival of the 1970s, where ideas about Christian country and the kind of lifestyle upon which it was based were publicly revised. In the process, a redefinition of appropriate forms of bodily movement and comportment meant that many Gogodala became involved in 'traditional' dancing, associated primarily with the pre-Christian past. In the more recent past, there has been an increased interest in dance in Christian contexts. One person commented that new churches would have to be more sturdily constructed and built closer to the ground to withstand the pounding feet and moving bodies increasingly characteristic of Church services. The ambivalence of many Gogodala towards the emergence of dance as a significant form of Christian worship parallels a deep uncertainty about the future of Christian country.

It also foregrounds the problematic of the ongoing relationship between expatriates and Gogodala. In both the colonial and postcolonial context, Gogodala have looked to Europeans to provide access to a certain level of services and resources. From schools to health centres and local forms of business, expatriate missionaries have been pivotal in Gogodala understandings of relationships with wider agents and institutions. This is an area of PNG that has received little attention or financial assistance from national or regional governments and, in general, Gogodala express little regard for politicians, believing that state structures are organised primarily around the principles of wantokism (lit. `one talk'; language affiliates). Goddard (1995:70) has noted that in some areas of Papua New Guinea the state is seen as a `big man' who, once accorded the respect of a leader, is required to fulfil its obligations to the community. Yet, in recent times, the state has been increasingly unable to fulfil certain basic administrative functions involving health care, education and the construction and maintenance of roads and many rural areas are without basic resources.34 This has only served to reinforce the intimacy between white missionaries and Gogodala communities, united in their Christianity. It has also meant that white people, in particular, are accorded a significant place in the path to development envisaged by the Gogodala.

A general sense of dissatisfaction with national and regional governments has only served to underscore the betrayal felt by many towards `small brother', who has failed to educate and provide the guidance necessary for development. Yet, as Michael Young (1997:95) has noted recently, Papua New Guineans can and do express disappointment with the failure of Christianity to fulfil expectations whilst maintaining a Christian lifestyle. Recent interest in the establishment of and community participation in new churches and faiths, such as CEF and Baha'i, has focussed on dance and its relevance in both the past and the present. By utilising a dialogue in the Pacific characterising pan-national evangelical movements and representatives, local leaders of the CEF are moving away from the more insular focus of the ECPNG and its connections with the expatriate mission. By challenging ECPNG policy on the use of dance in the worship of God, they and other denominations are critiquing past decisions that continue to adversely affect the future of Gogodala communities. The current predicaments of Gogodala people and their church, the ECPNG, are taken as indicators of the failure of the mission to fulfil certain basic promises. It is not, however, about the rejection of Christianity or the repudiation of the relationship between white people and Gogodala. On the contrary, CEF leaders posit the reinstitution of a peculiarly Melanesian Christianity in the area, while many of their proponents see it as a way of realising and utilising the close relationship between Gogodala and Europeans. It marks, instead, a renegotiation of past and present links with white people and other Melanesians in the hope that this will initiate development.


1. See Errington & Gewertz 1995, Tuzin 1997, Robbins 1995 and 1998, Roscoe 1999 and Fife 2001 for examples of the expansion of new churches into PNG.

2. In 1999, members of the APCM formally became part of the Pioneers, an international evangelical community formed on the basis of the continued need for 'new' missions in 'old' places.

3. This is a revised version of a paper presented at James Cook University in 1999. My thanks go to the staff of the School of Anthropology and Archaeology for their insightful comments on that paper. This paper is based on fieldwork conducted for my PhD dissertation between 1995 and 1996 and subsequent fieldwork between 1998-1999 and 1999-2000. My thanks go to Charles and Callum, without whom this work would not be possible; the School of Archaeology and Anthropology, The Australian National University fo\r funding and support during the initial period of fieldwork and the people of Tai, particularly Mala and Kukupiyato Sogowa, and Sakuliyato Mala, and the people of Balimo and surrounding villages, especially Kamo and Genasi Bagali and their families. Thanks also to two anonymous reviewers for Oceania who made very useful comments on how to improve the paper by clarifying the central problematic.

4. Eves (1996:85) notes that the `refashioning of bodies' was an inherent part of the colonial project and was central to evangelical rhetoric and practice. For the Methodist missionaries that Eves examines, the idea was to instil a Christian conscience through certain `pedagogical practices aimed at the body' (Eves 1996:86). `In this context', he writes, `the disciplined body acts as a marker both of conversion and of the move from 'savage' to `civilised" (Eves 1996:86).

5. Bernard Lea (1940:23), an expatriate missionary, noted that the early missionaries were more interested in the upper Fly River peoples than those on the coast or at its mouth. He wrote in 1940 that `the scope offered by the lower Fly river tribes is limited. It was never viewed as aught else but the portal to the extensive territories of the west. Its value is its strategic location, its utility as a base, and its facility of communication with the outside world' (Lea 1940:23).

6. In 1914, it was estimated that there were 6000 to 7000 Gogodala people living in 22 villages along the Fly and Aramia Rivers (Beaver 1914:411; Lyons 1914:99). This made Gogodala people one of the most populous groups of the area. In the 1996 census, this population estimate had grown to 20,800 situated in 28 villages and 5 mission or government stations.

7. Although originally at Madiri plantation on the south bank of the Fly River, Albert Drysdale, the first UFM missionary in the region became convinced that the Gogodala people were physically and mentally superior to their neighbours (Prince & Prince 1981:12). Consequently, late in 1932, Drysdale and Theo Berger, a fellow member of the UFM, accompanied by Gogodala plantation workers, travelled across the Fly River reaching Kelesa village on the other side. They visited twenty-four Gogodala villages inland from Kelesa in five weeks, settling on Balimo as the site of the next UFM base. In a mission publication about the establishment of the UFM and its subsequent churches, John and Moyra Prince (1981:17) wrote;'[n]ow two things were absolutely clear to them [Drysdale and Berger]. The Gogodalas represented a missionary target more strategic than anything the Fly River could offer, and Madiri was clearly the wrong base from which to reach them'.

8. The UFM and local Gogodala pastors had a significant impact on other people to the north and northwest, their influence being felt in the southern highlands and into Irian Jaya. By 1968, more than thirty-nine primarily Gogodala couples and one hundred and fifty six pastors and their spouses were living in these different communities (Light and Life 1968:8; see also Prince & Prince 1991:26-9 and Schieffelin 1976).

9. Ross Weymouth (1978:104) pointed out that the UFM was essentially conservative in practice as it was based on the acceptance of the `original scriptures as divinely inspired'.

10. Aida was the culmination of male ceremonies into which men were initiated and invested with the status of Aida Dala or Aida men. In this process, they came to know about the `yam medicine' that could bring the dead back to life. Earlier stages of these ceremonies involved the teaching of young boys the tenets of clan and canoe, marriage and gardens.

11. Local proponents of Christianity had a great impact on villagers. Two local men, who had attended the London Missionary Society's Kwato Bible School, travelled around several villages preaching and destroying many objects on their own and accompanied by missionaries. See Crawford (1981:41-2) for Len Tywman's recollection of the burning of Aida objects at Kimama village in 1936.

12. These were European styles of dance including the waltz and country dancing. One woman remembered that these administrators `were very strict; they wouldn't like to see the ladies dancing by themselves. Even if the men were just sitting down, they would force the men to dance with the ladies'.

13. Once an issue is `brought out to the people', it becomes both public knowledge and a community concern. People can then debate the implications and outcome of the issue and decide on the best course of action. In this way, bringing a problem to the people often facilitates a resolution of the matter, as although most are aware of the problem, it is not until it is made public that they can attempt to deal with it.

14. I attended a women's District ECPNG conference in March 1995 held at Uladu village on the Aramia River. Between 350 and 400 women, primarily Gogodala, were present at the conference, which lasted for 4 days. The daily services consisted mainly of sermons, singing and discussion groups that most attended (see Dundon 1998 for further details). Missionaries instigated these conferences to stop celebrations between villages in which one village group invited another to share in dancing and feasting.

15. The SDA Church was established in Kotale in the 1970s after an ECPNG man joined the SDA in Moresby, where he was working. In his holidays he would return to his village, Kotale, and preach about SDA.

16. This was the first time that the ECPNG leadership fell out of Gogodala hands. One of the most respected and active early Gogodala pastors, Danaya Baila, went around many of the villages trying to calm ECPNG members but en route he suffered a heart attack and died at Wasua village. For many, this was a sign of the changes to come.

17. Although not necessarily germane in terms of the legal ramifications of the registration of CEF as a Church, most local people feel that entering their names on registration lists for development projects, land ownership lists and other such projects makes public their participation and commitment and validates their claim.

18. At present, membership of the CEF is confined to the Gogodala area, and among expatriate Gogodala living and working in Port Moresby. ECPNG Churches in Moresby have been greatly challenged by the establishment of the CEF and have lost large numbers of their members to their rival. In the Gogodala region, smaller numbers have defected to the CEF, but certainly between 1998 to 2000, up to one third of ECPNG members in any given village declared themselves CEF.

19. He is also the only Gogodala to hold a Bachelors degree of any type and is currently conducting postgraduate studies at the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG).

20. Lea (1940:10) suggests that Gogodala people were eager to welcome missionaries to their villages and they showed promise for the development of the mission and church. Weymouth (1978:105) notes that UFM missionaries were concerned primarily with `saving souls' and did so through any means at their command.

21. Pastor's families represent a disproportionate number of people educated to Grade 10 and beyond.

22. In March 2000, the resident mission doctor and her husband declared to the Church gathered at Balimo that they would be leaving in August and that they would recommend to the missionary council that the post remain vacant. This amounts to a withdrawal from the Balimo District and caused great consternation for the Church hierarchy.

23. PASUWE established several non-profit stores in places like Balimo and Kawito as well as other centres in PNG and still operates in many parts of the country as a Christian business. The PASUWE stores in Balimo and Kawito were closed in the early and mid 1990s due to poor management.

24. A conservative form of Christianity and the gendered expectations of expatriate missionaries serve to underscore a continued focus on 'hardworking' people as the moral basis of Gogodala society. In sermons presented

by both expatriate and Gogodala women at ECPNG conferences held in 1995 and 1996, there was an emphasis on the image and virtues of hardworking women.

25. An ECPNG handbook on money and biblical references to it has been published in Gogodala. Kipale Gosa Gi (`money fashion/style') outlines in some detail the pernicious nature of money and the challenges it represents to the establishment and maintenance of a Christian lifestyle.

26. Adults who do not exhibit such characteristics endanger their families and villages. In the past, the careless voice or wanderings of a child could bring disease and death to a whole village. Sickness is `like a person' which, in the old days, could be attracted to a village by the call or smell of a child or careless adult. People who were irresponsible could allow sickness to engulf the whole village, not simply their own family.

27. In my thesis, I argue that landscape, the places and spaces of the area and those imagined elsewhere, is vital to the perception of development envisaged by local people. Imaginings of other places like Australia, Britain and America underlie constructions of the future, of what development may bring.

28. Bege Mula was one of the first carvers to show an interest in Crawford and the photographs. At that time, Bege recalls, he was a young man and he brought a small painted and decorated canoe prow to Crawford who was staying at Balimo. Crawford was excited by Bege's canoe prow and asked him for more carvings (Crawford 1981:166). Bege went on to display his own work in Port Moresby, Australia and Germany in the 1970s and 1980s.

29 Accommodating whole villages of up to 300-400 people, these longhouses of old were seen by early missionaries as the space of dance, spirits and male ritual. They encouraged local Christians to build smaller, family dwellings. By the 1960s, the last of these longhouses fell down and was not rebuilt. In my thesis, I suggest that th\e construction of a Cultural Centre in the form of a traditional longhouse angered pastors, missionaries and local people opposed to the Centre because it challenged the teachings of the Church and mission about spaces as well as practices of the past.

30. Crawford encouraged the dancing of Aida dances rather than neighbouring Kiwai ones which the missionaries and pastors had suggested as an alternative.

31. See for example Crawford 1975, 1976 and 1981. In my thesis I outline several levels of interest and dispute that arose out of this 'revival' including national and regional politics, local debates about Christianity, and international academic discussions about culture and authenticity (see for example Babadzan 1988; Jolly 1992). For the purposes of this paper, however, I will look at the issues that were debated at the local level, as they are germane to Gogodala understandings of development, provincial and national politics, and relations with expatriates.

32. Sika is the general word for noise as well as the sound of the waluwa or kundu drum.

33. Susan Reed (1998:504) has noted that there has been an increasing interest in the politics of dance and movement in recent debates about the politics of culture. She writes; '[d]ance as an expression and practice of relations of power and protest, resistance and complicity, has been the subject of a number of historical and ethnographic analyses of recent years' (Reed 1998:505). A group of recent papers produced in The Australian Journal of Anthropology on `The Politics of Dance' include work on Indian dance, Aboriginal dance in contemporary Australian contexts, and dance in the Cook Islands (see for example Ram 2000; Alexeyeff 2000; Magowan 2000).

34. People who live near mines or logging sites make use of facilities provided by these large-scale projects, or establish local business and entrepreneurial ventures through compensation payments (Brown & Ploeg 1997:521).


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