Thursday, April 14, 2016

The return of the gods


We found the Sri Siva Subramaniya temple at the southern end of a Nadi street filled with hustling handicraft merchants and hot incensed stores selling saris and samosas. It was strange to find men and women kneeling and chanting before pagan gods on an island in the middle of the Pacific in the twenty-first century. A priest from Tamil Nadu rubbed ash into my oldest son's forehead and handed him a sanctified apple.

God was piled on god in the temple's central pillar, and I was reminded of missionary-turned-scholar professor Niel Gunson's claim, in his complex and ambitious essay 'Understanding Traditional Polynesian History', that the old Polynesian cosmos had points in common with the Vedic universe of Hinduism, and that traces of Hinduism might have reached the ancestors of the Tongans via Malay traders.

If Gunson's highly speculative and controversial claim is correct, then perhaps the temple at Nadi represents a curious sort of return of the ancient Polynesian religion. Perhaps Hikule'o, the Western Polynesian goddess of the underworld, lurks behind the sculptures of Kali, and the mighty Tangaloa's shadow creeps over the dancing ecstatic Shiva?


7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://www.indianweekender.co.nz/Pages/ArticleDetails/25/496/In-focus/Degei-or-Kaliya-a-closer-look-at-one-of-Fijis-enduring-myths

11:35 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Are you in Fiji Scott? I have been there, as you know, some years ago: fascinating place.

The mix of Hindu, Moslem, indigenous Fijian and other cultures is evident. I suspect that inherently there are similar issues as in 1974 when I went. We stayed in the University of the South Pacific as it was holidays and thus free. Food not great but in the hot weather enough. We hired a car and drove right round and through the main Island. We also went to Ovalu. There I met the Frenchman who had a Rotuman wife. The Rotuman women were very attractive. They had plenty of fresh fruit from their own gardens. The Fijians were friendly enough. The Indians polite but rather dour.

Oh well, R. L. Stevenson ('tusitala') ended his days in Samoa so the warmth of those places and the relative freedom and sensuality of those polynesian paradises must have attracted him: considering the cold winters and the relative poverty and unhealthy living in the industrial cities of say England.

But Fiji was exploited by the British and Australian companies and in particular the sugar companies. Others....

8:08 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

But it is possible there is some transfer of Indian mythology to Fiji. Even possible they mixed with peoples making their way to Fiji. Or is it kind of "backdated" so that after the British brought Indian labourers etc the myths entered into the culture of the Fijians also.

India is more or less the starting point of a lot of religions and culture.

8:14 pm  
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4:08 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

We only got to spend a couple of days in Fiji, Richard: a fascinating place, I agree, and I hope to get back. Internet in very scarce supply here but we'll be back in a couple of days!

1:14 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Fair enough. I suppose you're going to Roger Horrock's Launch, or it's not your cup of tea? I remember you liked his first poetry book: based on Silliman's travels in the Bay area: which was a good idea, Loney had similar and even somewhat Richard von. I find Roger and Wystan interesting even though I feel they tend to over-emphasize, for example, non-object art whereas I would like to allow many ways including the "normative" and so on....

By the way there is one snake in Fiji, when I went there I saw mongoose (they move so fast they look like a blur of light crossing a road). I thought they had been introduced to kill snakes, which they do in India I think. Fiji is, in the hinterland, more rugged than some of the other islands. A beautiful place.

Bon voyage!

(You get endless spam as comments + mine: good that you can see the difference!)

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4:31 am  

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