The Contemporary Pacific 13.2 (2001) 566-568
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Reflections on Violence in Melanesia
This is a treasure trove of a volume, with current, state-of-the-art papers by anthropologists, historians, psychologists, criminologists, political scientists, lawyers, journalists, and local activists, all writing about their own research, work, and experience. It is organized in five sections (Representations, The Gender of Violence, Non-government Organizations and Domestic Violence, Violence and Identity, Violence and the State), with an introduction by Dinnen and an epilogue by Margaret Jolly. The historical accounts blend colonial and missionary activity, exposing the different representations of violence according to whether it was indigenous, colonial, or missionary. While Reverend Brown's punitive raid was self-avowedly undertaken to teach the Tolai that "roast missionary is an expensive dish," this violence was still seen as preparing the ground for the gospel (Christine Weir). More insidious was a newspaper's anti-independence campaign, conducted through depictions of harmony between people and nature by picturing French settlers in intimate camaraderie with mixed-race friends and relatives in a domesticated New Caledonian countryside (Alaine Chanter). The shocking truth that this intimate group had just been unjustly acquitted of massacring pro-independence Kanaks exposes the underlying violence of these pictures, seen by Chanter as incitements for the Kanak uprising that followed.
Some of the most disturbing discussion concerns rape and domestic violence. Christina Ramosaea and Maxine Anjiga Makail detail local conditions and support programs in Papua New Guinea and the Solomons, while Afu Billy's impassioned piece, critical of churches and police alike, puts no polite gloss on how Solomons women really feel about the violence in their lives. Cyndi Banks and Anou Borrey argue that investigation of rape in Papua New Guinea should be informed by local customs and practices, which still surface in rapists' motives. The absence of vernacular words for rape and the local emphasis on the correctness of broader social relations lead them to suggest that in some societies sex was traditionally associated with a degree of pain and violence. Borrey rightly discounts the further inference, that women enjoyed "rough sex" which caused them physical injury, when she observes that they refused to tolerate violence when they became aware that intimate relations could be experienced differently. Particularly alarming is Borrey's description of opportunistic rape, enjoyed without moral qualms or remorse by men from diverse backgrounds. She blames this situation on the disjuncture between the traditional culture which informs acts of sexual [End Page 566] violence and local response to them, and western culture on which legislation is based. This point is reinforced in Merrin Mason's chapter on Vanuatu, where, despite the existence in the statute book of restraining orders for abusive husbands, senior magistrates decline to grant them and the police refuse to enforce them, because "a man has the right to contact his wife," whatever her wishes. Sarah Garap tells a similar story for Simbu village courts in Papua New Guinea, where "traditional" judgments breach women's constitutional guarantees of equality at the same time as they weaken their traditional positions as subsistence farmers. Though viewing polygamy as "cannibalism which eats away the heart," women here also accepted the hardships of their daily lives as normal. When fledgling protests were met with a higher incidence of rape, women asked, "How do you get men to change their attitudes?" The response was stalled reforms and attacks on crisis centers. In this bleak landscape Alan Rumsey's uplifting tale of gift-bearing Highlands women successfully ending the fight between two warring groups provides a desperately needed oasis of hope. Alas, the event occurred in 1982, and the cooperatives founded by these women have long since folded.
Most of the papers not specifically concerned with gendered violence concentrate on the activities and affairs of men...