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New Mana

New Mana: Transformations of a Classic Concept in Pacific Languages and Cultures

Matt Tomlinson
Ty P. Kāwika Tengan
Copyright Date: 2016
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    New Mana
    Book Description:

    ‘Mana’, a term denoting spiritual power, is found in many Pacific Islands languages. In recent decades, the term has been taken up in New Age movements and online fantasy gaming. In this book, 16 contributors examine mana through ethnographic, linguistic, and historical lenses to understand its transformations in past and present. The authors consider a range of contexts including Indigenous sovereignty movements, Christian missions and Bible translations, the commodification of cultural heritage, and the dynamics of diaspora. Their investigations move across diverse island groups—Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Hawai‘i, and French Polynesia—and into Australia, North America and even cyberspace. A key insight that the volume develops is that mana can be analysed most productively by paying close attention to its ethical and aesthetic dimensions. Since the late nineteenth century, mana has been an object of intense scholarly interest. Writers in many fields including anthropology, linguistics, history, religion, philosophy, and missiology have long debated how the term should best be understood. The authors in this volume review mana’s complex intellectual history but also describe the remarkable transformations going on in the present day as scholars, activists, church leaders, artists, and entrepreneurs take up mana in new ways.

    eISBN: 978-1-76046-008-2
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Matt Tomlinson and Ty P. Kāwika Tengan
  6. About the Cover Art
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    A. Marata Tamaira
  7. A Note on the Typesetting
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  8. Introduction: Mana Anew
    (pp. 1-36)
    Matt Tomlinson and Ty P. Kāwika Tengan

    Mana, likeculture, is a term that once inspired anthropological theory but now lives an ambiguous half-life in scholarly discourse. The goal of this book is to refocus attention on mana for three reasons. First is the simple fact that many people in Oceania and elsewhere use the term prominently in political, religious, and artistic projects as well as everyday discourse. Although mainstream anthropological attention to mana waned at the end of the twentieth century, discourse about mana thrives in many Oceanic societies. It also circulates outside of traditional Oceanic contexts—sometimes far outside, as in New Age movements, fantasy...

  9. 1 Mana Hawai’i: An Examination of Political Uses of the Word Mana in Hawaiian
    (pp. 37-54)
    Noenoe K. Silva

    I want to begin by acknowledging that I am not in the field of anthropology, nor have I made a long study of the concept of mana. I am entering into this conversation from my standpoint as Kanaka Hawai’i, or Native Hawaiian, as a scholar whose focus is on Hawaiianlanguage historical and literary texts, and whose PhD is from and whose location is in a political studies department. Matt Tomlinson and Ty Ḱ́́́́́́́́́́́́́āwika Tengan, in their introduction, suggest that ‘a reorientation [to mana as a concept] might begin with a genealogical exploration of mana’s transformations in particular locales’. As a...

  10. 2 The Mana of Kū: Indigenous Nationhood, Masculinity and Authority in Hawai’i
    (pp. 55-76)
    Ty P. Kāwika Tengan

    A long time ago, the god Kū lived in Hawai’i as a human. When a famine brought his family to the brink of starvation, he told his wife that he could save them only if he went on a journey from which he could not return. At first she refused but then finally consented when she heard the cries of their hungry children. Kū then stood on his head and disappeared into the earth. The woman’s tears watered that spot, and from it grew the ’ulu (breadfruit) tree whose fruits saved all the people (Pukui with Green 1995: 8).


  11. 3 Bodies Permeable and Divine: Tapu, Mana and the Embodiment of Hegemony in Pre-Christian Tonga
    (pp. 77-106)
    Andy Mills

    This ethnohistorical essay explores the body’s metaphysical conceptualisation in pre-Christian Tonga to explain the former relationship between the concepts ofmana(metaphysical efficacy),tapu(ritual prohibition or closure) and‘eiki(chiefliness). These concepts have often been discussed as interrelated in historical Polynesia—chiefly persons and things being considered mana and therefore sources of tapu. The precise theological basis of their relationship, however, has not been adequately addressed. Here I explore the nature of mana and tapu in pre-Christian Tonga up to the early nineteenth century. It is well documented that Christian conversion in Tonga triggered the breakdown of what Methodist...

  12. 4 Niu Mana, Sport, Media and the Australian Diaspora
    (pp. 107-130)
    Katerina Martina Teaiwa

    In the trailer forIn Football We Trust, a documentary directed by Tony Vainuku and produced by Erika Cohn of Idle Wild films, several young Polynesian men identify themselves as playing high school football. An inter title appears stating that approximately 150,000 Samoans and Tongans now live in the United States and are 56 times more likely to make it into the National Football League (NFL) than any other ‘race’ despite one in four of the same group living in poverty. And why is their success rate so high? Words like ‘faith’, ‘talent’, ‘culture’, ‘warrior’ and ‘family’ flash across the...

  13. 5 Mana, Power and ‘Pawa’ in the Pacific and Beyond
    (pp. 131-154)
    Alan Rumsey

    In this chapter I address three interrelated topics pertaining tomanaand how it might be understood in relation to ‘power’ as a socialanalytical construct, and topawaas a vernacular term used by some Pacific peoples.

    First, I briefly review the history of anthropological and comparativelinguistic understandings ofmana, from Robert Codrington’s boldly speculative account (1891), to Raymond Firth’s (1940) much more cautious one, to Roger Keesing’s (1984) argument concerning what he takes to be western misconstruals of traditional concepts ofmanaheld by Pacific peoples speaking Oceanic Austronesian languages. I offer some caveats about that argument and update...

  14. 6 Mana on the Move: Why Empirical Anchorage Trumps Philosophical Drift
    (pp. 155-182)
    Thorgeir Kolshus

    At a time when the channels for academic publication seem to multiply at a staggering rate and the writer-to-readership ratio approaches 1, our fellows’ gaze becomes an ever scarcer commodity. Attentionseeking behaviour has hardly been decorous in academia, and this time-honoured detached intellectualism has limited the genres for underlining novelties. But new realities require new measures. And the hullabaloo surrounding the presentation of a manifesto for an ‘anthropology of ontology’ at the 2013 American Anthropological Association meetings had the makings of a successful public relations campaign, gobsmacking into silence those who had regarded the various theoretical takes that are subsumed...

  15. 7 ‘Press the Button, Mama!’ Mana and Christianity on Makira, Solomon Islands
    (pp. 183-202)
    Aram Oroi

    Almost tearful, a 65-year-old widower in a rural Anglican parish on Makira Island, Solomon Islands, requested in Solomons Pijin:‘Presem baten nao, Mama!’(Press the button now,Mama!).¹ A valuable tribal heirloom in his possession had gone missing. The item had been passed on from his ancestors and legitimised tribal ownership of a certain disputed land. So the request to ‘press the button’ referred to a perceived ‘spiritual switch’ that when triggered would make ‘something happen’, and the item would be recovered.

    In this chapter, I discuss the implicit theology ofmanain the context of that ‘spiritual switch’ in...

  16. 8 The State of Mana, the Mana of the State
    (pp. 203-236)
    Alexander Mawyer

    At this point, few in our field could be surprised to hear that there is reason to be dissatisfied with an unqualified Codringtonian definition of the term mana and its extensive anthropological uptake as an ‘invisible medium of power, a spiritual energy manifest in sacred objects, a potency radiated by humans’ (Keesing 1984: 137; Shore 1989; Tomlinson 2006).¹ Nevertheless, contemporary and historical uses of this concept in French Polynesia’s Society and Gambier Islands suggest that the term continues to bear careful consideration. In the Society Islands, mana is not well attested in historical documentation reflecting everyday speech in the nineteenth...

  17. 9 Theologies of Mana and Sau in Fiji
    (pp. 237-256)
    Matt Tomlinson and Sekove Bigitibau

    Nineteenth-century Methodist missionaries saw something miraculous in Fijianmana. David Hazlewood’s pioneering dictionary definedmanaas a noun meaning ‘a sign, or omen; a wonder, or miracle’ and an adjective meaning ‘effectual; efficient, as a remedy; wonderworking’ (Hazlewood 1850: 85). Thomas Williams, who wrote the first major ethnography of Fijian society, explained the name of the god Kanusimana (kanusimeans ‘spit’) by writing that he ‘“spits miracles,” i.e., does them easily’ (Williams 1982 [1858]: 218). And when the Bible was translated into Fijian, the noun phrasescakamanaandcakacaka mana(workingmana) and(vei) ka mana (manathing/s) were often...

  18. 10 Claiming Pule, Manifesting Mana: Ordinary Ethics and Pentecostal Self-making in Samoa
    (pp. 257-284)
    Jessica Hardin

    Mid-week at a week-long revival at an Assemblies of God Church in a village near Apia, Pastor Keni began his sermon by saying, ‘When you fellowship with God, he pours His spirit andpulea[governs] the people who believe in God. This will begin the spiritual life and the righteous life’. The relationship, he explained, ‘is warm and close, and He moves’. Especially when ‘you pray and fast, He keeps you warm and will do things for His people’. He continued, ‘we have this revival to ask themana[power] to come down and to renew our life. We sing...

  19. 11 Mana for a New Age
    (pp. 285-308)
    Rachel Morgain

    From chakra healing to African drumming, sweat lodges to shamanic journeys, New Age movements, particularly in North America, are notorious for their pattern of appropriating concepts and practices from other spiritual traditions. While continental Native American and Asian influences are perhaps most familiar as sourcing grounds for New Age material, the traditions of Pacific Islanders, particularly Hawaiians, have not escaped New Age attention. In particular, the movement known as ‘Huna’ has introduced Hawaiian-sounding words and concepts to the New Age vocabulary. Chief among these is the concept of ‘mana’, controversially subsumed within what is often a large laundry list of...

  20. 12 How Mana Left the Pacific and Became a Video Game Mechanic
    (pp. 309-348)
    Alex Golub and Jon Peterson

    One of the key insights of this book is that ‘mana’ is not, despite what anthropologists might think, a concept that is uniquely tied to their discipline. True, the term has been important at foundational moments of anthropology, but it is not currently a topic that is the subject of much attention in anthropological theory. Indeed, it appears that mana has the most import amongst non-anthropologists, such as Pacific Islanders pursuing cultural revival (Tengan, this volume) or in Pacific Christian theology (Oroi, this volume). But as we will demonstrate in this chapter, even these uses of the term ‘mana’ are...

  21. Afterword: Shape-Shifting Mana: Travels in Space and Time
    (pp. 349-368)
    Niko Besnier and Margaret Jolly

    There are perhaps few concepts with the geographical ubiquity, historical resilience and shape-shifting capacity of mana. Emanating from Oceania, but resonating far beyond, the word‘mana’in many local articulations references contextually specific and contested meanings, and assumes very different inflections as it travels across the space and time of the Pacific and our shared planet. The word and the diverse concepts to which it refers exemplify not only the challenges of communication across languages and cultures, but also the politics of such communication, as well as the ethical parameters of our comparisons. This entails confronting not only the conventional...

  22. Contributors
    (pp. 369-374)
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