How Foreign Gods Destroyed Polynesian and African Cultures and knowledge systems

Last updated on May 12, 2020

Posted on May 11, 2020

Polynesians were amazing people.  In small canoes they went from the coasts and found islands in the middle of the ocean several thousand kilometers to live and thrive.

Polynesians, the Sea-faring masters

Their lives were built around their understanding of the ocean and the land and nature itself.  These Polynesians were intrepid sea-farers who had figured out ways and means to live with the seas and the oceans in the most efficient way.

They found the islands we know today as the Cook Islands, the Society Islands including Tahiti, and the Marquesas Islands. From the Marquesas Islands, the great Polynesian navigators of the mid-fourteenth century found Hawaii to the north, Aotearoa New Zealand to the south and Rapa Nui Easter Island to the east.(Source: National Gallery of Australia)

Yousee, everything for these Polynesians was interconnected.

A characteristic of Polynesian thinking is the tendency to relate all things to each other. The cosmos is bounded by the sky above and the earth below, and everything finds its place within that framework — gods and human beings, plants, animals, and the elements. Strictly speaking, one should not speak of a natural–supernatural distinction in Polynesian thinking, since all things are equally parts of the same universe.(Sourc: John Charlot)

Their idea of medicine was also very inclusive as it was linked to their idea and understanding of the cosmos.

Divine is the manifestation of a culture’s essence

Divine, was not just a religious or ideological thing in most cultures.  It represented what a set of people held to be the most important in their lives based on their life experiences and understanding of this existence.

The mythological threads of Polynesian religions developed an intimate association among gods, chiefs, priests, and people. High gods, demigods, ancestral gods, culture heroes, spirits, elves, and people were intertwined in different ways in each island group to create separate religions that were particularized and parochial while at the same time part of a homogenous religious fabric that was spread over a vast expanse of ocean containing hundreds of large and small Polynesian islands. (source: Encyclopedia)

When another culture invades and throws out the rituals, the ways and the gods of the resident people, replacing with their own gods, it does more than just conversion.

It destroys many ancient and irreplaceable knowledge systems that only that place with free-minded people over thousands of years could have created.

For example, even till now, it has been tough to fathom as to how the Polynesian people could use just double-hulled canoes to navigate thousands of kilometers and set up complete lives and civilizations in islands so far off.

That required tremendous strength and intricate understanding of the sea, winds, currents, temperatures and many other sub-systems of nature that impact travel and life on sea.

As New Zealand Maori, Jacko Thatcher explains in this interview with BBC“You must learn to be attuned to changes in wind and wave direction, cloud formations and the passage of birds”.

And then – the canoe itself, “becomes an instrument for you”.

This sensitivity to be attuned to life and to the wind, the wave and its direction found its final culmination and expression in their interpretation of the divine – their gods.

Gods are not installed.  They are a “ground-up” process. God is the essence of your relationship with life.

When the Westerners came and imposed Christianity, they saw everything in terms of their own narrow perspectives.  In a quest to rule and spread their cult of Christ, they destroyed everything that existed in that culture.  The gods, the rituals, the sacrifices, and what they held dear.

After that initial period of interaction with Westerners, missionaries began to arrive in ships with the aim of abolishing idolatry as they saw it – Polynesian people making sacrifices in front of art objects in sacred enclosures. The missionaries could see the link between idolatry and human sacrifice, and they coerced the kings or leaders to break with their religious practices and destroy their religious objects. As the people began to convert to Christianity their art objects were burnt or smashed. Very few survived the iconoclasm that began in the late eighteenth century and continued through into the early twentieth century. Some of the missionaries, especially those belonging to the London Missionary Society, returned home with these ‘idols’ to display and raise funds for their missionary work; eventually giving them to museums.(Source: National Gallery of Australia)

What the Polynesians were left with was nothing.  The pyramid of their life systems was beheaded. And they couldn’t keep anything alive.  If today, people are scrambling to go through the notes of the very people who invaded and colonized these ancient people to understand how their amazing canoes were created – it is because everything essential to that Polynesian life died.

That culture, those knowledge systems which took many hundreds or probably thousands of years to create were left headless.  It wasn’t merely that a god was exchanged for a new one.  Expression of what was considered divine was merciless, and foolishly, destroyed.

So let us understand this clearly – about what god really is.

God is not some permanent entity in most cultures. God is the manifestation of the highest ideal that society holds dear. That is why the concept of god, the rituals, and the festivals are linked to the essence of that culture. All the knowledge systems and wisdom structures are built around that essence. What happens when someone from another place, another set of sensibilities comes and insists on imposing his god on you? He destroys not just your highest ideal but also makes your entire society rudderless by disassociating the divine from who you are essentially.

It is a death of an entire society’s knowledge and wisdom that was perfected over many millennia!

African cultures destroyed by Conversions

The inherent and native cultures around the world had developed extensive and very deep knowledge systems that went beyond the logic and ways of the Western sensibilities.  When the Western invaders came with their gods, as did the Arabs, Africans had two choices.  Either Christianity or Islam.

Their indigenous ways and life was totally uprooted and destroyed.  And, with that the entire set of knowledge structures.  The medicines, the herbs, the rituals, the connection with the Universe and therefore, the divine.  A divine that was specific to that place.  Once their gods were uprooted, so were they from their own lives.  (Also read – How can Africans and Blacks succeed)

The reason why Africa can not come back to its original sense of balance or self-sufficiency is that its foundation is gone.  They have nothing to hold themselves to.  And, all this happened because someone from another culture, with different variables, weather, food, vegetation, animals, and lifestyle came to install a god on the Africans that they never understood nor aligned with.

Yet they converted.

Africa’s first Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka explains how the church created the African version of the devil from the Orisha God Eshu.

As Soyinka explains, Christians destroyed the local culture and ways completely and implanted their own gods.

A loss and a contamination of their heritage from which Africa has never really recovered.  Till this day, they are directionless and have no peace as a continent.

Featured Image – Daniel Ramirez from Honolulu, USA – Polynesian Cultural Center – Canoe Pageant Uploaded by Jacopo Werther

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