Martyrs Who Know How to Sing

Ever since seeing Terrence Malick’s extraordinary film The Thin Red Line a few months ago, I’ve been transfixed by the chants that play on its soundtrack, especially those by the Melanesian Brotherhood, an Anglican religious community on the island of Guadalcanal. My favorite is this one:


The film takes place during the gruesome battle of Guadalcanal during World War II, and the scenes of brutal fighting and lots of famous male actors are interspersed with sounds like these. Malick is listed as a producer on the album of music from Guadalcanal that appeared in his film. It includes music from the Melanesian Brotherhood as well as a more high-pitched Choir of All Saints. But these brothers do more than sing. They process:

And, like the monks killed in Algeria I recently wrote about, they die.

In 2003, seven members of the Brotherhood were abducted and killed amidst ethnic conflict on Guadalcanal, the largest of the Solomon Islands. Richard Carter, a British priest and former chaplain to the Brotherhood, has written a book about the martyrs, and here he says some about about their life of prayer and peacemaking:

The feast day of the Melanesian Brotherhood martyrs is April 24th, if you’re interested.

Nathan Schneider is an editor of Killing the Buddha and writes about religion, reason, and violence for a variety of publications. He is also a founding editor of Waging Nonviolence. His first two books, published by University of California Press in 2013, are God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet and Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse. Visit his website at The Row Boat.