|1960 Replica of HMS Bounty|
The people of this group of the Pitcairn Islands, four remote islands in the South Pacific, are all descended from the Bounty mutineers and the Tahitians who set out from Tahiti with them. Led by the Bounty's master's mate, Fletcher Christian, the mutineers had returned to Tahiti to collect a few friendly Tahitians as servants and wives after they had seized the Bounty and set her Captain, William Bligh and his loyal sailors adrift in a small boat. In an astonishing feat of seamanship and navigational skills he had learned under Captain James Cook, Bligh succeeded in navigating 3,618 nautical miles to Timor in 47 days, otherwise we would probably know nothing of the mutiny.
Having arrived at Pitcairn, the Bounty was burned and scuttled to prevent anyone leaving and betraying the mutineers, after her cargo was stripped of everything, including a Bible, a prayer book and a still.
Racial tensions, which arose because of the sexual imbalance and the fact that the Tahitians found themselves to be virtual slaves, caused fighting in which most of the mutineers were killed, the rest dying of alcoholism or disease. The last remaining survivor was John Adams who found solace in the Bounty's Bible. As leader of the community he imposed a strict Christian fundamentalism on the islanders based partly on child-hood recollections. Apparently having remembered that it was traditional to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday he decreed that the islanders should fast every Wednesday and Friday.
However, one of the Christian moral codes which was ignored, probably because it would have meant not only total abstinence from sex but also the extinction of the population, was the prohibition on incest, or rather the definition of incest in the prayer book. With all the islanders closely related, having been founded by such a small founder population, these rules were relaxed. Not so the Levitican laws however, which were strictly enforced, particularly the dietary laws. 'Unclean' birds were strictly prohibited. The Pitcairn Islands Study Centre website, a Seventh-Day Adventist site, has more details on this.
And so the Pitcairn Islanders' religion waxed and waned, given a boost now and then when a ship called with a chaplain to preach a sermon or two, until in a large box of Seventh-Day Adventist literature was delivered on a ship from California in 1787. At first this was ignored until it was 'rediscovered' by the daughter of the islanders' leader Simon Young. One of the changes he introduced was changing the 'Sabbath' from Sunday to Saturday, which was ironic because they had been calling Saturday the Sabbath thinking it was Sunday until they were told the Bounty had crossed the International Date line without anyone noticing and their calendar had been a day out. I wonder if their god minded.
|Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Adamstown, Pitcairn Island|
Another Christian tradition which seems to have been adopted with more than a little enthusiasm is hypocrisy, especially in matters of private versus public sexual attitudes and activity. The islanders had been unwilling to reform their sexual practices which had been tolerated by John Adams and bring it into line with their new-found Christian fundamentalism. In 2004, seven men from Pitcairn were charged with 55 sexual offences with minors. In 2005 another 6 were charged with a further 41 offences. All were convicted of some or all of the offences. It transpired that sexual abuse of girls from the age of about 12 was routine.
|Mayor of Pitcairn, Steve Christian.|
A Conviction Christian.
A study of the island's records showed that most girls had their first child between the ages of 12 and 15. In a strongly patriarchal society in which women had no real option but to accept the abuses, they had become institutionalised and routine, and even defended by some of the older women on the grounds that it had done them no harm. In a society dominated by moralising 'Christian' male leaders, sexual abuse of children was even more systematic than that frequently found in Christian boarding schools, orphanages, choirs and almost anywhere where priests and nuns have control of children, now being exposed throughout the developed world where abused children are gaining the courage to talk about their abuse, just as the abused girls of Pitcairn have.
Just another example of how religion is used to control a population and how it works in favour of the powerful and against the interests of the weak and powerless whom it works assiduously to keep that way, and an illustration of what religion can produce when left unchecked and feels itself to be above the law.