Person and Place

Person and Place: Ideas, Ideals and Practice of Sociality on Vanua Lava, Vanuatu

Sabine C. Hes
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 252
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qckb0
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  • Book Info
    Person and Place
    Book Description:

    Concerned with contemporary notions of personhood and the relationship between persons and places, this book, presents a detailed insight into the Vanua Lavan's engagement with modernity, and examines how they relate to the past, make sense of the present and anticipate the future. Marilyn Strathern's claim that the Melanesian person is a dividual by and large holds for the Vanua Lavan person. But Vanua Lavans have also been exposed to, and creatively engaged with, what can be summarised under the term 'Western individualism'. The author draws together several themes, discourses and conversations which concern Vanuatu specifically, the Pacific as a wider geographic area but also theoretical fields in anthropology: the relevance and expressions of sociality through kinship, concepts of person, issues about land and cosmology, the kastom debate, and questions about continuity and change. In doing so she provides a snapshot of contemporary notions of personhood.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-939-0
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. List of Figures, Maps and Tables
    (pp. vii-vii)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  6. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  7. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
  8. Maps
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  9. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    This book, based on eighteen months of fieldwork on Vanua Lava, is concerned with contemporary notions of personhood and the relationship between persons and places.¹ A detailed study of every-day practices provides insight into people’s engagement with modernity, and also as to how they relate to the past, make sense of the present and anticipate the future.

    While this book is about the people of Vanua Lava, it is through the author’s eyes that the reader will get to know them. Therefore, I shall start with what has become a classic feature in anthropological writing: the arrival story.

    I first...

  10. Chapter 1 Sociality: Ideas, Ideals and Practice
    (pp. 15-41)

    The mythological beginning of humans on the Banks Islands lies with the local god Qet who lived with his mother and eleven brothers in the village ofAlo Sepere(Codrington 1969 [1891]).¹ Stories of how life began vary across the region but they all explain how the first humans relate to each other. In other words, they start with kinship. Interestingly, life in the Banks Islands started with a basic building block of matriliny – Qet and his mother – already in place. As for the beginning of humans, Codrington collected three somewhat different accounts.

    In the first account, translated from Mota, written...

  11. Chapter 2 Person
    (pp. 42-66)

    ‘Far from being regarded as unique entities, Melanesian persons are as dividually as they are individually conceived. They contain a generalized sociality within. Indeed, persons are frequently constructed as the plural and composite site of the relationships that produce them’ (Strathern 1988: 13). This is probably the most quoted passage from Marilyn Strathern’s bookThe Gender of the Gift(1988). I begin my enquiry regarding the Vanua Lavan person by embracing her assumption that Melanesians are universally both unique individuals and relational beings. To what extent do terms like individual and dividual person (Marriott 1976) and partible and permeable person (Marriott...

  12. Chapter 3 Life Cycles
    (pp. 67-104)

    Relations in Vanua Lava are constituted through exchanges between (singular and plural) persons as well as between persons and places. They find their most prominent expressions in the classical life-cycle rites of passage like birth, marriage and death. They also extend to the time before birth and after death. In this chapter I explore the connection people have with each other and with place as expressed in the life-cycle rituals of birth, marriage and death. In the previous chapter I introduced the notion that Melanesian persons have ‘sociality within’. If, as Strathern has argued, to Melanesians the conceptual opposition of...

  13. Chapter 4 Being in Place
    (pp. 105-137)

    Anthropological literature suggests that there is a distinct difference between Western and Melanesian perceptions of place (Hirsch and O’Hanlon 1995; Feld and Basso 1996). In his introduction toThe Anthropology of Landscape(Hirsch and O’Hanlon 1995) Hirsch argues that the Western understanding of landscape can be traced back to Dutch landscape paintings, which have as their defining feature a distinction of foreground versus background. In the past, ‘landscape’ in anthropology has been seen either from an outsider’s perspective as ‘setting’ or from an insider’s perspective of ‘what the locals see’. Hirsch uses two examples to illustrate this point. The first is...

  14. Chapter 5 Talking about Place
    (pp. 138-155)

    How people talk about place, and in particular how they argue about land, can reveal the relationship between person and place in a detailed and contextualised way. In this chapter I will analyse discourse from a land dispute meeting. How do people go about presenting themselves as the truthful ‘owner’? What kind of oratorical strategies do they employ? What is the relationship between speakers and audience? How does the chairman of the meeting mediate, and what strategies are at his disposal?

    In the past, conflicts or disturbed social relations were resolved either through violent encounter or through ‘sitting down together’....

  15. Chapter 6 Church and kastom: An Old Couple
    (pp. 156-192)

    Jos mo kastom hemi sem mak nomo, ‘Church and kastom are the same thing’, people assured me frequently.¹ I found this somewhat surprising because in some contexts, like weddings, as we have seen in chapter three, a clear differentiation is made. Many have argued that the concept of kastom is contested and polysemic and that its meaning has changed over time (Keesing 1982b; Tonkinson 1982a; Larcom 1990; Jolly 1992a; White 1993). One might also, though, argue the same for jos, church or, as it was formerly more often called, skul (Jolly 1982). In the past, the term skul (derived...

  16. Conclusion
    (pp. 193-200)

    In this book I have drawn together several themes, discourses and conversations which concern Vanuatu specifically, the Pacific as a wider geographic area but also theoretical fields in anthropology: the relevance and expressions of sociality through kinship, concepts of person, issues about land and cosmology, the kastom debate, and questions about continuity and change.

    The main argument of this book reads almost like a mathematical equation. If we follow Marilyn Strathern in her claim that the western concepts of ‘the individual’ and ‘society’ as two entities have no indigenous counterpart in the Melanesian context, but that persons there have sociality...

  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 201-212)
  18. Appendix A
    (pp. 213-214)
  19. Appendix B
    (pp. 215-218)
  20. Appendix C
    (pp. 219-232)
  21. Index
    (pp. 233-238)