The Contemporary Pacific 14.2 (2002) 514-516
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Houses Far From Home:
British Colonial Space in the New Hebrides
Houses Far From Home: British Colonial Space in the New Hebrides, by Margaret Critchlow Rodman. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2001.ISBN cloth, 0-8248-2307-9; paper, 0-8248-2394-X, xiv + 247 pages, tables, figures, maps, photographs, notes, bibliography, index. Cloth, US$50.00; paper, US$17.95.
Houses far from home provide the "architecture" of this monograph (203) and set British administrative colonial space in the New Hebrides under ethnographic scrutiny. Rodman focuses primarily on colonial officers, specifically resident commissioners, district agents, and their accompanying families, rather than on other colonial players in the islands, such as missionaries, traders, planters, and other settlers. In approaching the New Hebrides as a geographical and temporal end of empire, Rodman not only makes the case for Why here? but also poignantly discovers in her journey to sites inVanuatu and the United Kingdom that these houses were not as far from home for their moving inhabitants as she might have imagined. As Rodman discovers varying emotions and degrees of attachment to these islands, her work forces one to ask, Where is home?
She begins her excursion with the bamboo house that domiciled her own family on Ambae for the first time in 1978. The dwelling, as Rodman has illustrated effectively in her earlier work, "moved" like other houses within Waileni village and in so doing provided a narrative site for mapping shifting social relationships, life cycle transitions, and the effects of natural disasters. Like her house, so too has the anthropologist moved. The introductory chapter appropriately sets a reflexive tone and suggests that the mobility of the bamboo house prefigures the future methodological mobility of its anthropologist. Rodman travels to multiple sites in Vanuatu and in England as she gathers family histories, memories, stories, photographs, maps, and diagrams of the past and present, simultaneously inserting fragments of her own travelogue and methodologically actualizing multilocal fieldwork practices. Hers is also a personal journey, sometimes in the company of former colonial officer Will Stober, as she tracks down former inhabitants in theirhomes inHerefordshire and Somerset, visits the remnants of colonially significant New Hebridean sites, such as the Tanna church and Independence Park, and seeks the archival materials and documents that suchan ethnographic history demands.
Five other houses tell different kinds of stories and produce different kinds of data. They are the British Residency, the Prison, the White House and British Paddock, the Tanna district agent's house, and the remains of the island house on Venui off Santo's coast. Especially informative for the histories they reveal are the resident commissioner's British Residency on the summit of Irikiriki in PortVila (Efate), and theWhite House and its adjacent British Paddock, or "public plaza of British colonial space"(now Independence Park)(112). The residency is now an international resort for tourists, "the colonizers of the postcolonial world" (83). The White House tells the history of American strategic intervention in the New Hebrides duringWorld War II as military [End Page 514] forces occupied the building and ploughed its paddock. The paddock's uses—for horses, vegetables, troops, and golfing—serve as chronological markers for Rodman. So, too, the Tanna district agent's house tells a detective story as the blood stain on the veranda points to the pressures of this remote posting and the contrasting reactions of its inhabitants.
Sixty-six illustrations enhance the text, vividly illustrating the contribution of archival finds to a spatial history of colonial life. These include posed photographs of Rodman and Stober with their interlocutors in the United Kingdom; Rodman's evocative site photographs of the remains of the Venui district agency bathtub and doors, the Tanna church, and the entrance to the White House; floorplans of the British Residency juxtaposed effectively beside sketches of its front and side elevations, and of the White House and the remote Tanna house; as well as an aerial photograph of Venui island.
Rodman's approach is shaped by...