Paper to be presented @ 13th ESfO Conference, 2–5 June 2022, Ajaccio, Corsica, France

in Session 14 “The Materiality and Immateriality of Religious Movements in the Pacific”, organised by Christiane Falck and Fraser Macdonald


Im/Material Dimensions of Historicity:
Linking Sound Documents and Historical Representations of a Religious Movement in Kiribati

Wolfgang Kempf

In this paper I explore the historical connections between a sequence of songs and dance chants about the rebuilding of a Protestant church and a previous religious movement. This sequence of seven audio documents is taken from a tape collection put together by the anthropologist Gerd Koch and his wife between 1963 and 1964 in the Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati). Brought back to the attention of some I-Kiribati interlocutors as part of a current research project, the selected recordings from the island of Onotoa evoked in the listeners a wide range of emotions, memories and historical knowledge. In particular, the place, church, and name of the composer were associated with a religious movement from the 1930s whose history continues to have negative connotations today. My analytical interest focuses first on Onotoans’ agency and anticipation in the process of assembling the tape recordings in the 1960s. I then examine the contemporary discursive linkages of sound documents and historical narratives about church building and religious movement by some I-Kiribati interlocutors. Finally, this ethnography of historicity is related to archival representations of the millenarian movement from the colonial period. I argue that the analysis of these temporally different, heterogeneous assemblages of im/material components (such as people, places, buildings, signs, dreams, sounds) and their distributive efficacy makes a significant contribution to the understanding of historicity.