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Engaging Feminist Anthropology in Vanuatu

Local Knowledge and Universal Claims

Jean Mitchell

In Vanuatu, where the revival of kastom (custom) has been pivotal in defining postcolonial identity, articulations of feminism(s) are offen met with ambivalence. The tension between discourses of individual rights and collective obligations and the tension between universal ideas of women's rights and local cultural practices such as kastom must be confronted. An engaged feminist anthropology, I argue, resists singular accounts of modernity by locating local knowledge and kastomary practices within a larger context that unsettles the boundaries of local and universal. Disentangling the ways in which contemporary critiques of kastom resonate with missionary and colonial representations of Melanesian violence and drawing attention to the structural violence of everyday life are also important tasks. Invoking the concepts of 'modest witness' and 'situated knowledge', I discuss what Strathern (1987) has called the 'awkward relationship' between anthropology and feminism and consider the possibilities of an engaged feminist anthropology.

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The Effects of Elusive Knowledge

Census, Health Laws and Inconsistently Modern Subjects in Early Colonial Vanuatu

Alexandra Widmer

In this article, I discuss two roles of documents in the creation and enforcement of public health laws in early colonial Vanuatu and their implication in colonial attempts to transform ni-Vanuatu societies and subjectivities. Colonial officials of the British-French Condominium based their projects on their admittedly partial knowledge in reports generated by experts studying depopulation. This knowledge, I argue, produced a ‘population’ by categorizing people according to their relationship with a reified notion of culture. The Condominium enforced health laws by sending letters to people categorized as Christian who would, the Condominium hoped, adhere to the regulations as self governing subjects. Officials would engage in persuasive conversations when they enforced the regulations in ‘bush’ villages. I conclude by reflecting on ni- Vanuatu knowledge of well-being and illness that could not be represented or documented and its centrality for subjectivities that might elude, if not subvert, the modern subject presumed by colonial strategies of governance.

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Archaeology and Ethnographic Collections

Disentangling Provenance, Provenience, and Context in Vanuatu Assemblages

James L. Flexner

The archaeological value of museum collections is not limited to collections labelled “archaeology.” “Ethnology” or “ethnography” collections can provide useful information for evaluating broadly relevant theoretical and methodological discussions in the discipline. The concepts of provenience (where something was found), provenance (where the materials for an object originated), and context (the ways an object is and was interpreted and used within a cultural milieu) are central to much archaeological interpretation. Archaeologists have often looked to living societies as analogues for better understanding these issues. Museum ethnographic collections from Vanuatu provide a case study offering a complementary approach, in which assemblages of ethnographic objects and associated information allow us to reconstruct complex networks of movement, exchange, and entanglement.

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The Sorcerer as an Absented Third Person

Formations of Fear and Anger in Vanuatu

Knut Rio

This essay revolves around a recent intensification of homicidal sorcery on Ambrym Island in Vanuatu, central Melanesia. During my periods of fieldwork on the island, spanning from 1995 to 2000, the situation in my region changed dramatically. Even though Ambrym social life has always been imbued with sorcery, the circumstances around the turn of the millennium represented a complete loss of control and an existential crisis.

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Healing the Nation

In Search of Unity through the Holy Spirit in Vanuatu

Annelin Eriksen

The rapid growth of new Pentecostal churches in the South West Pacific nation Vanuatu is the focus of this article. It is argued that we need to look at the social dimensions of new religious movements—the way that the social in itself becomes the key to a transformed life—in order to gain an understanding of these movements' significance and proliferation in this area. This does not imply that the religious in its ontological sense is not important, but that this might be inseparable from the social—the rules and regulations, the activities and meetings. In order to highlight this dimension of the new churches, the literature on the cargo movements from Melanesia is used as a comparative background.