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Our Global Neighbours: Tindalo

By: Dr Stan Florek, Category: Science, Date: 30 Apr 2015

A spirit of great men in the Solomon Islands.

Stone Head - Solomon Islands: E19217

Stone Head - Solomon Islands: E19217
Photographer: Carl Bento © Australian Museum

Our Global Neighbours is a blog series containing stories from and about cultures around the world.

Tindalo is the spirit ‘tarunga’ associated with a man of outstanding qualities and spiritual power. Tindalo exists as a spirit after death of a great man, and is a subject of reverence and communication, by which living men seek to acquire support and spiritual power.

The above definition is my imperfect summary of an explanation written by Robert Henry Codrington (1830-1922), an Anglican missionary, priest and anthropologist who is credited as an author of the first (English) study of Melanesian society and culture. And his work is still regarded as a classic of Melanesian ethnography. ‘One of the first duties of a missionary - wrote Codrington - is to try to understand the people among whom he works.’

But describing the spiritual life, conception of physical and supernatural worlds of other cultures is risky at the best of times. It can only be approximate as our cultural view point and conceptual deficiency prevents us from fully understanding and explaining beliefs in indigenous cultures.

Cultural practices associated with tindalo were part of ancestral worship, as Codrington explains in the following passage.

‘When a great man dies, it is expected that he should prove to be a tindalo, a ghost worthy of worship, an effective helper, one whose relics will put the living in communication with him. Thus, after the death of Ganindo, a chief, a famous fighting man of Florida [Island], his name was invoked and a sign of his power sought from him. On proof of this power a shrine was built for him, his head, his tools, and his weapons were preserved in it and sacrifices with invocation were offered to him there.’

Probably, if no remains of great man were preserved or available, a stylised carved head could provide an approximate symbol. But such carving was not where tindalo ‘resided’ – it was only a focal point for reverence and worship. To my knowledge a few carvings of this particular form exist and I was not able to find explanation for this rarity.