Monday, November 18, 2013

An Apology for the Revival of Christian Architecture in Nuku'alofa

[This poem is part of a series.]

An Apology for the Revival of Christian Architecture in Nuku’alofa (for Visesio Siasau) 

Watch those ceiling fans
on either side of the chandeliers: 
they are the rotors
of an elephant-sized engine
the missionaries installed in 1886,
the year before Tupou I sent them home.
Watch the rotors turn faster 
and faster, hear them hum louder 
and louder, and know that the engine is working 
in concert with your prayers,
is straining to lift this rocket-shaped
godhouse, to send it north, all the way 
to heaven, or some other
imperialist nation.

Christ will not let us go.
Christ is a Tongan.
Christ is a pagan.

Christ is made of banyan
and suffers on a banyan cross.
Those nails through his hands and feet
hold his cross to the wall
and the wall to the floor
and the floor to the earth
of Tongatapu,
the prone body of Hikule'o,
her seven bellies stuffed full
of midden-shells and pot-shards

and skeletons.

As the rotors strain
he holds us here.
Under the chandeliers
our saviour shines with sweat.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


Anonymous Anonymous said...


12:21 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Good poem! The elephant sized engine rotates in rhythm with the 'chant'. The mix of cultures and beliefs.

1:01 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what evil shit

8:13 am  
Blogger Unknown said...

I loved the line "heaven, or some other imperialist nation". I laughed. Out loud even.

5:20 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Yes: I noted that. A brilliant comic touch. But with slight seriousness added. A touch of irony, but not "hurtful". Witty indeed.

6:42 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Thanks folks! Sometimes I think that Tongan religion is a continual struggle between the beloved soil of the homeland and the abstract heaven brought by the palangi. Popular beliefs in the continuing presence of the dead - it is not unusual for a Tongan to go to the cemetery and talk with a relative interred there, and to see ghosts of loved ones walking the bush roads at night - coexist with an intense belief in an otherworldly afterlife. I was recently invited to a Sunday service which was held not in a church but in a nearby graveyard. It was odd to sit on the grave of a stranger while hearing a sermon about the foolishness of fearing death.

12:19 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

This text by EV Collocott on ghosts and spirit possession in Tonga was published 90 years ago, but hasn't dated much, so far as I can tell. Certainly possession is still ubiquitous here, and traditional herbal remedies are still used to ameliorate it:

Quote: 'The inconsiderate affection of the - dead may cause much trouble to the living. The poor ghost longs for companionship that it has lost, and wanders forth to seek its old friends, and induce them to come with it. It enters, or approaches, the body of a living friend, usually by the way a hysterical woman, and she may become so violent and excited that several people are required to hold her. A girl in this condition gave a man a good bite in the side; but this exhibition of her powers did not deter him from afterwards marrying her. Perhaps the possessed woman may lie inert, taking no notice of what is said to her. She may tell the onlookers that so-and-so wants her to go with her. One way of treating the trouble is to knead the patient with the knuckles, to press the intruder out. I know a man who chased a ghost round the body of a woman with hot-water packs.

Fainting fits may be due to the attentions of ghosts. A person in a faint is said to be mate, dead. I have heard an unconscious child spoken of as distant, or away; apparently the soul was away.

Massage is not the only remedy. There are leaves which are potent layers of ghosts. Tongan treatment is homœopathic, and the effective leaves have a strong smell. They are said to namu tevolo, smell like a ghost or spirit; consequently they have the power of scaring off ghosts. A decoction is made of the leaves, and the juice pressed into ears, eyes, nostrils and mouth, and perhaps rubbed on the body. Ghosts cannot pass the barrier thus set up. There seems to be no apprehension lest the ghost be imprisoned inside the patient. When the patient weeps quietly that is a sign of recovery. Her tears are in sorrowful farewell to her dead friend who is leaving her.'

12:26 am  

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