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Martin G. Silverman

In 1961, Homer G. Barnett of the University of Oregon, with a number of collaborators, presented a proposal to the National Sci­ence Foundation for a study of relocated communities in the Pacif­ic Islands. Through the fieldwork of students under the direction of Barnett and others, the Barnett project revitalized the study of many parts of Oceania. The project takes its place in the history of anthropology beside those other coordinated enterprises that have inspired and enabled fieldwork of extraordinarily high quality.1

This volume contains chapters by members of the Barnett pro­ject and others who have, at first hand, studied relocated Pacific peoples. Most of the contributors participated in a 1970 confer­ence which not only provoked a useful exchange of ideas but also—and this is probably rare, as anthropological conferences go—redefined for the conferees many aspects of the nature of the problem itself.2 In retrospect, the emphases developed were faith­ful to the original objectives of the Barnett project.

I shall not attempt to define relocation or devise a logical set of categories into which the various cases can be sorted. In each of our cases we find, at least, a number of culturally homogeneous people living in a locale which is different from the place they come from. Among the ten resettled groups described here, we find considerable variation in the composition of the moving group. There are groups who identify themselves as complete soci­eties, 2 such as the Banabans and the Bikinians, groups that begin as “satellites” of the home island, such as the Kapingamarangi on Ponape and the Tikopia in the Russell Islands, and groups consist­ing of people who had not previously lived together, such as the Southern Gilbertese and the Southwest Islanders on Palau. At the extreme end of this range are individuals from a natal community who go to a single island and, despite the opportunity to form a community there, choose not to do so. The Nukuoro on Ponape re­present this end of the range. There is also much variation among these resettled communities in the types of movement that resettle­ment constitutes for them. For the Bikinians and Southwest Is­landers, relocation was a novel experience; for the Southeast Am­brymese and Rotumans, resettlement was part of an ongoing history of movement in the area.

In addition to comparative ethnography, much of our activity at the conference was directed toward establishing contexts within which Pacific relocation could be better understood. In roughly increasing scope of generality from the Pacific area, these contexts are colonialism, mobility structures, cultural definitions and the relationships among them, forms of social organization, and the conditions under which such cultural definitions and forms of social organization are developed.


The people being considered lived in colonial systems at the time of research. The colonizer-colonized relation must therefore figure prominently in any social account of them. Speaking broadly, we may say that in these cases the colonizers, who include adminis­tration, commercial, and mission establishments, need something the colonized can yield and population movement is deemed ne­cessary or instrumental to getting it.

The colonizers may need the land of the colonized, as on Bikini for atomic testing or on Ocean Island for phosphate mining. The need for the labor of the colonized is common in areas being ex­ploited by the colonizers. This is exemplified by the Tikopia in the Russell Islands and the Ambrymese on Efate working copra and by the Kapingamarangi on Ponape initially working for a Japa­nese company and later fishing commercially. The colonizers may need production on the land of the colonized such as copra (prac­tically 3 everywhere) and other crops. The colonizers may require behavior that is less explicitly tied to economic interests—reli­gious conversion, for example, in all these territories.3

The colonizers may require of the colonized behavior to sustain the colonizers’ definitions of “good administration” or “public welfare” in general. Local mobility has been associated with this requirement in, for example, the British practice of forming “line villages.” The colonizers may also require of the colonized behav­ior to sustain the colonizers’ definition of a “crisis” deriving from natural disaster—volcanic eruptions in Papua and the New Hebri­des, a typhoon in the Southwest Island dependencies of Palau, a wartime disaster such as the destruction of the Ocean Island vil­lages during World War II, or overpopulation in the Southern Gil­berts. It may seem unusual to link an administrative response to a perceived natural disaster with a land grab. I do this not to im­pugn (or, for that matter, endorse) the specific motives of ad­ministrators but rather to underscore the asymmetric situation within which these acts are carried out.

There is another side of the coin: The colonized usually need something that the situation created by the presence of the col­onizers can offer. Furthermore, the colonized sometimes define their own needs and wants according to the colonizers’ defini­tions.4 Cash and consumer goods are the universal examples, followed by education, the bright lights of colonial centers, and access to hospital care for the Southwest Islanders of Palau.

The colonized, of course, can manipulate the colonizers’ defini­tions of the situation to their own ends and for purposes not en­visaged by the colonizers themselves. Examples of this are the Nu­kuoro on Ponape finding sanctuary away from kin at home and the South Ambrymese finding sanctuary on Efate away from sor­cery at home.

It seems that an internationally familiar drama has been played out in a number of island groups and is currently being played out in others: As the colonized need more and more diverse elements of what was generated by the colonial situation, the colonizers need less of what the colonized can yield. Hanging onto the colony becomes an economic and political liability for the metropolitan power as its subject peoples’ dependency on the colonial infra­structure has increased. In chapter 8 Kenneth Knudson reports that one reason why government administrators may have favored 4relocation of the Gilbertese from the Phoenix Islands to the Solomons was to cement relationships between the two territories as a prelude to independence.

Attention is directed, then, to a system with a scale much larger than that of the indigenous communities under direct analysis. At­tention is forced to what in the conference was termed the “micro­system-macrosystem problem”—the articulation of the local structures to the larger structures of which they are part. The as­semblage of individual cases of relocation documents how, in an orthodox functionalist interpretation, moving people about is a rather conventional way of keeping a colonial system going. In this regard the paucity of anthropological studies of another varie­ty of relocated people in the Pacific is clearly underscored: We know very little of the colonizers themselves. Yet the converse is also true: Preventing people from moving about might also be a conventional way of keeping a colonial system going. Moreover, regulations even beyond those specifically dealing with travel, im­migration, and emigration are related to the potential for mobility—regulations on the registration, exchange, and sale of land being one example.

This large-scale regulation of population mobility is not, of course, distinctive only to colonial systems. Ancient states as well as modern ones have been involved in moving communities and segments of communities from one place to another. The point is merely that the colonial context is an inescapable fact of life for a certain phase of Pacific history, and attention to that context al­lows one to place the several cases in a single perspective.


The big picture, however, does not do away with the local scene. If we focus on patterns of mobility, then what are the other instances of mobility in the populations under study? In the conference, Murray Chapman, Sterling Robbins, and James Watson empha­sized this question. Chapman argued strongly that the current view of tribal peoples is much too static. Mobility is lurking out there if one looks for it, and it might make sense to conceive of these areas as areas of people in circulation.5 And, for parts of even precolonial New Guinea, at least, mobility was necessary for the maintenance of the social system. Watson’s description of the 5importance of refugees as clients for “strong men” underscores the significance of the dialectic of mobility and politics set within larger systems (Watson 1970).

Can we identify a mobility structure, as Chapman suggested, which would comprehend, for example, postmarital residence, visiting, short-term labor migration, and the more dramatic fact of relocation itself? Can these patterns be fitted into a structure which points inward to the details of domestic life and points out­ward to a whole region, with members of local units picking them­selves up (or being picked up or thrown out) and moving some­where else?

The attractions of such an approach are several. For example, bodies of data that are often taken as discrete (relocation, post­marital residence) could be brought together within a single framework. The dimensions of the colonial transformation could be charted more precisely. Some hypotheses about mobility in the postcolonial Pacific could be formulated. And, as with invoking the colonial context, ways could be found for linking our work to studies from other parts of the world.


It is not unusual in the Pacific (or elsewhere) to encounter people who trace their origins to some other place in recent, remote, or mythological time. Does the folk history of mobility contain a paradigm for dealing with new situations? Vern Carroll, in chap­ter 4, raises this question directly. If such paradigms operate among some people and not among others, how can we under­stand that difference?

This brings us to culture, or “systems of meanings embodied in symbols.” In raising the question of a mobility structure, one wants to know what accounts for that structure, and one must then move into the cultural meaning of spatial mobility. In cultur­al (semiological, ideological, semantic—there are a number of favorite words) terms, what can it mean to move from one place to another? What can it mean not to move from one place to anoth­er? What can it mean to live together and to live apart? If these meanings have to do with land, what can land mean? How can kinds of movement be defined and differentiated, if indeed “move­ment” is a relevant cultural category? How can different kinds of 6people be defined and differentiated? What can a crisis be, and to whom? Erik Schwimmer speaks directly to this question in chap­ter 11. How can people define the options open to them and the options closed to them, if indeed they structure the world in this way? How can people define their situation and what to do about it? David Schneider catalyzed the discussion of these issues during the symposium.

A particularly important set of problems involving the relation­ship between cultural and social forms concerns boundaries: How are boundaries defined, maintained, and changed as different groups interact (or do not interact) in particular contexts in a par­ticular setting? Three aspects of the cases commend this line of in­vestigation. First, the construction of particularistic boundaries is an intrinsic part of colonial practice, as is shown in Robert McKnight’s case from Palau in chapter 2. Second, some of the re­located groups find themselves living next to populations they did not live next to before—although they may have had images of them. Third, if the relocated group is a satellite of the home group, the boundaries and relationships between the two become a signif­icant analytic problem for the observer and a significant concrete problem for the groups themselves; this appears to be crucial in the Kapinga, Ambrymese, and Tikopia situations. Some of the ways in which these peoples define their new position, and have their new position defined for them, seem similar to what in other parts of the world is described under the rubric of “ethnicity.” There are many possibilities for extra-Oceanic comparative work here.

In chapter 8, Knudson argues for the importance of studying short-term change for the development of an ecological perspec­tive. Similarly, I would argue for the importance of studying short-term change for the symbolic perspective, for in these chap­ters we encounter real people struggling with real and changing situations. We can observe at first hand how meanings are trans­acted, how they become established through real events, how dif­fering symbolic constructions relate to the action-dilemma of life in a changing environment. Schwimmer’s contribution in chapter 11 and my own in chapter 6 are particularly concerned with this kind of question.

Schwimmer articulates a fundamental issue when he asks: “How should anthropologists study a nonrecurring event?” In 7grappling with the resettlement studies, in trying to make some comparative sense out of them, we of course want to know first whether or not the forces precipitating a move—and the kind of move itself—are recurring. Even if they seem unique in the history of a single group, we might find them to be recurrent as we enlarge the scale of analysis to a colonial system or a regional mobility system.

The fundamental issue remains, however, and it is often ar­ticulated as “the problem of structure and history” (see, for exam­ple, Lévi-Strauss 1966). Indeed, parts of the chapters are in­distinguishable from history or the narration of current events. History is not simply a background section to most of the analyses. We find discussion of specific leaders, specific attempts at com­munity organization, specific volcanic eruptions (the latter being “contingency in its purest form,” in Sehwimmer’s phrase).

Perhaps there is a tendency in anthropology to regard such events as reflecting an underlying pattern, rather than as directing a pattern for the future. When confronted with a period in the his­tory of a people when events seem to dominate and the pattern is elusive, many of us tend to regard such a period as transitional, the system grinding its gears while shifting from one set of ratios to another.

Alternatively we can view these systems as always moving, unevenly, with both internal dynamics and certain shifts of cir­cumstance (that is, history) changing the nature of their con­straints and thus changing the direction, or relative rates of change, or relative structural dominance, of the unevenly chang­ing (see Mao Tse-tung 1965). From some of the chapters one might note in particular the appearance of communal forms of organiza­tion in early relocation periods. Is there a norm in these cultures: When in crisis, communalize? Or perhaps a form of organization that has been linked to one set of activities vastly enlarges its con­textual scope in a set of unanticipated circumstances. When do we find that such shifts are themselves directed (or misdirected) through concrete events, such as discussions on land issues, strikes, political meetings—and the forms of those events might also be highly contingent—which force the issue?

Clifford Geertz described Indonesia as on the way to becoming a “permanently transitional” society (1965:152). That term may be equally descriptive of the societies described in this volume—societies 8in the most recent moments of a history of resettlement that began, at least, with the settlement of the Pacific islands. One wonders whether such a characterization would not apply to a greater range of the human social experience than we generally believe. The ambiguous, the uncertain, the unstable, the testing and revision of old and new forms in new and old contexts, the ris­ing to structural prominence of features that may have been secon­dary under other conditions—here may be the rule, not the excep­tion.


I would like to acknowledge the assistance of the following colleagues, who made many useful comments on an earlier draft of this introduction: Vern Carroll, Murray Chapman, Robert McKnight, Erik Schwimmer, and Robert Tonkinson.

1. I might note that I was not part of the Barnett project myself, only an enthusiastic supporter.

2. The conference was the Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania’s Symposium on Relocated Communities in the Pacific, held at the University of Washington’s Lake Wilderness Conference Center on 10–12 April 1970, The symposium was organized by Michael Lieber and was supported by the University of Washington and the National Institute of Mental Health. The support of the NIMH, the support and hospitality of the University of Wash­ington, and the untiring efforts of Michael Lieber are acknowledged with gratitude. The symposium was chaired by Martin G. Silverman (Princeton University). David M. Schneider (University of Chicago) and Murray Chap­man (University of Hawaii) served as discussants. Papers and talks were pre­sented by Vern Carroll (University of Washington), Carlos Fernandez (Uni­versity of California, Santa Barbara), Robert Kiste (University of Minnesota), Kenneth Knudson (University of Nevada), Eric Larson (University of Con­necticut), Michael Lieber (University of Washington), Robert McKnight (California State, Hayward), Sterling Robbins (University of California, Los Angeles), Erik Schwimmer (University of Toronto), Martin G. Silverman (Princeton University), and James Watson (University of Washington). Homer G. Barnett (University of Oregon), who directed the project on relocated populations in the Pacific, was unable to attend the symposium because of illness.

3. We note that some local mobility has been associated with religious group formation in the Pacific through the consolidation or formation of villages and hamlets around churches, as happened in the New Hebrides, Papua, and Rambi Island

4. I do not mean to suggest that the colonized are passive actors in the establishment of these categories. Nor do I want to suggest that there is an identity of categories among the colonizers or among the colonized. Indeed, 9it is the dialectic which produces the system of similarities and differences that is of extreme interest.

5. The point might be extended to encompass some of the larger Polynesian islands (at least), where competition for followers was an important part of the political process.

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