Encounters with stone: Missionary battles with idols in the southern New Hebrides


  • Stuart Bedford Australian National University, and Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
  • Dijana Haskell-Crook Miami State High School, Australia
  • Matthew Spriggs Australia National University, and Vanuatu Cultural Centre
  • Richard Shing Vanuatu Cultural Centre


A fundamental goal of Christian missionaries in the Pacific was to depose indigenous deities and substitute them with Christian beliefs. Hence, they were constantly battling indigenous idolatry and idols. The islands of the southern New Hebrides were the first locations in Melanesia where missionisation was attempted with strategies and philosophy heavily influenced by the practices of the London Missionary Society in Polynesia. On the island of Aneityum idols were primarily unmodified stones which were regularly offered to the church in a sign of conversion and which in some cases were incorporated into church buildings. Guided by oral traditions, a cache of such stones was excavated at the mission station at Anelcauhat, southern Aneityum. They highlight the ongoing negotiation between kastom and Christianity in Vanuatu that began more than 150 years ago.

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How to Cite

Bedford, S., Haskell-Crook, D., Spriggs, M. and Shing, R. (2020) “Encounters with stone: Missionary battles with idols in the southern New Hebrides”, Journal of Pacific Archaeology, 11(2), pp. 21–33. Available at: https://pacificarchaeology.org/index.php/journal/article/view/305 (Accessed: 25 February 2024).



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