As an anthropology major this is the kind of story that totally fascinates me…the intersection of cargo cults, Jews for Jesus, Muslims that drink alcohol and eat pork, and legends of a huge hoard of gold…awesome…and real…not television…
Mysterious Israelis are buying copra in the Solomon Islands and as Michael Field reports, the Islanders believe they are the Lost Tribe of Israel.
A couple of men, one wearing a flag of Israel, have shown up in the Solomon Islands, claiming they are ready to buy copra at high prices. They?ve headed off to remote and poor Malaita Island where indigenous Melanesian people believe they are survivors of the lost tribe of Israel.
Despite science and DNA testing, the Lost Tribe myth lives on strongly in the South Pacific. It?s more than a quaint story in the Solomons; north Malaita people have rejected recent Australian aid projects, saying they are too busy growing copra for Israel.
The Lost Tribe story has a long track record here with the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand noting missionary Samuel Marsden suggesting Maori had ?sprung from some dispersed Jews?. Thomas Kendall said Maori originated in Egypt.
Te Ua Haumene who founded the Paimarire Church or Hauhauism claimed that in September 1862 the Angel Gabriel had visited him and revealed that Maori were one of the Lost Tribes.
The Israeli connection is a problem in the Solomon Islands which was the scene of a civil war on its main island of Guadalcanal where locals objected to people from Malaita moving in. The war only ended with the arrival of a regional intervention force, including New Zealand police and soldiers.
One of the combatant units, the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) featured the Israeli flag in their iconography. A governor-general of the Solomons even made an official visit to Israel.
The Solomon Islands has been populated for around 5000 years. The first European ashore was Spaniard Alvaro de Mendana in 1568 who believed it was the site of the Biblical King Solomon Mines.
Dr Jaap Timmer of the Dutch Leiden University describes on an anthropological web discussion list serve how he had experience with the Lost Tribe movement in the Solomons.
He says archaeological and other evidence does not sustain descent from Israel: ?However, I would not deny the parallels of Old Testament and Melanesian tribal cultures, which strike Melanesians very forcefully when they read the Bible.?
Growing numbers of evangelical Christians in North Malaita believe that the Lost Temple of Israel lies hidden at a shrine that was previously used for ancestral worship in the mountainous interior of their island.
Others want to build a full-scale replica of the temple believing it is pre-ordained for a country named the Solomon Islands.
The claim frustrates mainstream churches. “Missionary Christianity is often associated with the British colonial government, European superiority, and Western ways that are believed to have polluted social life and governance in Solomon Islands.”
The Temple claim also evokes traditional land disputes, with fears that the temple would attract Israeli tourists, prompting inter-tribal jealousy.
Two disputed temple sites exist on Malaita and Anglican Bishop Terry Brown on the island says one of them is tied up with a self-proclaimed prophet and failed politician, Michael Maeliau, who leads the “Deep Sea Canoe Movement”.
He has been to Israel a number of times and has links to American neo-Israel fundamentalist groups there. Deep Sea Canoe Movement talks of taking Christianity back to Israel.
Bishop Brown says that they are serious groups.
“They, indeed, often have legitimate grievances against both governments and the more established churches,” he says.
But people could not be totally uncritical, as the groups can be dangerous. Bishop Brown recalled that the Lord’s Resistance Army of Northern Uganda started out as one such neo-Israelite movement.
“The groups and beliefs are in constant mutation and fluctuation, interacting with traditional beliefs and practices,” he says.
Mixed in are various forms of Christianity, cargo cultism and land disputes. Movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Rastafarianism even have a play and Bishop Brown noted that a kind of Islam was even involved.
A group from the capital Honiara claiming to be Muslim recently arrived at Malaita?s Auki, saying they had come to burn down churches. They were arrested for making a public disturbance.
“The first generation of Malaita Muslims were conventional; the second generation (many ex-MEF militants) is syncretistic, giving up, for example, neither pork nor alcohol.
“Indeed, there is some question whether they are Muslims at all. One only hopes that the Middle East situation of Jew vs. Muslim does not resurface here as Malaita Israelite vs. Malaita Muslim.”
The Solomons is not alone with Lost Tribe members. Recently Papua New Guinea Governor-General Sir Paulias Matane launched a book, Bine Mene: Connecting the Hebrews, by geoscientist Samuel Were.
Local accounts say that the Bine tribe discovered they were Hebrew when translators arrived in the area in 1972 to produce a Bible in Bine language. As unsophisticated as it sounds, local people used footnotes for Hebrew words and meanings given in English matched with Bine. The story evolved into Bine being Lost Tribe.
PNG has had long experience with Jewish connections, mixed up with millenarian beliefs, along with ideas about the end of the world coming when all Jews return to Jerusalem. When a group of Israeli agricultural scientists visited PNG some years back, rumours swept the country that they had airline tickets to take all adherents back to Israel.
Geographer Dr Bryant Allen of the Australian National University described on the list serve how PNG?s Gogodala tribe were convinced they were Jewish. Dr Allen eventually did visit them and found it might all have been a colonial invention. Europeans had long commented on Papuans saying the looked ?Jewish? and in recent years Australian missionaries who successfully converted them to Christianity were given to remarking on their ?Jewishness?.
?The ideas of colonists were soon embraced and subordinated to local needs, narratives and objectives,? Dr Allen says.
The link can seem confusing. A Jews-for-Jesus missionary website www.celebratemessiah.com.au magazine recounts the visit of Lawrence Hirsch of Chosen People Ministries? arriving at a wedding in PNG.
?When he landed at Wewak Airport, he was overwhelmed by the greeting he received from hundreds of people waving Israeli flags,? the magazine said.
A clan in Enga used to claim they were Israeli, although it seemed only to be a device with which they kept from paying regional tribal taxes. Oddly the first assault rifle that arrived in their Lai Valley was named “Israel”; when they obliterated their traditional feud partner’s market, everyone crowed “We are Israel! We destroyed them because we are without sin!”
Fiji has elements of Fijians-as-Israelites in its culture too with a popular myth ? often told to gullible tourists on the road between Nadi and Lautoka ? about a boat called Kaunitoni being the first to bring people ashore. It is said to have contained ancient Israelites who journeyed down to Lake Tanganyika and ? in an unexplained way ? ended up in Fiji.
The Latter Day Saints or Mormons taught for 175 years that Native Americans and Polynesians were descended from ancient seafaring Israelites. DNA research confirmed what anthropologists have been saying for nearly as many years, that Native Americans are originally from Siberia and Polynesians from Southeast Asia.
– Fairfax Media