Unfolding the Moon: Enacting Women's Kastom in Vanuatu by Lissant Bolton

By Lissant Bolton

Unfolding the Moon is a lucid and fascinating account of a quiet yet an important transformation within the prestige of girls in Vanuatu. within the first many years after independence in 1980, kastom--indigenous wisdom and practice--became a key marker of ni-Vanuatu identification. lengthy used as a unifying strength opposed to the Anglo-French expatriates by way of leaders of the independence stream, kastom used to be nearly solely fascinated with males: ladies have been successfully excluded from engaging in arts fairs, cultural courses, and different new nationwide occasions. Then in 1991 the Vanuatu Cultural Centre initiated a undertaking that inquisitive about women's wisdom and talent in generating plaited pandanus textiles (mats) at the island of Ambae in north Vanuatu. This acknowledgment that "women have kastom too," greatly welcomed by way of rural ni-Vanuatu, was once a tremendous step in setting up women's kastom. Lissant Bolton's account of this crucial yet undocumented interval considers the situations that resulted in those occasions and analyzes their results on Ambae. Her ethnography of women's creation and use of plaited pandanus textiles exhibits a altering global wherein colonial and missionary principles concerning the place of girls and feminist discourses on women's rights have engaged with particular, kinship-based structures of gender to create modern ni-Vanuatu perspectives at the place of girls. those perspectives were additional transformed by means of the independence flow after which, in the course of the common impact of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, by way of Western anthropological assumptions approximately tradition. Bolton analyzes all of those interactions in addition to her personal engagement within the very strategies she describes. the result's a readable but subtle account of ways ni-Vanuatu girls advanced into the nationwide enviornment and spread out their wisdom and perform as kastom.

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Extra resources for Unfolding the Moon: Enacting Women's Kastom in Vanuatu

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Research in the archipelago has had a somewhat checkered history, so that the moratorium was in this sense only the next occasion on which a developing dialogue halted. Michael Allen commented in 1981 in his introduction to the first collection of essays on the region, “Anthropological research in Vanuatu has, thus far, been afflicted with a curious tendency towards nonpublication” (Allen 1981a:xiii). In fact, the area was the subject of some of the earliest published ethnographic surveys in Melanesia, notably those by Codrington (1891 [1981]), Speiser (1913), and Rivers (1914).

A concern with rank and status is a feature of local practice throughout the archipelago, taking other forms in other areas. Central Vanuatu is characterized by systems of hereditary chieftainship (Guiart et al. 1973), while in the south of the group, on the island of Tanna, men achieve status through the “control, production and transmission of knowledge” (Lindstrom 1984:293). The preoccupation with rank and status is allied today with a widespread concern with the idea of respect 4 ch ap te r 1 (Bislama: rispek)—the showing of honor and respect to others.

In 1974, in response to increasing pressure for indepen- h i s t ory / k a s t o m 19 dence, the condominium government agreed to set up a representative assembly, the majority of whose members were to be elected by universal suffrage. The assembly also included a number of seats allocated to represent economic interests—the Chamber of Commerce elected six members, the indigenous cooperatives three. d. [1978]:5). The difficulty with this proposal was identifying men eligible to stand for election for this category, since “chief ” was a category devised by the condominium administration, one that did not directly correspond to any of the diverse systems of leadership that existed throughout the region.

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