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A Mission Divided

A Mission Divided: Race, Culture and Colonialism in Fiji’s Methodist Mission OPEN ACCESS

KIRSTIE CLOSE-BARRY
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: ANU Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt19w71pd
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  • Book Info
    A Mission Divided
    Book Description:

    This book provides insight into the long process of decolonisation within the Methodist Overseas Missions of Australasia, a colonial institution that operated in the British colony of Fiji. The mission was a site of work for Europeans, Fijians and Indo-Fijians, but each community operated separately, as the mission was divided along ethnic lines in 1901. This book outlines the colonial concepts of race and culture, as well as antagonism over land and labour, that were used to justify this separation. Recounting the stories told by the mission’s leadership, including missionaries and ministers, to its grassroots membership, this book draws on archival and ethnographic research to reveal the emergence of ethno-nationalisms in Fiji, the legacies of which are still being managed in the post-colonial state today.

    eISBN: 978-1-925022-86-5
    Subjects: History, Religion, Anthropology, Political Science
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Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction (pp. 1-16)

    This book examines the modes of colonial governance adopted by the Methodist Overseas Missions of Australasia’s mission in Fiji, which included the development of categories that defined ethnic divisions and hierarchies. It looks specifically at the mission’s operations in Fiji during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Concepts of race and culture were used to position people within the mission’s structure, through economic and social stratification. Missionaries adopted this separatist, hierarchical organisational technique with the belief that it would ensure the creation of two separate churches — Fijian and Indo-Fijian — that would hold relevance for its members. Overall,...

  2. On 10 October 1901, European missionaries and Fijian ministers gathered on Fiji’s Bau Island for the annual Synod of the Australasian Methodist Overseas Missions. At this meeting, symbolically held on the island that was the home of Fiji’s supreme chiefly Cakobau family, attendees addressed the challenge created by the growing Indo-Fijian community by establishing an Indo-Fijian branch. While Methodists had already been working to evangelise Indian indentured labourers, this had formerly taken place under the umbrella of the Rewa circuit of the mission. The creation of the Indo-Fijian branch established a systemic segregation based on the perceived cultural differences between...

  3. Establishing a structure for the mission that separated it into ethnically defined spheres on 1 October 1901 had important implications for the Fijian branch of the church. As noted in the previous chapter, the decision was made on the chiefly island of Bau, where the mission’s chairman, the Reverend Arthur J Small, was stationed. Holding the synod in this place highlighted the pre-eminence of Fijians in the institution. As noted earlier, the church had been separated on the premise that the two cultural groups in the colony were too different to be housed in the same mission. The separation allowed...

  4. This chapter explores missionaries’ conceptions of ‘culture’ and ‘race’ that were influenced by both their experience in the mission field and by international debates.¹ The 1920s saw the General Secretary for Methodist Overseas Missions of Australasia, John W Burton, engaging heavily in international discussions about mission policies. This chapter outlines his efforts to enact those policies through the mission’s institutions. The International Missionary Council called on missionaries everywhere to support the establishment of a ‘native’ church, yet missionaries were convinced that European control was required, and were therefore reluctant to push too strongly for indigenous self-governance. Burton used the policies...

  5. The villages and farms in the north-west of Fiji’s Viti Levu seemed sometimes to be a long way from the mission’s leadership in Suva, and a lot could be done without the chairman’s knowledge or approval. This region was part of the Ra circuit, an area renowned for its history of anti-colonial movements. Many of the indigenous Fijian nationalists in this part of Viti Levu had been, at one time or another, members of the Methodist mission. Though directed not to be involved in economic or political enterprises, Methodist missionaries were often drawn into these potentially volatile spheres of village...

  6. The impetus for establishing a self-governing church forced the Methodist mission’s leadership to continually re-evaluate their views of Fijian and Indo-Fijian abilities and capacity for self-rule, yet the obstacles that the mission still placed in the path of non-European leaders were starting to cause friction.¹ Within a global context of growing anti-colonial discontent, the delegates of the International Missionary Council (IMC), who came from all of the far-flung corners of the globe, were similarly responding to anti-colonial movements. The ideas circulating at their conferences and in their publications had already inspired a reflexive approach and the acculturation of Christianity in...

  7. Theories about culture, combined with the missionary imperative to produce ‘native’ churches, had led to the creation of a racial hierarchy within the mission by the 1940s. While the mission increasingly included Fijian and Indo-Fijian ministers into its spheres of government, there were still modes by which missionaries distanced themselves from their non-European colleagues and projected their own seniority.¹ Fijian-born ministers were increasingly frustrated by the racialist system and were finding new ways to articulate their disaffection. To appease them, the mission board, still led by General Secretary John W Burton, continued to push the ‘three selves’ church policy, trying...

  8. Missionaries realised that the post-war period provided opportunities to break down racial barriers within the mission, but culture, which was used to shape the mission’s identity and organise its membership, remained a preoccupation. Both Fijian and Indo-Fijian ‘cultures’ had been co-opted into the mission, albeit in idealised and essentialised ways, and this process of acculturating Christianity had accentuated the differences between the colony’s ethnic communities. At the end of World War II, there was mounting discontent among Fiji’s Methodists, and a sense of impending conflict in the mission.¹ Missionaries increased their efforts to diffuse hostilities between the Fijians and Indo-Fijians...

  9. During the 1950s, European missionaries struggled to reconcile the segregation of the mission with a growing international movement for self-government and independence, blowing on the ‘wind of change’.¹ This chapter revolves around the politics of race in discussions about independence within the church, debated most consistently around the mission’s bases at Davuilevu at Nausori, and in Suva. Self-representation in synod became an important focus for Indo-Fijian Methodists as the mission neared independence and they attempted to assert their identity within this overwhelmingly Fijian institution. The ‘three selves’ church policy continued to shape the work of European missionaries and their support...

  10. In the 1960s, some local ministers pushed for racial unity and integration in Fijian Methodism with new vigour, while others were content with the existing system that segregated the mission. European missionaries were shifting from protectionist policies, designed to limit the influence of Europeans on indigenous peoples, to consider policies of integration that increased crosscultural engagement. One of the most crucial issues facing the mission leadership was concurrently being deliberated by the Fijian government: whether it would be possible to change the existing system of separation and better integrate the Fijian and Indo-Fijian communities. This chapter guides us through the...

  11. Conclusion (pp. 195-202)

    On 10 October 1964, 20,000 people spilled onto the streets of Suva and into Albert Park to mark the birth of Fiji’s Methodist Church. The Reverend Setareki Tuilovoni was inducted as its president by the President General of the Australasian Methodist Church, the Reverend Frank Hambly, and by the Reverend Cecil Gribble, General Secretary of the Methodist Church of Australia’s Department of Overseas Missions.¹ ‘In the still swelling sea of faces around us’, wrote one retired missionary who attended the event, it was visibly ‘time for Independence!’² This ceremony marked the symbolic end of Australasian colonisation of Fijian Methodism.

    The...