European missionaries in Papua, 1874-1914 : a group portrait




Langmore, Diane

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EUROPEAN missionaries, through their numerical strength, their geographical spread, their proximity to the people and, above all, their commitment to conversion, were significant agents of change in Papua, as elsewhere. Yet little is known of missionaries as a social group. Perceptions of them today, as in the past, are based on pervasive stereotypes rather than factual analysis. This thesis, by presenting a group-portrait of the 327 who served in Papua up to the First World War, examines the missionaries as a distinct social group. It attempts to analyse their origins, their style of living and working in the field, and their interactions with the Papuan people, their colleagues, their counterparts in other missions and colonial society at large. It concludes by considering the endurance of the missionaries in the field, the trials that beset them and the convictions that sustained them. The reality in the Papuan mission field was much richer and more multi-faceted than any stereotype could capture. The ethnic and Social origins of the missionaries were diverse, a majority being drawn, however, from the lower (though not the lowest) ranks of European, British and colonial society (Chapter l). Despite their social diversity, there is evidence of strong and steady religious influence in the early lives of most. Their decisions to become missionaries, usually prompted by a genuine sense of vocation, were frequently reinforced by secular compulsions which either repelled them from western society or lured them to the Pacific. Their religious formation varied in both nature and scope, the one common factor being its failure to prepare them adequately (Chapter 2). In Papua, despite similarities imposed by a common environment, the missionaries organised their lives around two fundamentally different systems, lower middle class domesticity on the part of the Protestants, and community on that of the Catholics. Each had its strengths and shortcomings as a basis for mission work (Chapters 3 and U). In their perceptions of the societies which confronted them, missionaries revealed much of the complacent superiority characteristic of Europeans of the period. But more intimate association with Papuan cultures and, for some, exposure to the new discipline of anthropology, fostered growing appreciation. The extent of missionary iconoclasm depended, however, not only on their degree of perception "but also upon their own cultural and theological assumptions (Chapter 5). Throughout the period, the missionaries’ conception of their work broadened, a reflection of a growing concern for the well-being of the whole person rather than a simple preoccupation with salvation (Chapter 6). In all missions, the individual's performance was supported and constrained by the structure and organisation of the mission and his or her status within it (Chapters 7 and. 8). Although accomplices in the processes of imperialism, the missionaries defined for themselves a distinctive role which, at times setting them against both settler and official, ameliorated some of the more exploitative aspects of colonial rule (Chapter 9) Many missionaries found comfort in the rationalisations for suffering which their faith provided. Some found ultimate solace in the exaltation of martyrdom. All were sustained by a lofty selfimage, based in part on the esteem of contemporaries, but more fundamentally on their belief that they were 'co-workers with God’(Chapter 10). It was this self-image, together with convictions born of their social and religious formation, which provided the impetus for their confident and assertive intrusion into the history of Papua.






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