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Anthropology and Archaeology

Singing Samo Songs

From Shaman to Pastor

by R. Daniel Shaw

Forthcoming May 2022 paper


Tags: Anthropology, Ritual Studies Monograph Series

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.

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