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The Other Side

The Other Side: Ways of Being and Place in Vanuatu

John Patrick Taylor
Copyright Date: 2008
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  • Book Info
    The Other Side
    Book Description:

    The Other Sideis the first major ethnographic and historical study of the Sia Raga people of north Pentecost Island, a region that was home to the late Father Walter Lini, Vanuatu's first prime minister. Exploring Raga social, spatial, and historical consciousness, this richly poetic account provides important theoretical contributions to ongoing debates in Pacific anthropology about the relation between structure and history, and place and time. It reveals important insights into the convergence of indigenous and exogenous cosmologies and hegemonies historically, and shows how these are implicated in contemporary social, ritual, and material cultural expressions. These analyses engage with broader concerns relating to colonial and postcolonial identities, political economy, and globalization in island Melanesia.

    The Other Sidecombines original and substantial ethnography with sophisticated theoretical reflection that will appeal broadly across the field of anthropology. It will also be of considerable value to scholars of Pacific and Melanesian history, politics, and society. The clear writing and entertaining narrative combine to create a work that is accessible to a wide audience. The volume's critical and reflective analysis of anthropological research makes it a valuable teaching aid in courses that focus on ethnographic methods and writing. Students in Pacific anthropology will find it especially useful.

    37 illus., 3 maps

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6490-3
    Subjects: Anthropology, Language & Literature

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-xiv)
  5. Prologue: Ways of the Place
    (pp. 1-14)

    On a sunny afternoon, in the shade of a canopy of corrugated iron, beside a smoking fireplace on which green bananas were slowly roasting, mytama(“father”) andratahigi(chief) Ruben Todali talked to me about the history of Pentecost Island (figure 1, map 1). He told me that in the past, many centuries before the arrival oftuturanilike myself (whites, foreigners),¹ the people of north Pentecost could not speak. They communicated by way of designs that they inscribed on the ground with their fingers. Instead of people, the sentient and mobile rocks and stones were talkative. The dark...

  6. Part One: Intimate Histories

    • Chapter 1 Locating the Anthropologist, Defining the Field
      (pp. 17-37)

      Where there is anthropology, there is always the presence of an anthropologist: the anthropologist defines his or her “field” by in some way inhabiting it. Yet the definition of anthropological field sites and the knowledge and practice pursued therein is rarely, if ever, the sole choice of a lone anthropologist. Why, then, has the theme of the anthropologist “stumbling” on a research locale or topic—most famously dramatized and mythologized in Bronislaw Malinowski’s “accidental discovery” of long-term fieldwork in the Trobriand Islands—become such a frequently recurring trope in ethnographic writing?¹ One answer to this question lies in the capacity...

    • Chapter 2 The Story of Jimmy
      (pp. 38-72)

      The past envelops the lives of Raga speakers, and like the grand tusks that are grown on boars it is shaped into a spiraling future. From everyday gossip to the telling of epic stories, such as those relating the deeds of ancestors or the adventures of culture heroes, the practice of telling historical narratives pervades daily life on north Pentecost. This chapter explores the significance of one such narrative: the arresting account of the adventures of Jimmy, the firsttuturani(white man, foreigner) to visit north Pentecost. During the time I spent in the area I frequently heard versions of...

    • Chapter 3 The Ways of the Land-Tree: Sia Raga Cosmography
      (pp. 73-102)

      Within the hegemonic, “rational,” and totalizing histories of academic discourse are constant reminders of a disenchanted world (Chakrabarty 2000, 73). The time of such histories appears continuous, empty, and homogeneous (Benjamin 1968, 261). It acts like a bottomless sack that is capable of holding any number of events. Such histories may depict worlds of thought in which humans are not the only agents; but gods, spirits, and the supernatural are denied agency in their narratives. Here, although events happen in time, time is not affected by events. Instead, the process of secular historiography involves translating those enchanted otherworlds and histories...

  7. Part Two: Intimations of Structure

    • Chapter 4 Fluid Technologies: Paths of Relationship, Spirals of Exchange
      (pp. 105-134)

      The Sia Raga orient themselves as persons through reference to a corpus of relational categories that, like the mazy lines of a sand drawing, intersect and link with each other to provide an intricate mesh of social identity. These categories are regulated and maintained by a range of more or less formalized practices and social conventions—of marriage, nurture, deference, obligation, and reciprocity. Yet there is considerable flexibility in the alignment of categories, and room for individual manipulation. So, while from an ideal anthropological perspective of kinship structure these terms may be rendered diagrammatically as a complex self-perpetuating “system,” in...

    • Chapter 5 Shifting Habitats and Dynamics of Space: Gender and the Sacred in Sia Raga Social Practice
      (pp. 135-170)

      For ni-Vanuatu the landscape is not considered a stable entity, as Lissant Bolton has observed. Rather, “in a volcanic zone where islands rise and fall under the ocean, and where hurricanes, earthquakes, and even volcanic eruptions frequently modify the landscape in small ways, places are understood to move” (Bolton 1999b, 44). In the great monuments of ancient culture heroes, or the subtle contours left by more recent generations, landscape also expresses the movement of people. Physical evidence of abandoned hamlets and ceremonial sites—in the form of old house foundations or the agedmwele(cycad palms) that mark the location...

    • Chapter 6 Sia Raga Architectonics: Knowledge and Agency of Houses
      (pp. 171-188)

      If houses are “animated,” as many have suggested, on north Pentecost they are compulsive talkers, always locked in conversation—with the habitat in which they are built, with their occupants, with each other, within themselves. The main concern of their talk—history articulated through biological idiom—is shared throughout the Southeast Asian and Pacific regions and beyond (Carsten and Hugh-Jones 1995, 23; Fox 1993b, 17; Westerson 1990, 124–126). Having walked the roads of north Pentecost and examined the ground linking hamlets and houses through space, I now take a final step into the cool shade of Sia Raga dwelling...

  8. Epilogue: And Still They Go to the Moon
    (pp. 189-196)

    For the Sia Raga, trees provide a dynamic image for understanding the movement and shape of being and place. The narrative qualities of trees are further manifested in the profound social and cosmological knowledge that adheres to the architectonics of houses. Trees and houses embody solid qualities of autochthony and foundation, but also the fluidity of growth and trajectory. Knowledge of the shaping of trees, involving the upward growth of a central trunk from which branches bifurcate on each side, is central to Sia Raga interpretive strategies. The notion of sides(tavalui)is also crucial to the sense of ambivalent...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 197-206)
  10. Glossary
    (pp. 207-212)
  11. References
    (pp. 213-228)
  12. Index
    (pp. 229-238)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 239-240)