Ritual, Risk, and Danger: Chain Prayers in Fiji



Rituals that defuse immediate senses of danger can perpetuate senses of powerlessness. Ambiguous language used in defensive rituals can heighten people's senses of the risks they are confronting and also compel people to perform those rituals again in the future. In this article, I illustrate this argument by examining Fijian Methodist masu sema (chain prayers), which are conducted to defuse the dangers that beset society, including curses from demonic ancestors. I argue that Fijian cultural themes of present-day human powerlessness are generated largely by competition between Methodist and chiefly authorities. “Chain prayers” are attempts to negate the power of dangerous ancestors, but in requesting God's help, ritual participants cast themselves as powerless. Verbal ambiguity in chain prayers gives “demons” lives of their own, compelling their future circulation.