Last Words, Loud Words
The Polynesian myths found homes in New Zealand and Hawaii but in different variations. Society on the Hawaiian Islands followed the typical Polynesian caste symptom. There were the top social classes comprised of tribal chiefs and royalty. Next came the priests, then the common folk. Slaves were at the bottom. One became a tribal chief by being relates to a “divine ancestor” which also included inheritance of lands.
Life on the Hawaiian Islands was fairly easy. Abundant seafood and lush vegetation gave the natives plenty of time for relaxation. Storytellers or bards were often valued members of the chief’s court. There were also those who performed for other aristocracy on what today we would call a concert tour.
Hawaiian mythology, though it had its origin in Polynesian culture, quickly developed its own identity. Polynesian myths encouraged the worship of nature gods who were chiefs living in faraway places or heaven. In the Hawaiian myths, their gods shared a history much like the tribal chiefs. The legends gave the gods divine power which was inherited and then passed on to their mortal relatives.
Regretfully, progress led to the loss of much of the mythologies of the Hawaiian Islands. History tells us that the area was discovered (and I use that term ironically since some portion of mankind had obviously located and settled the area prior) by British naval officer Captain James Cook in 1778. He found a thriving and beautiful culture. Christian missionaries arrived forty years later and met with astounding success. The tribal chiefs discarded their native religion and converted to Christianity. Their myths from antiquity disappeared from their culture. Those that remained were rewritten to agree with Biblical scripture.
How do you feel about missionaries? Many religions and denominations encourage sharing their faith. This is called evangelism and as recently as three days ago when the newly ordained Bishop Michael spoke for the first time as the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and encouraged his flock to become part of the “Jesus Movement”, it has long been considered a major facet of faith and believing. The word evangelism comes from the Old English word “evangel” which means “good news” or “gospel”. While the word dates back to the 1720’s, the practice goes back to the twelve disciples of the man called Jesus of Nazareth.
The disciples, like more modern missionaries, often found themselves in danger, trying to reach as many as they could while avoiding the ruling authorities who were not big fans of their preaching. Somehow, though, in the telling of the “good news”, the present overwrote the past. In trying to present a new myth for the people to believe in, entire cultures were lost.
When we find something on sale, we share it so our friends can get the same good deal. In other words, we share our “good news”. The challenge is to share without insisting on complete assimilation. I am not against missionaries at all. It is how literacy has been introduced in many areas and poverty reduced or eliminated. Nonetheless, we must remember that there is no one perfect race just as there is no one perfect way for all to live their faith. Mankind is as diverse as the planet on which it lives.
We need to proclaim our good news while letting others speak it in their own way, in their own culture. The history of a culture is valuable because it is the story of a part of mankind, a part to value and respect.