This is the kind of story that totally fascinates me…the intersection of cargo cults, Jews for Jesus, Muslims that drink alcohol and eat pork, and legends of a huge hoard of gold…awesome…and real…not television…plus the Lost Tribe of Israel in the Solomon Islands
Mysterious Israelis are buying copra in the Solomon Islands and as Michael Field reports, the Islanders believe they are the Lost Tribe of Israel.
A couple of men, one wearing a flag of Israel, have shown up in the Solomon Islands, claiming they are ready to buy copra at high prices. They?ve headed off to remote and poor Malaita Island where indigenous Melanesian people believe they are survivors of the lost tribe of Israel.
Despite science and DNA testing, the Lost Tribe myth lives on strongly in the South Pacific. It?s more than a quaint story in the Solomons; north Malaita people have rejected recent Australian aid projects, saying they are too busy growing copra for Israel.
The Lost Tribe story has a long track record here with the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand noting missionary Samuel Marsden suggesting Maori had ?sprung from some dispersed Jews?. Thomas Kendall said Maori originated in Egypt.
Te Ua Haumene who founded the Paimarire Church or Hauhauism claimed that in September 1862 the Angel Gabriel had visited him and revealed that Maori were one of the Lost Tribes.
The Israeli connection is a problem in the Solomon Islands which was the scene of a civil war on its main island of Guadalcanal where locals objected to people from Malaita moving in. The war only ended with the arrival of a regional intervention force, including New Zealand police and soldiers.
One of the combatant units, the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) featured the Israeli flag in their iconography. A governor-general of the Solomons even made an official visit to Israel.
The Solomon Islands has been populated for around 5000 years. The first European ashore was Spaniard Alvaro de Mendana in 1568 who believed it was the site of the Biblical King Solomon Mines.
Dr Jaap Timmer of the Dutch Leiden University describes on an anthropological web discussion list serve how he had experience with the Lost Tribe movement in the Solomons.
He says archaeological and other evidence does not sustain descent from Israel: ?However, I would not deny the parallels of Old Testament and Melanesian tribal cultures, which strike Melanesians very forcefully when they read the Bible.?
Growing numbers of evangelical Christians in North Malaita believe that the Lost Temple of Israel lies hidden at a shrine that was previously used for ancestral worship in the mountainous interior of their island.
Others want to build a full-scale replica of the temple believing it is pre-ordained for a country named the Solomon Islands.
The claim frustrates mainstream churches. “Missionary Christianity is often associated with the British colonial government, European superiority, and Western ways that are believed to have polluted social life and governance in Solomon Islands.”
The Temple claim also evokes traditional land disputes, with fears that the temple would attract Israeli tourists, prompting inter-tribal jealousy.
Two disputed temple sites exist on Malaita and Anglican Bishop Terry Brown on the island says one of them is tied up with a self-proclaimed prophet and failed politician, Michael Maeliau, who leads the “Deep Sea Canoe Movement”.
He has been to Israel a number of times and has links to American neo-Israel fundamentalist groups there. Deep Sea Canoe Movement talks of taking Christianity back to Israel.
Bishop Brown says that they are serious groups.
“They, indeed, often have legitimate grievances against both governments and the more established churches,” he says.
But people could not be totally uncritical, as the groups can be dangerous. Bishop Brown recalled that the Lord’s Resistance Army of Northern Uganda started out as one such neo-Israelite movement.
“The groups and beliefs are in constant mutation and fluctuation, interacting with traditional beliefs and practices,” he says.
Mixed in are various forms of Christianity, cargo cultism and land disputes. Movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Rastafarianism even have a play and Bishop Brown noted that a kind of Islam was even involved.
A group from the capital Honiara claiming to be Muslim recently arrived at Malaita?s Auki, saying they had come to burn down churches. They were arrested for making a public disturbance.
“The first generation of Malaita Muslims were conventional; the second generation (many ex-MEF militants) is syncretistic, giving up, for example, neither pork nor alcohol.
“Indeed, there is some question whether they are Muslims at all. One only hopes that the Middle East situation of Jew vs. Muslim does not resurface here as Malaita Israelite vs. Malaita Muslim.”