Politics of Faith: Investigating Ethnographies About Modekngei

Nishihara, Kazumi
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My first encounter with Modekngei was in the summer of 1995 when I was introduced by my professor at the Center for the Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai'i. to an ethnographic monograph. written by a Japanese anthropologist. Machiko Aoyagi.2 Being a Japanese woman, and a student who is interested in Belau/Palau,:9 it was an exciting invitation for me to learn about Japanese ethnographic work, which, until then, I had not had a chance to study closely. In her book, Aoyagi describes Modekngei as a new religion, started by a shaman name Temedad from Chol village in Palau, that emerged around 1914 when the Japanese naval forces occupied the islands, formerly under the German administration. She mentions that there is an alternative interpretation made by an American anthropologist, Arthur J. Vidich, who characterizes Modekngei as an anti-Japanese political movement.4 Her discussion of Vidich's account is brief (about five pages in Chapter 8: Teikou Undo to Shite no Modekugei [Modekngei as a Resistant Movement]),5 but it comes quite clear that she strongly disagrees with Vidich's perspective on Modekngei. Aoyagi argues that Vidich's research was conducted right after World War II, in an atmosphere where all Japanese were considered as criminals of war.6 She speculates, therefore, that Palauan people provided the American ethnographer with what he wanted to hear and that Vidich himself could have selectively emphasized the anti-Japanese aspects of the movement.7 With this criticism in mind, Aoyagi began her eleven-year research on Modekngei in 1973. From 1973 to 1984, she conducted her fieldwork in Palau with seven visits ranging in time from one to four months. e She points out that during her fieldwork, all her informants, both Modekngei followers and former policemen during the Japanese administration, testified to her that Modekngei was never an anti-Japanese movement.9 By contrasting the statements of these Palauan people, she refutes Vidich's argument about the anti-Japanese nature of Modekngei. Aoyagi's account was intriguing to me in two ways; I sensed "something" strongly appealing to me about the nature of Modekngei, and at the same time, the discrepancies in interpretations and representations of a history of a social phenomenon, made by two scholars from two different nations, grabbed my interest. I eagerly read Vidich's account, which is precise and convincing in his argument and description of Modekngei as an anti-Japanese movement, and I was left with a ceaseless feeling of wonder. Why is it that Vidich's account is almost entirely absent of description of Modekngeis religious aspects? Why does Aoyagi discuss very little about the political nature of Modekngei? What was it that "actually" happened? Did Aoyagi inadvertently try to defend Japanese colonialism? Is Vidich a part of a typical "Japan bashing" discourse? Were Palauan people selective in giving information to Vidich as Aoyagi speculates? How about to Aoyagi? Why? In my mind, the entire issue was soon connected to assumptions that I was learning at that time in seminars: knowledge is power; all knowledge is political. Debates in the seminars concerned long held assumptions in the western scientific traditions. Search for the objective truth was one of them. Is there such thing as objective truth?
Thesis (M.A.)--University of Hawaii at Manoa, 1998
Pacific Islands Studies
Micronesia - Palau, Nativistic movements--Palau., Palau--Religion.
viii, 364 leaves
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Theses for the degree of Master of Arts (University of Hawaii at Manoa). Pacific Islands Studies; no. 2684
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