Ghostly sociality and wondrous alterity: notes on the religious nature of land in Solomon Islands
(University of Melbourne)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores religious aspects of territoriality in the Western Solomon Islands in light of Michael Scott’s call for us to remain alert to our interlocutors’ expressions of wonder at encounters with radically “other” forms of being that are beyond human sociality.
Paper long abstract:
Only once have I felt the presence of a ghost. It occurred during a visit to Ranongga Island in the Western Solomons, and I was astonished. My companions were pleased, but not particularly surprised, that their recently deceased elder brother had made his presence known as we entered a place that had belonged to him. They did not experience an ontological gap between living and dead, or between the social and physical landscape, in the same way I did. Everything, it seems, was within the scope of sociality: a version, perhaps, of a non-dualist worldview. In critiquing non-dualism, Scott urges us to pay attention when our interlocutors approach things as being radically outside of, or prior to, human social relationships. In this paper, I draw on Ranonggan distinctions between vernacular notions of property and land to suggest that territory sometimes is, and sometimes is not, the source of such wonder. My ghost story shows that the presence of ancestors in territory alone does not evoke wonder. However, beneath these familiar landscapes and their recent histories of occupation are accounts of the land itself and the categories of being that arose upon it. Questions about land involve not the familiar dead but ancient, mysterious, sometimes only quasi-human clan ancestors, some of whom remain powerful. Perhaps Ranonggan territoriality might be properly called "religious" if we see religion as phenomena that are simultaneously within, and beyond, the scope of human sociality.
The social formation of wonder