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When Charles Montgomery was ten years old, he stumbled upon the memoirs of his great-grandfather, a seafaring missionary in the South Pacific. Poring over the faint text and faded pictures, he was entranced by the world of black magic and savagery the bishop described, and couldn't help but wonder what drove the Victorian to risk his life among people who had shot, drownedWhen Charles Montgomery was ten years old, he stumbled upon the memoirs of his great-grandfather, a seafaring missionary in the South Pacific. Poring over the faint text and faded pictures, he was entranced by the world of black magic and savagery the bishop described, and couldn't help but wonder what drove the Victorian to risk his life among people who had shot, drowned, or clubbed to death so many of his predecessors.Twenty years later and a century after that journey, Montgomery sets out for the reefs and atolls of Melanesia in search of the very spirits and myths the missionaries had sought to destroy. He retraces his ancestor's path through the far-flung islands, exploring the bond between faith and magic, the eerie persistence of the spirit world, and the heavy footprints of Empire.What he discovers is a world of sorcery and shark worship, where the lines between Christian and pagan rituals are as blurred as the frontiers of fact, fantasy, and faith. After confrontations with a bizarre cast of cult leaders, militants, and mystics, the author, in his quest for ancient magic, is led to an island in crisis -- and to a new myth with the power to destroy or to save its people forever.Alternately terrifying, moving, and hilarious, with overtones of Melville and Conrad, The Shark God is Montgomery's extraordinary and piercingly intelligent account of both Melanesia's transformation and his own. This defiantly original blend of history and memoir, anthropology and travel writing, marks the debut of a singular new talent....

Title : The Shark God: Encounters with Ghosts and Ancestors in the South Pacific
Author :
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ISBN : 9780060765163
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 384 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Shark God: Encounters with Ghosts and Ancestors in the South Pacific Reviews

  • Missy J
    2019-06-26 01:06

    Tinakula Volcano, Solomon Islands.2.5 stars.I read Paul Theroux's The Happy Isles of Oceania (1992) before reading Charles Montgomery's The Shark God (2004), which is also known as "The Last Heathen." Theroux's book was an informative and entertaining travel book that visited over a dozen Pacific island nations, whereas The Shark God retraces the journey of the author's great-grandfather, who was a missionary in Melanesia. Montgomery's travel focuses solely on Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. Furthermore he is on a specific mission: in search of magic.Unfortunately Montgomery's writing didn't captivate me and at times was quite confusing. I'm glad that I read Theroux's book first, so that I had some basic knowledge about the region, the pidgin language and a little Melanesian culture. Because Montgomery dives right into it all and does not give a clear outline of what he is about to do, nor does he give sufficient information on the setting and the situation of the places he visits. He lets himself get carried away by the people he meets, thus rendering his journey and the story line very hard to follow. But it was interesting to see how a decade later Vanuatu and Solomon Islands have changed (or not) since Paul Theroux's account of it. Kastom was very much alive and present in Vanuatu, but Montgomery wasn't able to find magic there. The Solomon Islands were in the midst of a bloody conflict, but it was there that Montgomery found the answers to his questions. Initially, Montgomery attributes the pervasiveness of magic to the proximity to the Equator, where nature towers over man. But in the end, he comes to the conclusion that looking for proof of magic is absurd. One cannot find magic, unless one believes in it. Thus magic has more to do with the believer than it has to do with the magician. It's about faith. Montgomery observes the different Christian sects and how Christianity and local beliefs have meshed into a new lifestyle, where people worship Jesus in their own mystic ways. He concludes that too much rationalism is not much different from fanaticism. The author also comes to the realization that myths may not necessarily be historically correct, but nonetheless still contain a powerful truth.During his journey, Montgomery lives together with natives and tries to understand their mystical beliefs. He meets a few foreigners; a female anthropologist, who has difficulties getting to the core of a culture, because she is not a part of it. Then there's a British priest, who finds a home and true love and friendship among the natives, but does not succeed in teaching Christianity according to the Bible. He also meets Chinese Malaysian loggers.I recommend Theroux's book first, before you attempt to read this book.The key to mythical truth is not bones and ruins, but belief itself.

  • Darth J
    2019-06-08 03:00

    It can be slow and the narrator can blather on and on. I want believe what he saw was real, but I'm not sure if it was a hallucination or if he was exaggerating to make up for a sort of boring travelogue. I don't remember why I rated it 5 stars, but I did so.... yeah.

  • Wendy
    2019-06-17 07:02

    I owned this book for six years before finally deciding to try it. Once I began the first chapter, however, I was hooked. Montgomery analyzes history, anthropology, custom and religion without ever being pedantic or didactic. Stylistically, the prose is precise, evoking fine descriptive details that capture the essence of the places and individuals he encounters.Motivated to learn about his great-grandfather's missionary days in Melanesia, Montgomery discovers and unveils more than place and people. Rather, he focuses on kastom, the belief system of Melanesians shaped by missionaries, black magic, myths and stories relating to gods and ancestors, all of which have culminated in a unique, if strange brand of Christianity/Anglicanism. Although the focus is Melanesia and its history with missionaries, this book invites the reader to reflect upon his or her own ancestry and belief systems, and, inadvertently, to compare the experience of Melanesians to the political and religious imperialism experienced by First Nations cultures in Canada and the United States. However, it's refreshing that Montgomery is never judgmental of history, politics, or people; he neither venerates nor condemns the Melanesians, missionaries and modern-day tasiu-- allowing readers to formulate their own opinions.

  • Geoff Atwater
    2019-06-13 00:09

    This book begins as an ethnography of Melanesia and becomes a journey between myth and faith. The author retraces the steps of his great-grandfather, the Anglican bishop of Melanesia in the late 19th Century, who chronicled an earlier ethnography titled: "The Light of Melansia." The first Montgomery author described groups of natives gradually succumbing to the advent of Christianity in these faraway islands, where ancient customs had been the rule. The second Montgomery author seeks to uncover continuing roots of kastom underlying a Christian facade. His method is to look for proof in the form of magic where he is generally unsuccessful. However, what makes this book a worthy read is an evolving understanding of the relationship between myth and faith. The natives seem to hang onto ancient myths, having morphed them to create their own version of Christianity. It does not seem to matter whether the myths are true or not; a level of faith animates these myths to make them present in daily lives. An Anglican priest explains to the author that the greatest faith speaks to the truth of any particular myth; the greater the faith, the more likely the myth (or a current version of it) is true. One would hope that this examination of faith would lead the author to return to the faith of his youth, although that does not seem to be the case.There are many myths in our lives, not only in Melanesia, but wherever we live and whatever we are. Ancient Greek myths animated the telling of the Iliad and the Odyssey, morphing to Roman myths in the Aeneid. Myths also abound in Christianity. The miracles related in the Bible cannot be replicated and therefore cannot be proved to be true. Yet, the parting of the Red Sea by Moses and Jesus walking on the water are major tenets of Christianity. These miracles are attested to by the great amount of faith we place on them. Similarly, there are many myths that do not rise to such a level of faith. For example, one of our deacons told me about praying to Saint Anthony, patron saint of lost causes. He told me that when something important had been lost, a statue of Saint Anthony would be buried in the yard with the head facing the door followed by this recitation:"Tony, Tony, turn around, what was lost must be found."Perhaps it worked for him, but this example of faith may not be widespread or fervently believed.It is by examining faith in a different culture that we can also examine our own faith. It is often easier to search for the connection between myth and faith in a faraway and simpler culture than it is to see the connections in our own lives. The author thoughtfully concludes the book with a section on the importance of keeping myths alive for the sake of preserving our faith. It is an interesting thought.

  • Jrobertus
    2019-06-03 04:08

    The author’s great grandfather was an Anglican bishop who had spent some time in Melanesia. His old writings inspired Montgomery to visit Vanuatu and the Solomon islands to see how Christian missionaries had affected the spirituality of the people who had been ancestor worshipping cannibals. His descriptions of the physical place were disconcerting. These are not tropical paradises but steaming, bug infested, mud stained, impoverished hell holes. The people tend to be nominally Christian to an extreme church going degree, but it is a weird mixture with vast amounts of superstition and ancestor worship. The shark god of the title is but one example. These people still believe in curses and live in fear of them. At first the book was pretty funny as Montgomery struggled to get the locals to prove their magic powers by actual demonstration but that was never going to happen. He claims to be an agnostic and hard ball rationalist. Later, he seems caught up in the notion that faith, in Jesus or your ancestors has a reality of the mind that transcends reality of the world and I was not sure where he was going. In any case, I have no desire to spend any time on Guadalcanal.

  • Dorota
    2019-06-24 06:50

    Mam problem z tą książką - z 1 strony to fascynujące świadectwo historii misjonarstwa i kolonializmu angielskiego, który zmiótł z ziemi kultury pierwotne Melanezji, choć tak naprawdę to plemiona melanezyjskie wchłonęły chrześcijaństwo i dostosowały do własnych wierzeń. Z drugiej strony autor tego reportażu wzbudza momentami irytację, nudę jak również rozbawienie. Pisze tę książkę w taki sposób, że jednocześnie czytelnik z politowaniem patrzy na jego próby znalezienia magii, a z drugiej - chce się wierzyć w tę nutkę transcendencji, którą na koniec podsuwa. Jednak to wszystko jest napisane momentami tak z taką emfazą, że chwilami rzucałam tę książkę w chwili irytacji. Nie wiem czy to kwestia tłumaczenia, czy może po prostu autor taki ma styl, ale jego opowieść do tej pory nie jest zrozumiała - dlaczego on tak właściwie chciał odbyć tę podróż - bo chciał pojąć pradziada? Zrozumieć kultury pierwotne? Autor przedstawia motywacje własne w bardzo mętny sposób i może stąd też moja podejrzliwość w stosunku do niego.

  • Rae
    2019-06-04 06:49

    Gosh, I was so excited to pick this up at the library. I only got through half of it and that was a challenge on it's own. The author seemed arrogant and naiive. Is it possible that he is more racist and ignorant than his Victorian grandfather? I kept thinking he would eventually join us in the 21st century. The author is clearly highly educated, but when it comes to social and cultural understanding and acceptance, he is definitely lacking.

  • Nancy Wilson
    2019-05-29 05:58

    worth reading

  • Melissa
    2019-06-18 23:42

    Montgomery went in search of magic. Well actually he just wanted to trace his ancestor's footsteps, but then his mission quickly became the unknown and magic once he was in Melanesia. This book, rather than be on comparative religion and travel like I thought it would be, actually read more as a memoir (although to be sure there is religion and travel included).As a young boy, Montgomery discovered journals from his missionary ancestor and the stories contained within fascinated him enough that he wanted to retrace those steps in history. Armed with his savings account and a little bit of knowledge on writing in the travel industry, he flies out to the islands in the Pacific to meet with the locals and see if there is any traditional religion left or if everyone had converted to Christianity. What he found was a surprising mix between the two and a people divided by their beliefs.While Montgomery fully fleshes himself and his beliefs in the book, I couldn't help but feeling that the local people were left more two-dimensional. They all had a personality quirk that set them off but their true description was in their religion and that seemed to be what defined them. Their actual personal lives, hopes, and dreams we never heard much about and so it made it hard to care about their other beliefs. Mongomery at least was interesting in his own thought exploration and it was interesting to see the goals of his travels change as he progressed through the islands.The premise was a good one. He wanted to see what those before him had seen and how the missionaries' work had changed the islands. But then he started wanting to see the magic side and the customs that the native people gave up in favor of Christianity. He puts in a lot of detail, but I do think that it starts to get repetitive and drawn out after awhile. Every person's story seemed the same and I felt like I was reading about the same person over and over again. There were a few standouts; mainly about the missionary Patterson and some of the older stories and I did enjoy those parts of the book. As for the other stories though I would rather have read more about the landscape and less about the people's betel nut habit.An ok book. It has a lot of interesting points from an anthropological standpoint but it presents it in a way that can be quite dry at times. The Shark GodCopyright 2004370 pagesReview by M. Reynard 2014More of my reviews can be found at

  • Fiona
    2019-06-07 01:01

    The author learned that his great-grandfather was an Anglican missionary in the 1890's in Melanesia. He decides to travel to the Melanesian Islands (Vanuatu and Solomon Islands including Guadalcanal and Malaita) to see the results of the Christianizing of the islands.Is this a travel monologue? Yes. Is this an expose of missionary work? Yes. Has Christendom arrived and still present today in the islands? Yes, as long as you understand that many of the pagan myths remain a part of this Christianity."Melanesian myths were not fictions plucked from ether but expression of lived experience." In much the same was of Moses handing down rules to the Israelites, the edicts of the Melanesian ancestors don't differ much from the rules. In essence, "obey or you will rot in hell, obey or taro will rot in the ground."One of the moving experiences for the author was meeting the Melanesian Brotherhood who are Christians who many of the locals believe have extra power - especially their walking sticks. They are the peacemakers on the islands and much is done through the power of prayer.While in the islands, he wants to know if some of the "old" ways are still around. Yes, he's curious but also he wants to experience what his great-grandfather could have experienced while converting them to Christians. Yes, he found some of the "old" ways and even experienced their rituals. In New Georgia, he was able to breathe on the devil stone which brought heavy rains in the area. Although shark worshipping stopped in the 1970's, he did meet the shark boss and swam with him in the ocean. The shark boss can sit on the floor of the ocean and a shark will swim around him. Yes, the author saw this - at least, he saw a large shadow swimming around the shark boss. I liked the writing style. The author knows how to describe heat very well. "The heat was not like heat at all. It was more like a great weight pressing down from the sky and squeezing you until you oozed fatigue and sweat like honey from a sponge." Well said.

  • Linda
    2019-06-02 23:01

    Nice writing, the guy clearly has talent. He really makes the setting come alive. There's just something about this book that grates on me and I can't put my finger on it. Maybe it's that he knows the faults of past writers and explorers (treating local populations like potential museum pieces, delegitimizing their beliefs, you know, the whole colonial approach to non-white non-europeans). Yet, he doesn't seem to miss a chance to write about the mysterious and the "surreal" and the exotic. But maybe what really bothers me is his seeming mission to witness "magic" just so he can ask the questions that prove it's not really magic. How insulting: go into someone's home, push to see rituals that normally aren't shared with strangers just so you can insist there's nothing magical going on at all. I say if you want to write about the religious experience of another community do it, with respect. If you're on a personal mission to spit in the eye of religion in general (he is perfectly honest about his christian ancestors faults) stay home and write a blog maybe. I think this is a brilliant place to write about with fascinating characters but it's let down by whatever the writer has going on in his head with his relationship to religion. In the end, I couldn't be bothered to finish it.

  • Joshua
    2019-06-08 03:49

    The concept was really interesting - a study of traditional religions in the South Pacific, something I really don't know about. The execution was lackluster - though the author's personal connection was valuable, too much of the book was an indulgent travelogue with complaining about conditions and a tone of smug superiority in his post-modern rejection of Christianity; the author does commendably recognize his romanticism of traditional religions. On top of that the author occasionally waxes unnecessarily poetic.Ultimately, as the purpose of the author's quest evolves from finding unadulterated paganism to finding proof of magic to recognizing the reality and role of myth and faith in the world, the book finds a good voice and a worthwhile message.

  • Peter
    2019-05-30 03:57

    In hindsight I changed my rating from 3 to 2 stars.I found the history and descriptions of the islands interesting, but the narrator annoyed the hell out of me, and considering the book is autobiographical, I don't think that was the intention.While describing historical white people traveling to these islands as racist, and looking at the savage natives, somehow I get the feeling the writer himself is more racist than he'd like to admit.Also his insistence on challenging everyone he meets on doing 'real' magic is really fucking annoying.

  • Amy
    2019-06-17 07:08

    This is an informative, interesting (and often entertaining) look at the religious practices of islanders in the South Pacific as observed by the great grandson of a Christian missionary who visited those islands years before.The subject matter is interesting and the book is well written. I have a problem with non-fiction when there are too many names and facts to remember - probably why I struggled with History in school - and became overwhelmed a little over halfway through the book. Although I didn't finish it, I found the bit I read worth recommending.

  • John
    2019-06-13 02:42

    A book in the "historical footsteps" genre - the inspiration being Montgomery's own great-grandfather's Victorian missionary work in the islands. Less of a travel narrative than I'd expected, heavier on the anthropological angle, which made it a bit dense. I found Alexander Frater's Tales from the Torrid Zone (also footsteps of local clergy missionary ancestors) easier going, but recommend both.

  • Naomi
    2019-06-01 01:12

    p2 "Inside was a postcard from Egypt, stamped at Port Said: Jan. 30, 1884. There was no image on the front of the card, just the address of one Reverend Prebendary Plant, the vicar of Weston-on-Trent.""Myth, like love, is a decision. What it answers is longing. What it demands is faith. What it opens is possibility." p294Interesting anthropological quest to follow his missionary grandfather's route in Vanuatu and The Solomon Islands.

  • Steve Wiggins
    2019-06-25 03:56

    A wonderful introduction to how missionaries impact a community in the south Pacific. Montgomery tries to retrace the steps of his ancestors, but finds that quite a bit has changed, even though much remains the same. A good study of how cultural imperialism and faith often fail to acquire the results they want. See more here: Sects and Violence in the Ancient World.

  • Christy
    2019-06-07 03:08

    This is one of those books I stopped reading halfway through and fully intend to finish. Thus far, it deserves four stars. I didn't stop out of boredom or frustration, just distraction.It's a really interesting exploration of the cargo cults of the South Pacific and the encounters between Christianity and native religions.

  • Phyllis
    2019-06-05 07:12

    A combination of travel writing -- through the polynesian islands off the coast of Australia and New Guinea -- and exploration of the intersection of Christian missionary efforts and beliefs and the native ancestor worship on the islands. My good friend Gary gave me this book for my birthday, and I really enjoyed it.

  • Deja
    2019-06-08 00:45

    UGH. having a very hard time getting into this book. I was hoping the author wouldn't take on the very same 'heart of darkness' type ideas of the 'savagery' of the indigenous islanders in Melanesia..I'm not sure I want to keep reading a book the is recycled racist colonial nostalgia about the paegen and savage brown islanders....

  • Marjorie Elwood
    2019-06-16 22:52

    I still can't decide how I feel about this book. It's an epic journey, both literally and figuratively, for this Canadian author who follows the myths and tales of his family off to the South Pacific. The author writes beautifully, and with real insight, about religion in that region but I found it dragged. And dragged.

  • Andrea
    2019-06-23 01:44

    This is actually probably 3.5 stars. I enjoyed the story and the representation of all the islands. It was more than just a tourist history of the islands. The focus on religious myth was an interesting take on it. And overall he did a pretty good job of being equally critical of all parties involved.

  • Anna
    2019-05-31 05:56

    i didn't actually finish this book. It certainly has potential to be an interesting read, the subject matter is interesting, and it seemed like that is what was going to carry the story along, at some point. His writing style felt very dry to me, and I found myself skipping over his descriptions of the various islands instead of being drawn into them.

  • Janet Whitehead
    2019-05-28 01:01

    I may not have read this book had I not met the author at a party and experienced his shy passion about the story. A true story, and I particularly enjoyed the spiritual aspects that I 'read into it' although it may not have been the same truths as the author's. Memorable story, brilliantly written. And in fact, it became award winning deservably so!

  • Pete
    2019-06-24 00:57

    Just picked it up off of the shelf at the library, and I was very pleased. I probably should have given it a higher ranking, but there are a lot of books out there. The author is very gifted, and I think labeling him a "travel writer" is a misnomer. I am still working my way through it, but I expect to finish it soon.

  • Fishface
    2019-06-10 03:50

    This is a travelogue of the Melanesian islands, travelled by a man retracing the steps of an ancestor, who was a missionary in the South Pacific. Pretty interesting story riven by seasickness and substandard plumbing.

  • TC
    2019-06-06 04:59

    a must for travelers going to the Solomons, or those who have spent time there and love the South Pacific. Gets a bit "thick" half way through...but I still enjoyed it....captures the moments on those South Pacific interisland ferries perfectly.....

  • jmck
    2019-06-01 23:55

    Lots of interesting vignettes about wandering through micronesia as a white descendant of an earlier whiter wanderer. Sometimes hard to keep the sequence of events straight.

  • Tim
    2019-06-22 06:48

  • Tracy
    2019-06-25 02:54

    I think I'd like to buy this so I can read it as slowly as I want. It does sound really fascinating, and I don't want to be rushed by some library deadline.