11 - Sacred spaces: churches, men's houses and households in South Pentecost, Vanuatu  pp. 213-235


By Margaret Jolly

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Family life has become purer by the abolition of polygamy, and more happy by the residence of man and wife together, which did not characterise their heathen state.

(Steel 1880:50)

In both the indigenous and Christian religions of Vanuatu space is sacralised. In the indigenous system sanctity was created by the segregation of living people and the ancestors, low-ranking people and high-ranking people, and women and men. Such segregations entailed divisions between the human settlement and the surrounding environment, between sacred areas and mundane spaces, between men's houses and domestic dwellings, and within both men's house and dwelling the differentiation of cooking fires on the basis of rank and gender.

As part of the process of conversion Christian missionaries and local converts trespassed over these boundaries sacred to the ancestral religion and in varying degrees tried to deconstruct these sacred spaces and replace them with new ones. This was most obvious in the building of Christian churches, but also involved the reconstruction of dwellings and associated efforts to reshape domestic existence and reform family life.

This chapter explores this process in one particular region of Vanuatu, the communities of South Pentecost.

No references available.