The Changing South Pacific

The Changing South Pacific: Identities and Transformations

Serge Tcherkézoff
Françoise Douaire-Marsaudon
Translated by Nora Scott
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    The Changing South Pacific
    Book Description:

    The texts collected in this volume take an anthropological approach to the variety of contemporary societal problems which confront the peoples of the contemporary South Pacific: religious revival, the sociology of relations between local groups, regions and nation-States, the problem of culture areas, the place of democracy in the transition of States founded on sacred chiefdoms, the role of ceremonial exchanges in a market economy, and so forth. Each chapter presents a society seen from a specific point of view, but always with reference to the issue of collective identity and its confrontation with history and change. The collection thus invites the reader to understand how the inhabitants of these societies seek to affirm both an individual identity and a sense of belonging to the contemporary world. In doing so, it informs the reader about the contemporary realities experienced by the inhabitants of the South Pacific, with a view to contributing to an intercultural dialogue between the reader and these inhabitants.

    eISBN: 978-1-921536-15-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-5)
  2. Preface
    (pp. 6-6)
    Darrell Tryon
  3. Foreword to the original edition
    (pp. 7-8)
    Bernard Juillerat

    Mention Oceania, and what springs to mind is hardly a ‘continent’ on the lines of Africa or America, but rather an ocean — more nearly a void — surrounded by continents, among which the subcontinent of Australia. And yet the unity of this space that is home to so many island peoples and cultures no longer needs proving: it is based on a common origin in Asia, and on the large linguistic groups that grew from this single root, of which the Austronesian group populates nearly the whole of the Pacific.

    Today, however, the peoples of the Pacific are in search of...

  4. Table of Contents
    (pp. 9-10)
  5. INTRODUCTION: The cargo will not come …
    (pp. 1-24)
    Serge Tcherkézoff and Françoise Douaire-Marsaudon

    The French reader was the initial target of this introduction. He usually knows little about the South Pacific cultures. For instance, while he has had more than one occasion to see pictures of ‘Tahiti’ or ‘Easter Island’ in eastern Polynesia, he knows almost nothing about the political, social and cultural realities of the western half of the region. With the exception of the two islands of Wallis and Futuna, this part of the Pacific has no French territories; instead, there are a variety of small independent States which have kept their own Polynesian tongue as the official language. The present...


      (pp. 27-42)
      Maurice Godelier

      I will attempt to describe the various aspects and stages of the ‘Westernising’ of a so-called ‘primitive’ society in New Guinea, the Baruya, who were discovered by white Europeans in 1951 and brought under Australian colonial rule in 1960. Fifteen years later, in 1975, when Australia gave Papua New Guinea its independence, the members of this small society found themselves citizens of a new State, member of the United Nations, whose political system was modelled on that of a Western parliamentary democracy — with a few accommodations to allow for the tribal and regional variations found on this the world’s largest...

    • Chapter 2 ‘MY POOR BORDER DWELLERS’ (Yafar 1970—1995)
      (pp. 43-62)
      Bernard Juillerat

      When an anthropologist reaches ‘his field’, the group he has chosen to study is always in the midst of some crisis. In addition, he often arrives after everyone else (explorers, missionaries, recruiters, administrators, planters). As a rule, however, he is the first one to stop in the village for more than a few days. And above all, he is the first foreigner to pride himself on his lack of power: ‘I am not a missionary or an administrator … I am only a man, nothing more’, he tells anyone willing to listen, for fear of being taken for one of...

      (pp. 63-84)
      Philippe Peltier

      In 1965, Anthony Forge published ‘Art and Environment in the Sepik River’.¹ The article had an enormous impact. In it, Forge resolved one of the major problems that had been eating at anthropologists since they had become interested in works of art: the laconic — and even lack of — response on the part of local artists when questioned about their work. At best, a Sepik artist will explain to the poor anthropologist, in a curt phrase that brooks no appeal, that such a work represents simply a plant, an insect, a fish or reflections in the water. Any attempt to get...

    • Chapter 4 CARGO CULT OR SIN CULT? A Melanesian rite to better God
      (pp. 85-105)
      Monique Jeudy-Ballini

      The Sulka of New Britain (Papua New Guinea) often refer to the past, using the stereotypical missionary expression, as ‘the time of darkness’, that era of ignorance and error which came to an end when Christianisation ushered in the ‘time of light’. Yet the fact that some people speak of themselves as those who both follow the customs of the ancestors and keep the Ten Commandments shows that, in certain contexts, light is not necessarily the opposite of darkness. Borne along by a constant current of recomposition and totalisation, Sulka thought strives to maintain a necessary but non-dichotomous relationship between...

      (pp. 106-132)
      Brigitte Derlon

      On central New Ireland’s Lelet plateau, with its broken relief rising to an altitude of 1200 metres, four villages are home to some 500 persons from the Mandak linguistic group: this is the last remaining population of mountain-dwellers on the island. During my stay, from 1983 to 1984,¹ several informants told me that, before the missionaries’ arrival, at the beginning of the century in other words, one clan in a coastal Mandak village at the base of the plateau sacrificed a succession of young children in the hope of obtaining European goods. If I spontaneously believed in the existence of...


    • Chapter 6 IN AUSTRALIA, IT’S ‘ABORIGINAL’ WITH A CAPITAL ‘A’ Aboriginality, politics and identity
      (pp. 135-157)
      Barbara Glowczewski

      Sometime in the 1960s, for both ethical and political reasons, the term ‘Aboriginal’ and ‘Aboriginal’ began to be written with a capital ‘A’, thus becoming an ethnonym; it applied to the descendants of the first inhabitants of the Australian continent, some 500 groups speaking different languages and designated — even now — by different names.² Today, Aboriginal groups have not only different languages and cultural backgrounds, but different histories as well — reserves, separation of children from parents, mixed descent — all of which has put more or less distance between them and their heritage. And yet many still claim that there is such...

    • Chapter 7 ‘MIPELA WAN BILAS’ Identity and sociocultural variability among the Anga of Papua New Guinea
      (pp. 158-181)
      Pierre Lemonnier

      It is not unusual today to belittle or even to reject out of hand that pillar of ethnography, the comparative approach. Among the practices regarded as particularly futile is the use of models, suspected of being a mere reflection of anthropologists’ a prioris, especially when these models are built from data gathered many years before.² Taking the opposite tack, the present article defends the virtues of a comparative ethnological approach that uses comparable sociological entities. In other words, I intend to show how an anthropology of nuances focuses on assemblages of sociological phenomena whose regularity, simple presence or distortions in...

    • Chapter 8 WHY SHOULD EVERYONE HAVE A DIFFERENT NAME? Clan and gender identity among the Ankave-Anga of Papua New Guinea
      (pp. 182-193)
      Pascale Bonnemère

      A side from a few well-known pioneering studies,¹ it has been only in the last fifteen years that there has been a research boom in the anthropology of personhood, attesting new interest in the ideas members of all societies have about individual identity. This area of anthropology is concerned with the ways each culture goes about defining the person, its primary object of study being the discourses and practices surrounding the personal attributes recognised by the society: body, name(s), spirit(s), emotions, personality, physical features and so on.

      Alongside its principal aim, such research has also added to our knowledge of...

    • Chapter 9 OF ATOLLS AND GARDENS An attempt at participant ethno-archaeology in Tuamotu
      (pp. 194-204)
      Jean-Michel Chazine

      In the middle of the Pacific Ocean lies the Tuamotu Archipelago, with its seventy-five atolls sprinkled over an area larger than that of Europe, forming a fragmented set of islands long settled by human populations in spite of the extreme climatic and ecological constraints constantly impinging on their relations with the environment. This string of low-lying islands is strikingly different from its French Polynesian neighbours, and it is precisely these differences which make it a distinct object of study. It is a complex space, comprised of tiny individualised territories in a vast expanse of sea: a few thousand square kilometres...


    • Chapter 10 FOOD AND WEALTH Ceremonial objects as signs of identity in Tonga and in Wallis
      (pp. 207-229)
      Françoise Douaire-Marsaudon

      It was primarily the objects used in ceremonial exchanges by the Samoans and the Maori which provided Mauss, in his essay, The Gift, with the opportunity to discuss the system of ritual gift-exchange found in Polynesia.¹ Since this essay, Mauss has become an obligatory reference on the question, a bit like a tradition which has grown up and now dictates that any discussion of Polynesian ceremonial exchanges must begin with Samoa and/or the Maori.² The present article suggests a shift of focus to other parts of Polynesia: the societies of Tonga and Wallis. Two types of ceremonial objects will be...

      (pp. 230-244)
      Marie-Claire Bataille and Georges Benguigui

      Every human society must resolve at least two fundamental questions: first, how to live together and second, how to survive together, that is, in particular, how to produce together. We are among those who think these are separate questions, and will concern ourselves here with only the first. To inquire into how to go about living together ultimately comes down to inquiring into the ways of managing the conflicts inherent in any society. Obviously a strongly hierarchical traditional society does not manage internal conflicts in the same way as a liberal Western society.

      We will attempt to address one aspect...

    • Chapter 12 CULTURE, NATION, SOCIETY Secondary change and fundamental transformations in Western Samoa Towards a model for the study of cultural dynamics
      (pp. 245-302)
      Serge Tcherkézoff

      The belief that we can observe and translate the identity of a culture directly is no doubt an illusion. At first everything we see seems to speak of a certain cultural identity simply because everything seems alien to the outside observer and therefore to call for new categories. In these conditions how can we classify the material without projecting onto it what is, a priori for our culture, an alien culture? Secondly, no society is exempt from the effects of history and daily changes. But to speak of transformations — in the diachronic sense — is no easier. How can anthropologists integrate...

    (pp. 303-332)
    (pp. 333-338)