Going Native: Converting Narratives in Tiwi Histories of Twentieth-Century Missions

by Laura Rademaker

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Historians and anthropologists have increasingly argued that the conversion of Indigenous peoples to Christianity occurred as they wove the new faith into their traditions. Yet this finding risks overshadowing how Indigenous peoples themselves understood the history of Christianity in their societies. This article, a case study of the Tiwi of North Australia, is illustrative in that it uses Tiwi oral histories of the ‘conversion’ of a priest in order to invert assumptions about inculturation and conversion. They insist that they did not accommodate the new faith but that the Catholic Church itself converted in embracing them. Their history suggests that conversion can occur as communities change in the act of incorporating new peoples.