The Contemporary Pacific 15.2 (2003) 504-506
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La tradition et l'État: Églises, pouvoirs et politiques culturelles dans le Pacifique, edited by Christine Hamelin and Éric Wittersheim. Cahiers du Pacifique Sud Contemporain 2. Paris: L'Harmattan, 2002. ISBN 2-7475-1926-0; 250 pages, figures, maps, notes, bibliographies. €21.35.
This collection of essays focuses primarily on contemporary issues of anthropological interest in Vanuatu and the Bismarck Archipelago of Papua New Guinea. It is a direct outcome of a postgraduate seminar offered annually by the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), in Paris. Under the direction of Alban Bensa, anthropologist, and Jean-Claude Rivierre, linguist, the seminar series is motivated by an explicit concern to move beyond the geographical confines of New Caledonia, where both have undertaken significant scholarly research for over twenty years, to embrace the larger Oceanian realm. It is also concerned to promote, within France, the kind of anthropology that focuses on transformation and change, thereby vigorously rejecting the static, binary views of tradition/modernity that remain current in certain scholarly circles. Logically, both objectives are achieved through sending a new generation of scholars to work first in Vanuatu, where there is a long tradition of French scholarly research and close institutional relations with New Caledonia, and then on into "deeper" Melanesia. The editors of this second volume in the Cahiers du Pacifique Sud Contemporain series, Christine Hamelin and Éric Wittersheim, following earlier research in New Caledonia, are clearly exercising such a mandate. Their strategy has been to invite experienced scholars from other countries to contribute to the seminars. This fact is a defining characteristic of La tradition et l'État in the sense that, apart from the introduction by the editors, four of the eight articles were written originally in English by North American or European scholars—Bronwen Douglas, Ton Otto, Lissant Bolton, and Jonathan Friedman—and can be considered to be largely syntheses of work already published in that language. In other words, they represent exercises in translation of existing material from one scholarly community to another, thereby nourishing a new and welcome scholarly initiative in France.
Douglas (Australia) shares some of her concerns about gender issues in Vanuatu, notably in the context of the contemporary institutions of the Church and the State. Otto (Denmark) explores the different ways in which power is exercised on the island of Baluan, Manus Province. Bolton (United Kingdom) reflects on the role of radio in redefining kastom in Vanuatu. Friedman (Sweden and France) is alone in moving beyond the confines of Melanesia to explore the often-times tense debate between anthropologists and Natives with respect to indigenous Hawaiian identity. The pertinence of his discussion extends far beyond the Pacific realm, in a context where the definers of scholarly knowledge tend to focus on matters of "authenticity," while those they judge are actively concerned to delimit territories within which they can assure some degree of collective material and spiritual survival. [End Page 504]
In addition to these four exercises dedicated primarily to interlinguistic "sharing," the collection comprises three essays by French scholars of Melanesia: Brigitte Derlon on social change and intercommunal conflict in New Ireland, Monique Jeudy-Ballini on the effect of mission-derived Christianity on traditional beliefs among the Sulka of New Britain, and Wittersheim on the marginalization of customary chiefs in postcolonial Vanuatu. In addition to these three, a paper by Alban Bensa draws on his wealth of experience in pure and applied anthropology in New Caledonia to reflect on the circumstances leading to the creation of a Kanak "cultural space" as a part of, but distinctively apart from, the Centre Culturel Tjibaou in Nouméa. The explicit reason for this Kanak initiative is that the building and its contents are seen to epitomize the institutionalization of culture while the separate "cultural space" evokes the experiencing of culture. In their introduction, Hamelin and Wittersheim offer a brief overview of the interactions between the three arenas of authority in Oceania, namely customary...