The idea that 19th-century Europeans and Islanders faced each other across virtually impassable linguistic and cultural boundaries has been a model for Pacific ethnohistory and can, perhaps, be traced in part to the Sapir-Whorf theory of linguistic incommensurability. Based on a case study concerning the translation of the Aneityum [Anejom] bible in Southern Vanuatu in the mid-19th century, the article considers whether the engagement between Islanders and missionaries might be better investigated through the dynamic dialogic model of Bakhtin and Voloshinov: thus speakers and interlocutors on Aneityum actively sought to understand each other through debates and dialogues about the new deity and His place in the spiritual cosmos of the island. The article first discusses the Protestant missionary defence of linguistic parity and commensurability and the formal practices of 19th-century British bible translation; then analyses debates on the new God's efficacy between missionary John Geddie and Nohoat, the foremost sorcerer of the area; and concludes by considering the translation of words particularly important to the Christian faith.
Field of Research
210399 Historical Studies not elsewhere classified