Leaves of the Banyan Tree

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A focal issue in Albert Wendt’s novel Leaves of the Banyan Tree is the influence of Christianity on Samoan culture. Leaves of the Banyan Tree opens in the small village of Sapepe during the 1930s. Traditional Samoan culture is on the decline and according to Sefrosa Carroll’s article “Weaving New Spaces: Christological Perspectives from Oceania (Pacific) and the Oceanic Diaspora” “western theologies” are the primary reason. The “papalagi” have intertwined their western values, particularly capitalism, with values of the gospel. “Money” and “success” are equated with God and his favor, especially by the Samoan character Tauilopepe (Wendt 84). Tauilopepe’s desire for capitalistic gains stems from his Christian teachings. After accepting the title as deacon and thus gaining influence over the community, Tauilopepe forfeits traditional Samoan values, such as the monetary bartering system or family relationships, to further develop economically, or “progress” (Keown 53). In the first chapter of the Leaves of the Banyan the term “Progress” is introduced when Tauilopepe is discussing “aeroplanes” with Toasa. Tauilopepe has heard the word many times over the “wireless” established by the New Zealand Administration. “And Tauilopepe, who had experienced more than most Sapepeans of this ‘Progress’ in action in Apia and at the theological college he had attended, believed in it and wanted to possess it not only for his children but for himself (Wendt 10).” This quote from the novel ultimately foreshadows the storyline and directly ties “Progress” with theological teachings. Tauilopepe attended the London Missionary Society’s Theological College at Malua. He read the Bible and said prayer daily. In her article, Carroll cites Neil Garson as describing the duties of missionaries as promoters of “civilisation.” Missionaries were to indoctrinate the notion of the cross in conjunction civilization through education, farming methods, proper housing, clothing and other western...
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