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Colonialism, Maasina Rule, and the Origins of MalaitanKastom

Colonialism, Maasina Rule, and the Origins of MalaitanKastom

David W. Akin
Copyright Date: 2013
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    Colonialism, Maasina Rule, and the Origins of MalaitanKastom
    Book Description:

    This book is a political history of the island of Malaita in the British Solomon Islands Protectorate from 1927, when the last violent resistance to colonial rule was crushed, to 1953 and the inauguration of the island's first representative political body, the Malaita Council. At the book's heart is a political movement known as Maasina Rule, which dominated political affairs in the southeastern Solomons for many years after World War II. The movement's ideology,kastom,was grounded in the determination that only Malaitans themselves could properly chart their future through application of Malaitan sensibilities and methods, free from British interference.Kastompromoted a radical transformation of Malaitan lives by sweeping social engineering projects and alternative governing and legal structures. When the government tried to suppress Maasina Rule through force, its followers brought colonial administration on the island to a halt for several years through a labor strike and massive civil resistance actions that overflowed government prison camps.David Akin draws on extensive archival and field research to present a practice-based analysis of colonial officers' interactions with Malaitans in the years leading up to and during Maasina Rule. A primary focus is the place of knowledge in the colonial administration. Many scholars have explored how various regimes deployed "colonial knowledge" of subject populations in Asia and Africa to reorder and rule them. The British imported to the Solomons models for "native administration" based on such an approach, particularly schemes of indirect rule developed in Africa. The concept of "custom" was basic to these schemes and to European understandings of Melanesians, and it was made the lynchpin of government policies that granted limited political roles to local ideas and practices. Officers knew very little about Malaitan cultures, however, and Malaitans seized the opportunity to transform custom into kastom, as the foundation for a new society. The book's overarching topic is the dangerous road that colonial ignorance paved for policy makers, from young cadets in the field to high officials in distant Fiji and London. Today kastom remains a powerful concept on Malaita, but continued confusion regarding its origins, history, and meanings hampers understandings of contemporary Malaitan politics and of Malaitan people's ongoing, problematic relations with the state.David W. Akinis an anthropologist and independent scholar living in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is the managing editor of the journalComparative Studies in Society and Historyand teaches at the University of Michigan.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3815-7
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Notes on Spellings and Translation
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Regarding the Endnotes
    (pp. xix-xix)
  7. [Map]
    (pp. xx-xx)
  8. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    This book is a political history of the island of Malaita in the British Solomon Islands Protectorate (BSIP) from 1927, when the last violent resistance to colonial rule was crushed, to 1953 and the inauguration of the first island-wide, representative political body, the Malaita Council. It is a case study of the inner workings of the colonial administration and how its officers and policies interacted with Malaitans and their desires for change. At the book’s center are a political movement known as Maasina Rule that sought to bring about that change, and the movement’s core ideology, known by the Solomon...

  9. Chapter 1 The Half Century Before
    (pp. 14-49)

    This book’s main focus is a period that begins just after the colonial government crushed the last martial resistance to its rule in 1927. By then, Malaitans had been interacting with Europeans for well over 50 years, and their societies had been radically changed by their men laboring abroad and by new technologies, weapons, crops, and political ideas. Many themes that appear in the chapters to follow first emerged during these early decades, and I want to summarize key aspects of the period for readers unfamiliar with Solomon Islands history. Particularly important are the impacts of the labor trade and,...

  10. Chapter 2 Early Native Administration: Coping with Custom
    (pp. 50-93)

    The 1930s on Malaita are often perceived as a political lull between transformative events. As the decade began, the last violent resistance to British control had been put down, and 12 years would pass before World War II engulfed the Protectorate. The Great Depression brought economic malaise and hardship, and, for the few hundred Europeans in the group, Malaitans seemed hopelessly fragmented and resigned to, if not always content with, life and labor under their control. This was an illusion. Beneath the surface anger smoldered and deepened through the decade as Malaitans assessed the new colonial order and their status...

  11. Chapter 3 Colonial Experiments and Mounting Resentments
    (pp. 94-131)

    The 1930s economic crisis, particularly the collapse of copra prices, cut deeply into government resources and hamstrung any plans for development or better administration. G Lennox Barrow called copra “the very stuff of life” in the Solomons, and the 1933 Annual Report lamented that copra comprised “the sole industry of the Group upon which the Administration relies … for its revenue; the European planters and the natives for their income; the commercial firms for their sales; and the shipping firms for cargo.” Statistics are telling: in 1926–1927, 22,316 tons were produced annually, valued at £411,597; by 1934–1935 this...

  12. Chapter 4 The Wartime Opening
    (pp. 132-163)

    World War II brought little actual fighting to Malaita but had profound social repercussions there.¹ As in the past, Malaitans were summoned to work on other islands, this time in the Solomon Islands Labour Corps (SILC) assisting US and allied forces on Guadalcanal and Gela, and later in the Western Solomons, under the command of district officers and plantation managers. Malaitans dominated the corps early on—in October 1943 over 2,000 Malaitans made up 85 percent of recruits—and for the war overall they made up more than half its members. Most were young, some under 16 years old. About...

  13. Chapter 5 The Rise of Maasina Rule
    (pp. 164-213)

    By late 1943, much of the southeast Solomons was rumbling with discontent and political groups were forming. Although they shared many grievances, their actions were as yet uncoordinated except as men interacted within the crucial setting of the Labour Corps, and in some places rival factions emerged. The need for a unifying leadership and platform was soon met by men from west ‘Are‘are, particularly Aliki Nono‘oohimae and Nori, who had been sergeant and corporal, respectively, of a Waisisi SILC section. They had formed definite ideas about how Malaitans should proceed. Both spent a good deal of time talking with Americans,...

  14. Chapter 6 Maasina Rule and the Government
    (pp. 214-258)

    In early 1947 Maasina Rule was at its zenith. Towns were in full flower, Malaitans were settling most of their troubles bykastom,and for most people the government seemed a distant entity. This historical moment was shortlived. As the year progressed, some officers came to believe that negotiation and compromise with Malaitans were undesirable or impossible and that a forceful crackdown was essential. This and the next two chapters examine in succession how the government learned of Maasina Rule, beginning in 1945, then the path to confrontation, government attempts to destroy the movement, and Malaitan responses. After several years...

  15. Chapter 7 Suppression and Resistance
    (pp. 259-299)

    Early on the morning of 31 August 1947, three forces commanded by Cameron, Marquand, and Trench staged surprise raids in north Malaita. They came on ships with squads of police from the Western Solomons. High Commissioner Nicoll had offered Fijian police, which Noel badly wanted but declined when Nicoll warned that they would draw press attention.¹ What was now officially “Operation Delouse” began arresting head chiefs and some lesser chiefs, men charged with holding illegal courts, and various duties or others perceived to be interfering in the arrests (in Trench’s case, even by wearing an armband). Houses were searched for...

  16. Chapter 8 Attrition and Compromise
    (pp. 300-326)

    As 1949 drew to a close, operations to suppress Maasina Rule had been ongoing for nearly two and a half years. The results could only have disappointed officers. Some tried to boost morale by tallying successes: most fences were destroyed or rotting, a few men had agreed to labor on shorterterm contracts, and if many Malaitans now saw the government as their worst enemy, it was said that they “respected” it for having shown that it could arrest thousands. Yet officers on the ground knew that most Malaitans remained resolute. Russell wrote that attitudes, especially in the north, had “hardened”...

  17. Chapter 9 Gains and Losses
    (pp. 327-346)

    The general consensus in writings about Maasina Rule has been that it was largely a failure and that Malaitans in the end resubmitted to government rule. Many authors have credited Gregory-Smith’s mid-1950 release of the head chiefs—conceived as a conciliatory gesture to a movement already dying—with ending serious resistance. Some have presented the Federal Council phase as a localized resurgence or as—to use a favorite government euphemism—“remaining pockets of resistance” quickly put down in humbling fashion.¹ No one to my knowledge has told of the full breadth and perseverance of Malaitans’ refusal to be dominated and...

  18. Abbreviations
    (pp. 347-348)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 349-446)
  20. References
    (pp. 447-514)
  21. Index
    (pp. 515-528)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 529-533)