A voyage in God's canoe: law and legislation in Melanesia

Mortensen, Reid (2001) A voyage in God's canoe: law and legislation in Melanesia. In: Law and religion. Current Legal Issues (4). Oxford University Press, Oxford, United Kingdom, pp. 509-528. ISBN 0-19-924660-2


A sense of the sacred permeates the cultures of Melanesia: a region among the world's most Christian but, at the same time, noted for the continuing influence of its indigenous beliefs and practices. Indeed, the religious has an honoured place in the political rhetoric of the region and is promoted as an agent of state-creation in all of its independent states: Papua New Guinea(PNG), Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and Fiji. Early nationalists in these countries considered that effective decolonization would involve the inculturation of political institutions, civil law, and social obligation with Christian principles and custom. As Vanuatu's founding prime minister, Fr. Walter Lini, urged in his independence speech in 1980, 'God and custom must be the sail and steering paddle of our canoe.' For Lini, these
would be central to national unity, state-creation, and development in multicultural Vanuatu.

Lini's metaphor would be incomprehensible in Melanesia's most densely populated provinces in the New Guinea Highlands. It nevertheless encapsulates the central theme of any discussion of law and religion in the region: how the modern civil law can be reconciled with the deep religiosity of Melanesian peoples, expressed publicly in a commitment to both Christianity and custom. I intend to consider this question in light of the extensive cultural pluralism of the region. This requires an initial review of
the political thinking about the role of religion in the development of a Melanesian jurisprudence, especially as this thinking has been expounded since these countries became independent in the 1970s. The relationship
between religion and the civil law in Melanesia is then considered, and involves questions of constitutional symbolism, religious freedom, enforcement of custom, and, a different thing, custom as civil law-specifically, its appropriation in the sorcery laws. This allows a reconsideration of Melanesian thought about Church, custom, and civil law, and how religious freedom can be maintained in what has become a turbulent period for the independent Melanesian states.

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Item Type: Book Chapter (Commonwealth Reporting Category B)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: Permanent restricted access to paper due to publisher copyright restrictions.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Business - Department of Law (Up to 31 Mar 2007)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Business - Department of Law (Up to 31 Mar 2007)
Date Deposited: 24 May 2009 22:37
Last Modified: 26 Sep 2016 00:46
Uncontrolled Keywords: law; legislation; religion; Melanesia; religious traditions
Fields of Research (2008): 22 Philosophy and Religious Studies > 2204 Religion and Religious Studies > 220405 Religion and Society
21 History and Archaeology > 2103 Historical Studies > 210313 Pacific History (excl. New Zealand and Maori)
18 Law and Legal Studies > 1801 Law > 180116 International Law (excl. International Trade Law)
Socio-Economic Objectives (2008): C Society > 95 Cultural Understanding > 9504 Religion and Ethics > 950404 Religion and Society
URI: http://eprints.usq.edu.au/id/eprint/5263

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