Singing Samo Songs

From Shaman to Pastor

by R. Daniel Shaw

Tags: Anthropology, Ritual Studies Monograph Series

Table of Contents (PDF)

276 pp  $45.00

ISBN 978-1-5310-2379-9
eISBN 978-1-5310-2380-5

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Why did the Samo respond so positively to Bible translation but largely reject the mission approach to Christianity? A strong self-identity reflected in song types as well as ritual and ceremony the Samo use to order their lives provides answers of interest to anthropologists and missiologists alike.

Two organizing principles structure this book. First ethnohistory provides a means to determine the eras of socio-cultural change that characterized the development of the Samo church. The second comes from analysis of kandila, "initiation," a three-day event reflecting intra-community relationships, the association of human spirituality with cosmic interaction, and inter-community structures that offer communal protection against cannibal raids. Each chapter characterizes a different ethnohistorical era dominated by a different song type: traditional shamanic ancestral songs, songs using biblical text sung in a mythic recitation style, introduced songs by the mission church, and new "praise songs" with a mixture of traditional ancestor singing, mythic recitation of Bible verses and contemporary string bands. At the same time, the principles of initiation provide a descriptive device for understanding the progressive Samo response from one era to the next.

This ethnography is based on over fifty years of the author's personal interaction with the Samo who live in the Bosavi region of Papua New Guinea. It recounts the transition from shaman to pastor with both filling similar socio-religious roles. It is reflective of much cultural change among the Samo as well as throughout the region. It also reflects the author's understanding of culture and human spirituality which have been profoundly influenced by Samo songs and close interpersonal relationships.

"Christianity has had an enormous impact on the extraordinary plethora of indigenous cultures in Papua New Guinea. Few anthropological researchers have provided an in-depth study of the intimate transferences of thought and emotion involved in shifts from traditional worldviews to Christian ways, and until Dan Shaw's study of the isolated Samo, none have done it with such an intimate knowledge of changes in local language and thought modes as they issue in village songs. — Garry Trompf, Emeritus Professor in the History of Ideas, The University of Sydney
"Dan Shaw provides a compelling case for Bible translation as the irreplaceable ingredient for an effective cross-cultural transmission and reception of the Gospel. The process of Bible translation requires a deep incarnational engagement that creates the conditions for the people to encounter the Bible in their own cultural terms and categories. As a result, their expression of the Christian faith is ultimately unique, yet it maintains the fellowship with the remainder of the Global Church, adding another radiance to the glory of God as it shines among the nations. — Dr. Michel Kenmogne, Executive Director SIL International
Singing Samo Songs is an amazing, in-depth account of the process of how the Samo people over a period of fifty years strive to integrate their socio-religious system and concrete concerns with their Christian faith and the Bible. This case study of hybridity includes finding an appropriate vernacular name for God, expressing their spirituality in song, and yearning for an indigenous Jesus initiation. Dan Shaw draws from the deep wells of anthropological, missiological, and personal resources. — Roger Schroeder, Louis J. Luzbetak, SVD Chair of Mission and Culture, Catholic Theological Union in Chicago
"Dan Shaw is one of those 'rare birds' who combines his training and passion as an anthropologist, Bible translator, and missiologist to give us a splendid thick description of the Samo of Papua New Guinea as they consciously blended God's Way with the Samo Way to create a new hybrid Jesus Way. This rich ethnographic study chronicles how the Samo did not deny their birth identity in order to affirm their rebirth as Samo Followers of Jesus. Brilliantly documented over a fifty-year period and using the Samo three-day initiation ceremony as a heuristic device, Shaw shows the central focus and relevance of Bible translation for the Samo way of life, from relative isolation in the rain forest to engaging a globalized world. This study underscores the need for anthropologists and missiologists to work together in harmony instead of unnecessary antagonism. — Darrell Whiteman, Global Development, Gig Harbor, Washington
In this 'double memoir,' missiologist, Bible translator, and anthropologist Daniel Shaw chronicles over five decades of working with and learning from Samo people of Papua New Guinea. Narrating challenges and choices he and they made through Bible translation, he illuminates how Samo became who they are today, culturally and spiritually Samo and followers of Jesus, while detailing how his anthropological appreciation of Samo society and sociality shaped his own spiritual journey, as well as deepened his understanding of Christianity as a cultural system. — Bambi B Schieffelin, Professor Emerita of Anthropology, New York University