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Michael D. Lieber


Kapingamarangi is the southernmost atoll in the Eastern Caroline Islands. Its thirty-three flat islets lie on the edge of an egg-shaped reef and comprise a total land area of less than half a square mile (Emory 1965:1). The Polynesian inhabitants of the atoll (the Ka­pinga) have made their living by planting and harvesting coco­nuts, breadfruit, pandanus fruit, and taro and by exploiting fish resources of the lagoon and deep sea. Ponape, a high island whose Micronesian inhabitants exploit a wide variety of plant and ani­mal resources, lies 485 miles north of Kapingamarangi. (See map 3.) Ponape has been a center for colonial commercial, missionary, and administrative activity since the nineteenth century. Except for a very few men who migrated to Ponape after the Japanese took control of Micronesia in 1914, the Kapinga knew nothing of Ponape until two successive disasters resulted in their establishing a resettled community there in 1919.

In 1916, a drought began which was to last for two years and which would culminate in the deaths of over ninety people. As the soil dried up and staple food plants became unproductive, the threat of chaos and panic grew on the atoll. Theft of food became common, sometimes resulting in violence. As food resources dwin­dled, the inevitability of famine became apparent to all. No Ka­pinga could remember a drought of these proportions, and people 36were unprepared for the situation. A Japanese teacher and govern­ment local affairs officer named Huria was living on Kapingama­rangi at the time. Having established a position of authority on the atoll, he was under pressure by the Kapinga to do something. Working through the atoll chief and a council of men appointed by the chief through his urging, Huria was able to institute a ra­tioning program to conserve drinking coconuts. This was done by controlling movement from the major residential islets to coconut stands on the outer islets. Men of the council, called ‘masters’, ad­ministered punishments for violating these regulations. Huria also attempted to limit population growth by placing a ban on premar­ital sexual relations and by prohibiting many marriages, again by decree of the chief. The chief, by 1917, was a man appointed by Huria to replace the old chief, who was on his deathbed.

None of the emergency measures was able to stave off the star­vation and death which finally resulted from the prolonged drought, nor were people and plants the only casualties. The an­cient religion and its priesthood collapsed as years of debunking by outsiders, a growing skepticism of some Kapinga, and the ob­vious inability of the priesthood to alleviate the drought and famine demoralized the population. When a missionary from the neighboring atoll of Nukuoro appeared on a visiting ship in 1917, and later returned with gifts of food and offers of salvation from future disasters, the population was converted wholesale to Chris­tianity.

Late in 1918, Huria arranged to have ninety people moved to Ponape to work for a Japanese trading company gathering hibis­cus fiber for hat making. This scheme would assure adequate care for the emigrants while relieving population pressure on the slow­ly recovering plant resources of the atoll. The emigrants left early in 1919. Within less than a year, disaster struck again as half the emigrants died in a dysentery epidemic. The survivors were brought to the company’s dormitories in Kolonia town, the ad­ministrative and commercial center on Ponape. Huria petitioned the government for a grant of land in the town for the survivors, and in September 1919 the government allowed a party of Kapin­ga men to select a suitable site for a village.1 The site chosen was Porakiet (‘rocky place’ in Ponapean; map 4), an 18-acre tract. Half the site is a steep cliff leading to an inlet which allows access to the lagoon and the open sea. 37


Clearing of overgrown land, planting of coconut trees, and con­struction of houses began almost immediately. As soon as houses had been built, people moved from the company dormitories into the village. The subsequent appointment of a headman for the resi­dent population marked the beginning of the Kapinga community on Ponape. It began as a colony of transients from the atoll, a place for Kapinga to stay while visiting Ponape. Ultimate authori­ty for making decisions for the community was the prerogative of the atoll chief.2

The population of Porakiet grew to eighty by the 1940s as peo­ple came to Ponape to work for the government and local Japanese commercial concerns or to engage in commercial deep sea fishing, over which the Kapinga had a virtual monopoly on Ponape. After World War II, the population of the village gradually expanded to its present size of three hundred, some of whom are permanent res­idents whose children have never seen the atoll. By 1961, the atoll had renounced its claim to political authority over the resettled community. At present, all the Kapinga recognize that Kapinga­marangi Atoll and Porakiet are two separate, politically indepen­dent, and in many ways different communities. Both the atoll community and the community at Porakeit have changed in the years following resettlement, but the kinds of changes have been very different in each community. It is the task of this chapter to describe and account for these differences.

The traditional social system on Kapingamarangi, like those of most atolls, was relatively undifferentiated. Economic, political, and kinship relations, for example, were highly integrated rather than being clearly distinct subsystems as in Western societies. This lack of differentiation was due to the form of social relationships in the traditional atoll social system.

To be a person on Kapingamarangi Atoll was to be involved in relationships with other persons. Social relationships traditionally were and to a great extent still are whole-person-to-whole-person relationships. The whole person was presumed to be involved in every relationship to which he or she was a party. This does not mean that the Kapinga did not recognize roles or that roles did not shape expectations of behavior. Age, sex, the capacity to repro­duce, and human mortality combined in different ways to yield roles such as mother, friend, expert artisan, priest, and the like. 39But roles formed only part of the information that one person needed in order to interact with another. More important in struc­turing social relationships was information about the biographies of persons. On a tiny atoll in which each person has face-to-face relationships with everyone else, where there is little privacy, and where gossip continually supplements first-hand observation, each person brings to a relationship the more or less total biography of the other. Thus the information that comprises a social relation­ship includes not only role expectations but also the habits, per­sonal likes and dislikes, personal histories, and personal styles of every participant. Personal idiosyncracies and interpersonal vari­ability were every bit as important in the Kapinga social system as were the attributes of style and behavior that people shared.

Change in the atoll social system has been in the form of social relationships. Information about role expectations has become more important in several kinds of social relationships than in­formation about biography. These relationships—student-teacher, customer-clerk, magistrate-constituent—are not part of the tradi­tional social system. The result of incorporating them into the atoll social system has been the differentiation of the system into political, economic, religious, and educational subsystems.

The Porakiet social system has not differentiated, although Porakiet is located in an urban, polyethnic milieu. The forms of social relationships and the organization of the community are still those of the traditional atoll system. What has changed in Porakiet has been the life-styles of its residents. The activities in which people engage, the time and resources expended in these ac­tivities, and what people spend money on contrast with those of the atoll in many ways. While the forms of social relationships in Porakiet have not changed from traditional ones, their content has changed.

Along with these changes in the social systems of the two com­munities, there has been a change in the way the two communities are perceived and talked about by the Kapinga. Although Kapinga living in both communities recognize that the atoll and Porakiet are politically independent and in many ways different com­munities, they have come to regard both as somehow constituting a single community. The idea of a single community of people ir­respective of locale represents a change in the way the Kapinga 40define themselves. Corresponding to this change is a change in the Kapinga view of the larger world of which their community is a part, a universe of persons and places with which the Kapinga contrast themselves. This larger world includes other island groups within a colonial government structure, and many Kapin­ga realize that what happens in Saipan, Washington, and New York can somehow affect them.

How is it that an atoll which has less than twelve days per year of direct contact with the outside world via ship can undergo the kind of differentiation that Kapingamarangi has, while Porakiet, situated in an urban milieu, has not? Is the change in the way the Kapinga define themselves the inevitable result of their living in two independent communities? Can the changes in social organi­zation and culture be explained in terms of contact between the Kapinga and the colonial government? These three questions con­stitute the problem this chapter will address.

Although it is clear that the presence of a colonial regime and contact with other ethnic groups are associated with changes in Kapinga social organization and culture, the nature of the associa­tion is problematic. To answer the three basic questions, I begin by making two assumptions. First, the colonial government, the other ethnic groups with whom the Kapinga are in contact, and the particular islands on which the Kapinga live constitute the en­vironment of the two Kapinga communities. Second, change and stability in the organization of each Kapinga community are to be regarded as outcomes of relationships betweeen the community and the natural and social systems that comprise its environment. By relationship I mean a pattern of information, or messages, ex­changed by two or more systems (following Bateson 1972:275).

The central task of this chapter, then, is to identify and describe the relationships between each Kapinga community and other sys­tems in its environment that result in change in each community. I shall begin with an analysis of change on the atoll, specifying those relationships which have resulted in systemic changes. Next I shall repeat the analytical process for Porakiet. Then I shall take up the question of the relationship between the two communities and how it has affected the Kapinga definitions of ‘community’ and ‘the Kapinga people’. Finally, I shall draw out some of the im­plications of systemic change and the definition of Kapinga ethni­city to explain certain kinds of conflict on the atoll. 41


Systemic change on the atoll has been that of a shift from bio­graphical information to role expectations in structuring social re­lationships. The process has been a gradual one, occurring in roughly two phases. The first phase was the establishment of more or less permanent relationships with outsiders. The second phase was that of a radical shift in the content of those relationships after World War II.

Contact with Europeans began in the 1870s with European and American fishing and trading vessels stopping at the atoll. A few Europeans, Americans, Samoans, and Nukuoro left the ships to re­side on the atoll in the late 1870s (Emory 1965:12–15). These ear­ly contacts were characterized by violence on the part of the out­siders and, occasionally, on the part of the Kapinga who were allied with them. The contacts also included the introduction of imported goods and techniques of production (such as carpentry) by the outsiders. The Kapinga image of Euro-Americans and, sub­sequently, of the Japanese has been one of powerful, knowledge­able, unpredictable, and violent people. The Kapinga response to this image remains ambivalent—fear of and attraction to rela­tions with them. By the mid-1880s the high priest and the secular chief (formerly a secular functionary responsible for providing food for certain ceremonies) had become aligned with the out­siders. People left dealings with outsiders to them.

The Kapinga regard Euro-American behavior as identical to that of the ancient deities. The traditional gods were whimsical, awesome in their power to cause damage on the atoll and to be­stow abundance in the form of good weather, fruit, and whales. It is not surprising, then, that the Kapinga established a relationship with outsiders comparable to that they had with their deities. This relationship was one of subordinate to superordinate in which people showed deference to the deities, watched for omens that be­spoke their wishes, and made offerings of food and services to them (see Emory 1965:228ff.). In return, the deities would bestow favors on people or at least would be appeased enough to cause them no harm. Ordinary people avoided contact with deities. They stayed away from places that deities were known to frequent and would employ brief but proper rituals when deities were pre­sumed to be present. Relationships between people and deities 42were mediated through a high priest and his assistants. The priests performed daily ritual, interpreted and acted on omens, and directed community activity to satisfy the deities’ wishes and pro­tect people from their wrath. The high priest attained his position of leadership because of his knowledge of deities and omens and the ritual means for dealing with them. It was, therefore, no mere coincidence that the relationship between Kapinga and Euro-Americans was mediated by the high priest and the secular chief. Both were specialists in a special relationship. Given the pattern of attributes common to deities and Euro-Americans, relationships with both took the same form.

The relationship between priest and chief and the Euro-Americans was that of subordinate to superordinate. The priest and chief paid deference to the outsiders. They also provided the resident aliens with housing, land, labor for household help and copra cutting, and, sometimes, with wives (Emory 1965:17–18). In return, the outsiders traded copra for the priest and chief and managed their relations with visiting ships, taking a percentage of the copra money as a kind of agent’s fee. They also provided the priest and chief with personal favors, such as gifts of material goods, ensuring the good favor of visitors to the atoll and, most im­portant, identifying themselves with the interests of the priest and chief. The atoll leaders gained a good deal of material wealth from this relationship while other Kapinga continued to avoid contact with the outsiders. By the 1890s, however, other Kapinga sought to establish a similar relationship with the resident aliens. One group of men, for example, formed a trading association, using a resident Englishman as their agent with visiting copra vessels. The members of this group were to become Huria’s ‘masters’ twenty-five years later.

When the Japanese established colonial rule in Micronesia in 1914, the Kapinga developed the same sort of relationship with them they had had with Euro-Americans. The Japanese wanted four things from the atoll—copra, labor for government projects and business enterprises on Ponape, a market for their goods, and recognition of their authority by the atoll people. In return, the Japanese provided a retail outlet for manufactured goods, cheap transportation to Ponape, occasional medical services, and, most important, support of the atoll leadership.

The breakdown of the ancient religion would have left an au­thority 43 vacuum on the atoll had there not been a change before the collapse. By the early twentieth century, the secular chief, whose authority had been limited to leadership of a men’s house connect­ed ritually with the cult house and to provisioning major rituals, had become the recognized liaison between the atoll and out­siders. One reason for the chief’s ascendancy in affairs with out­siders was his long tenure of office—thirty-six years. During the same period (up to 1917) there had been a succession of men to the position of high priest, some of whom were not familiar with the outsiders. That Huria aligned himself with the chief in 1915 as­sured the latter’s position as liaison and strengthened his internal authority in new ways. During the drought Huria introduced sev­eral procedures that became permanently associated with the po­sition of chief. Between 1915 and 1920, he introduced the promul­gation of regulations and their enforcement by appointed func­tionaries, public hearings for violation of regulations, public meetings for discussion of atoll affairs, and public hearings of land disputes settled by judgment of the chief. The collapse of the priesthood left the chief’s position and authority unchallenged, and they were enhanced even further after the introduction of Christianity. The man who succeeded Huria’s appointed chief was also a deacon and regular preacher in the church. The religious and secular authority were thus united in one person until after World War II.

One of the more powerful factors buttressing the chief’s author­ity was the unquestioned belief of other Kapinga that the govern­ment gave him its unqualified support. This belief had been an es­sential part of the relationship between atoll leaders and outsiders as it had developed from the 1880s onward. The chief was able to operate autocratically because he had at his disposal the implicit threat that those who opposed him would be sent to Ponape to be disciplined by the Japanese police, a threat which occasionally was made explicit. The chief and his assistants, one of whom was his half-brother, were able to maintain this belief by carefully managing the visits of government officials. Officials were always in the company of the chief or his assistants. The cordiality of their relationship with officials was always publicly displayed. All offi­cial proclamations, notices, and requests were relayed to the peo­ple through the chief.

In point of fact, the Japanese administration was totally uncon­cerned 44 about atoll affairs and organization. Their interests in the atoll were limited to commerce and labor recruiting. The adminis­tration was content to deal with one man as long as its needs were met. Administrators showed respect to the chief and granted him personal favors such as material goods and free transportation to Ponape. This lent credibility to the idea of the unqualified favor of the administration for the chief’s regime.

With the coming of the American colonial regime in 1946, the form of the relationship between atoll leaders and colonial rulers was maintained. The American administration is superordinate, identifies with the atoll leadership, and is regarded as granting favors to the atoll. The Kapinga are subordinate, deferential to ad­ministrators, and supportive of the administration’s policies. The content of the relationship, however, changed radically and abruptly. The new colonial rulers were unlike their predecessors in that they were not primarily interested in extracting copra and labor or marketing their goods. Unlike the Europeans and the Jap­anese, the Americans were intensely interested in atoll affairs and social organization. Whereas the Europeans and the Japanese saw Micronesia in terms of its potential for supporting economic enter­prises, the Americans have thought of Micronesia primarily as a subject population for their community development schemes. This became quickly apparent on the atoll as the U.S. Naval Ad­ministration established a school, a medical dispensary, a cooper­ative store, and an elective chief magistrate position by 1947. It also became apparent to the chief and his assistants that continued favor of the administration depended not on what they could sup­ply to the administrators but on their willingness to cooperate in the development of the administration’s programs on the atoll.

Several young men were selected to go to Ponape for training as teachers and nurses in 1947. By 1948, the atoll had its own school. Children began to be sent to Ponape for schooling in 1949, and by 1954 several boys had completed high school on Truk. A new medical dispensary was built in 1950. The administration pro­vided a stock of drugs and training for two nurses. Although the copra market had not recovered from its wartime collapse, the naval administration stimulated a lively handicrafts trade. Resi­dents were encouraged to organize a cooperative whose represen­tatives parceled out orders for handicrafts, sold them to the naval 45officers, bought surplus goods from them, and sold these on the atoll at a small profit.

These early innovations were modified by the civilian ad­ministration after 1951. The atoll school was gradually expanded from two grades to six as several young men finished their educa­tion on Ponape and Truk and returned to the atoll to teach. One of the teachers was appointed principal of the school. It was his job to organize class schedules, supervise teachers, and act as liaison to the Office of Education on Ponape. The principal and teachers decided the organization of the curriculum, management of re­sources, and scheduling of classes, although American teacher trainers provided guidelines. Teachers were and still are taken to Ponape each summer for training. By the 1960s newly recruited teachers were being trained as specialists for certain grades.

The civilian administration began to encourage people to start their own retail businesses in 1954, when the copra market had recovered from its postwar slump. Entrepreneurs bought their stock from a Ponape cooperative and from a family of Belgian merchants that had been on Ponape since the nineteenth century. Goods were sold at the owners’ homes, usually on credit against future copra receipts. There were several of these ventures, all but two of which failed. Failure always resulted from the owners’ ful­filling obligations to their kin, who depleted the owners’ stock without paying or bought on credit which was never redeemed. The two successful ventures survived only because the owners locked up their goods, extended limited credit, and treated every­one in the store as a customer regardless of their personal relation­ships. These two businessmen avoided recriminations from their kin by making periodic gifts of rice, cloth, and cigarettes from their stock. When the Kapinga set up their cooperative as a branch of the Ponape Federation of Cooperatives in 1964, the policy of limited credit was applied. People working in the store were obli­gated to apply credit and prompt payment rules to everyone equally. The clerk-customer relation has prevailed in the privately owned stores and in the co-op.

Political organization on the atoll also has undergone a transfor­mation since the advent of the American administration. One of the first official acts of the naval administration was to create the elective position of chief magistrate on the atoll. The half-brother 46of the chief was unanimously elected. It was the policy of the ad­ministration to deal directly with the chief magistrate, relegating the chief’s position to that of maintaining custom. The chief’s half-brother had been his assistant since the 1920s, and his major re­sponsibility had been that of liaison between the chief and the ad­ministrators. Election to the position of chief magistrate simply gave an official title to his normal duties. When the chief died in 1949, his half-brother succeeded him, holding both the chief and chief magistrate positions. Although there was some vocal opposi­tion from Kapinga to the chief’s policies, he managed to maintain a more or less autocratic leadership until his death in 1956.

The chief’s son, who at the time was twenty-five years of age, was elected to succeed him to both offices. The young man had been educated on Ponape and Truk, spoke fluent English, and was a teacher on the atoll. His situation at the time of his election was difficult for two reasons. First, he was under pressure from the ad­ministration to create an American-style tripartite political orga­nization on the atoll. This model of organization had been part of his education, and it was part of the curriculum in his own class­room. Second, the position of chief presumed an authority to make unilateral decisions that seemed likely to bring him into conflict with older people. Authoritative decision making was the preroga­tive of older people, who, having openly opposed the father on several issues, hardly seemed likely to accept the son’s unilateral decisions. The young man resolved the dilemma by refusing the position of chief. Instead, he accepted the position of chief magis­trate and began to lobby for the election of a legislative council and a local court judge. Several months of discussion in meetings and, informally, in the men’s houses culminated in the establish­ment of a legislative council in 1957 and a local court in 1960. The young chief magistrate spent several months training the council in legislative procedure, and by 1960 the atoll received its charter as a municipality of the Ponape District of the U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.3

In the first years of the council’s operation, its members were older men who held responsible positions in the church. Much of the early council legislation dealt with moral issues with which the church was concerned. For example, the council passed bills prohibiting the consumption of alcoholic beverages, premarital sexual relations, and the like. It took the chief magistrate over two 47years to induce the council to pass the enabling legislation that was necessary to secure the atoll’s municipal charter. Church-related issues have ceased to dominate legislative concerns over the last eight years for two reasons. First, older men have been gradually replaced on the council by younger men who are literate in English and have a firmer grasp of legislative procedure. Very few of these younger men have been church members. Second, specific issues have precipitated an explicit divorce of legislative from religious activity. One such issue concerned the request of church leaders to use community-owned roofing materials for the church in 1965. The chief magistrate and several councilors pointed out that granting the request would violate a statute of the Trust Territory Code prescribing the separation of church and state.

Of all the government programs introduced on the atoll, only the schools and the medical dispensary were actually forced on the people. The schools have been largely controlled by the Kapinga since that time. The administration maintains supremacy in its relationship with the atoll in several ways. First, the administra­tion has been aggressive in presenting programs to the Kapinga leadership. Second, the administration maintains control over the school program through teacher training and over the medical program through periodic inspections. The administration has the power to approve or veto legislation emanating from the atoll and to grant or deny petitions for economic aid and supplies. To main­tain their position in the relationship, atoll leaders have accepted many, though not all, of the administration’s programs. Accep­tance of a program does not imply the administration’s domina­tion of the atoll’s social organization, however. The Kapinga run the programs themselves; this is a crucial feature of the relation­ship from both the administration’s and the Kapinga’s point of view. By running the programs themselves, the Kapinga control their own internal affairs—a constant feature of the Kapinga–col­onial government relationship from the outset. The Kapinga, for their part, have not seemed hesitant to petition the administration for aid in atoll projects, such as materials for bridge construction and for a municipal office building.

The outcome of the relationship between the atoll and the American administration has been the establishment of several contexts of activity that are organized very differently from those 48of the traditional atoll system. These contexts include the atoll school, the medical dispensary, the council, the court, and retail business establishments. In these contexts the social relationships are categorical: people assume certain roles, and the roles alone structure expectations. Biographies of the persons involved in these contexts are irrelevant to the interaction. For example, peo­ple expect that a teacher will not favor his relatives in the class­room nor would a judge in the courtroom. People get angry when these expectations are not met. Each of these contexts is distin­guished from the others and from traditional personal relation­ships. People recognize that roles appropriate to one setting, say the classroom, are not appropriate to others. The content of these role relationships has been worked out through trial and error. The forms, however, have clearly resulted from maintaining the relationship between atoll and colonial government in the form in which it originally developed in the 1880s.


The Porakiet social system has replicated the major structural features of the traditional atoll social system. Social bonds are organized as whole-person-to-whole-person relationships by a combination of role, setting, and biographies of the participants. Household structure is based on the atoll prototype of a nuclear family plus relatives of either spouse. Subsistence chores are still allocated largely by age and sex. Community activity, such as work projects and feasts, is directed by a headman. The headman is also responsible for maintaining order, for the physical upkeep of the village, and for mediating relationships between the com­munity and outsiders. Like the atoll chief, the headman has been a high-ranking member of the Protestant church hierarchy,4 al­though he has never exercised autocratic rule in the community.5 It is rather curious that the Porakiet social system has not under­gone differentiation. The village, after all, is located in an urban center. Kapinga children attend schools, and adults engage in wage labor and commercial ventures. In brief, Porakiet residents assume all the roles that are characteristic of a differentiated so­cial system—customer, clerk, student, teacher, nurse, employee, and the like. At the same time, the life-styles of the villagers are quite different from those of atoll residents. The reasons that ac­count 49 for the lack of differentiation in the Porakiet system also ac­count for the differences in life-styles of villagers and people on the atoll.

The relationships between the Porakiet social system and its environment are qualitatively and quantitatively different from those of the atoll system. Seldom is the entire village party to a relationship with the outside. The only instances of such relation­ships are occasional feasts honoring some non-Kapinga dignitary, such as government officials or United Nations observers, and periodic petitions to the district administrator by the headman. Relationships between Porakiet and its environment involve main­ly individual persons or small groups of persons of the village with outsiders. Individual villagers, for example, deal with other in­dividuals, with business establishments, with church groups, with informal groups (such as recreational groups), and with govern­ment agencies outside the village. Small groups of villagers also have relationships outside the village, though these are less fre­quent than those involving individuals. The village choir, for ex­ample, sometimes holds joint rehearsals with choirs from other villages. A Kapinga family may go to visit a Ponapean family. Sev­eral Kapinga men have formed an informal yam planting group with a Ponapean neighbor. Several village men occasionally con­tribute labor to the Roman Catholic mission in Kolonia in ex­change for use of the mission’s machinery.

The systemic level at which most of the relationships between Porakiet and its environment occur, then, is that of the individual person or small group of persons. The particular parts of the envi­ronment to which villagers relate include parts of the physical en­vironment, such as the lagoon and deep sea, and a varied range of social environments—individuals and families of other ethnic groups, businesses, government agencies, classrooms, churches, cooperatives, and recreational organizations such as baseball, track, and swimming teams. The systemic level at which relations with the environment occur constitutes a crucial difference be­tween Porakiet and the atoll.

Kapingamarangi has been regarded as a polity by European traders, resident aliens, and two colonial governments; moreover, the atoll residents themselves have related to outsiders as a polity. But Porakiet has never been considered to be a polity by the colo­nial government or by other residents on Ponape. The Japanese 50and American administrators have never recognized Porakiet as an autonomous political or administrative entity. In fact, Porakiet has no official status whatever within the colonial system. The village has had some quasi-official recognition as an ethnic com­munity. American tourists are regularly taken through Porakiet to see Ponape’s “Polynesian village.” The administration has also had to deal with periodic petitions from the chief for special con­siderations. The administration has been reluctant to deal with these petitions, especially since the chartering of Kolonia town, in which the village is located, as a municipality. When the Porakiet headman requested a quitclaim title or a lease for the village land in 1965 (the old lease had expired in 1961), his request was denied. The denial was based on the grounds that part of Kolonia Munici­pality’s program was the social and political integration of the many ethnic groups living there. It would have been detrimental to the municipality to create a politically autonomous ethnic com­munity by granting title to the land to the Kapinga.

Thus the kind of relationship which has resulted in differentia­tion on the atoll does not exist for Porakiet. There is no relation­ship between the colonial government and Porakiet as a polity. There is, however, a relationship between the colonial government and Kolonia Municipality that is coordinate to that between the government and the atoll To the extent that Kapinga reside in Kolonia, they participate in institutions such as schools, busi­nesses, and the like, almost all of which are located outside the vil­lage. The roles that Kapinga assume in these institutions are thus relevant to relationships outside the village. The process of differ­entiation characteristic of the atoll has occurred outside the boundaries of the Porakiet social system. The settings in which roles structure interaction regardless of the biographies of the per­sons involved have always been settings of interethnic contact for Kapinga on Ponape.6 Information about biography is replaced in these relationships by information about characteristics of peo­ple’s ethnic groups.

In their roles with outsiders, the Kapinga have used Ponapean, English, and Japanese for the language of the transaction. Every situation of interethnic contact is marked, then, by roles assumed for the interaction and by linguistic messages of ethnicity. In this manner, the relationships that result in differentiation within the atoll social system also define the boundary of the Porakiet social 51system. These relationships, in other words, contain information that exclude them by definition from the Porakiet social system. For this reason, the Porakiet social system remains undifferen­tiated.

The roles that Porakiet residents assume for purposes of inter­ethnic contact are largely irrelevant to their personal relations with one another. One assumes the role of teacher, student, pa­tient, or nurse outside the village, almost never within it. On the atoll, however, Kapinga assume these same roles in order to in­teract with other Kapinga. Although the Kapinga in Porakiet rare­ly assume such roles in interaction with one another, the roles are crucial to the maintenance of their personal relationships and of the community in two ways. First, because the village is small, the Kapinga community has never been self-sufficient. Porakiet resi­dents have always depended on resources outside the community such as fish, vegetables, pigs, fowl, construction materials, and tools. Access to these resources has been necessarily through con­tacts with non-Kapinga. The roles that Kapinga assume in order to interact with non-Kapinga have made the interaction (and thus the flow of resources) predictable. Second, the roles and relation­ships that Kapinga have outside the village provide material and nonmaterial resources that are very relevant to their personal rela­tionships within the village. What matters most to Kapinga in their interpersonal relationships is the esteem in which they are held. Deference accorded one in public, the achievement of rank and responsibility (in the church, in a men’s house, in a descent group), and the accumulation of dependents are all expresssions of esteem.7 One’s esteem depends on the responsibility one can as­sume for the welfare of others (see Lieber 1974). The resources that enable one to assume responsibility are both material and nonmaterial—knowledge, skills, competence in making and im­plementing decisions.

On the atoll the crucial resources for the assumption of respon­sibility are ownership of land, membership in a traditionally prominent family (of the chief or the former high priests), and skill in canoe and house construction, carpentry, and fishing. In Porakiet, relations with outsiders provide villagers with resources important to their relations with one another—money, food, and construction materials. Important nonmaterial resources have been technical expertise, such as carpentry, boat building, 52masonry, plumbing, and mechanical skills. Another important resource has been access to powerful persons outside the com­munity, such as the Ponape district administrator and the chiefly hierarchy of the traditional Ponapean polity. The means by which these resources are acquired are less important than the fact of whether or not one has them. More important still is what one does with one’s resources. For example, one of the men in the village is a teacher with a good reputation among his colleagues and the American administrators. His reputation as a teacher is unimportant to villagers, few of whom are aware of it. This man’s esteem is based on the fact that he has a steady income, supports a large household, and has access to several important Americans from whom favors might be gained.

An example of the importance of access to resources and the prestige afforded by them is the contrast between the legislative council on the atoll and its counterpart in Porakiet. The atoll council developed as a response to change in political organiza­tion. The intellectual skills necessary for its operation eventually determined its membership: younger men with schooling on Ponape and two older men who are prestigious and capable. The younger men are elected solely on the basis of their skills rather than other kinds of competence. The position of councilman is not especially prestigious.

The council in Porakiet is a response to the internal growth of the village after World War II and to the general lawlessness in Kolonia and the village at the time. The village headman faced two problems by 1952: the village population had more than doubled since 1948, and maintaining order was difficult for one man. Furthermore, with a larger population, a permanent water supply and a men’s house for unmarried males to sleep in were needed. In 1952, the headman demanded that villagers elect a four-man council to serve as his assistants. The council’s tasks were those of enacting legislation for the village, enforcing the legislation, and organizing major construction projects. The coun­cil functioned somewhat like the atoll chief’s assistants.8

Council members have been elected annually since 1952, and they have been older men who have been successful businessmen, well-paid workers, fishermen, and churchmen. All the councilmen have demonstrated their ability to assume responsibility by sup­porting large families, by supervising construction projects in the 53village, by leadership of the men’s house, by leadership in church activities, by success in business ventures.9 All these pursuits have involved the men in relationships with outsiders, especially with Micronesians in the colonial administration and with Ponapean nobility. From Ponapean nobles, the Kapinga have obtained such favors as taro land for Porakiet villagers (see Lieber 1968b:84). The position of councilman in Porakiet has become a measure of interpersonal esteem. It is a prestigious position because those elected to it are responsible people.

While the kind of relationship from which prestige results has not changed in Porakiet, some of the means for acquiring re­sources to bring to these relationships have changed. This fact has two implications. First, those whose aspirations for prestige on the atoll are blocked by relative poverty of landholdings or, say, by lack of ties to traditionally prominent families have the alternative of fulfilling their aspirations in Porakiet. Many migrants have re­mained in Porakiet for precisely this reason. Second, the time and resources of individuals are of necessity allocated differently in Porakiet than on the atoll. In other words, the life-styles of in­dividuals on Ponape are different from those of atoll residents.

The allocation of time and effort of both men and women in Porakiet is shaped by their dependence on a cash economy and on the relative scarcity of food, construction, and craft resources in the village. As of 1966, one-third of the village population over twenty-one years of age was engaged in wage labor. This requires that they spend a minimum of eight hours a day outside the village for at least five days a week. This time is spent in Kolonia working with Americans, Belgians (who own two large retail businesses), and Micronesians. More than half the population under twenty-one spends six to eight hours a day in Kolonia in schools with Micronesian children. Their teachers are American and Microne­sian and the languages of instruction are Ponapean and English (Lieber 1968b: 198–207). Ninety-five percent of those engaged in wage work are men. Women also spend time outside the village—working in taro pits 6 miles from the village, buying groceries, visiting relatives in the hospital or going to the outpatient clinic, selling handicrafts, and participating in church activities. The maintenance of what Sahlins (1965) calls trade friendships with Micronesians, in which both men and women are involved, neces­sitates periodic trips to other parts of the island (see Lieber 541968b:43–51). Young men also spend evening hours and week­ends in Kolonia drinking beer at local taverns and playing pool. Even fishermen, whose life-styles have been least affected by the Ponape environment, must spend time in Kolonia selling fish, buy­ing gear, and attending meetings of the Ponape fishermen’s coop­erative.

Adult women, most of whom remain in the village during the day, allocate their time differently from atoll women. Except for periodic trips to taro plots and coconut plantations on outer islets, atoll women spend almost all their time in their household com­pounds cooking, cleaning, or doing craft work. For Porakiet wom­en, there is a good deal less work to do. Food preparation takes less time since meals consist mostly of rice and tinned food, except when breadfruit is in season. There is less craft work to do, since materials for it, such as pandanus and coconut leaves, are not readily available. Porakiet women can often be seen napping dur­ing the afternoon; this is something that atoll women rarely have time to do. Porakiet women also spend time visiting between households to talk. A few women spend a good deal of time work­ing at specialties, such as sewing clothing or tending village retail stores (which atoll women do only when they have spare time). Shopping trips to Kolonia are usually organized by several women who go together, often taking a young man along to carry groceries.

Corresponding to the differences between time allocation on the atoll and in Porakiet are differing patterns of resource allocation. Kapinga on the atoll subsist almost entirely on locally produced staples. Money earned from copra production is spent on tools, utensils, cloth, thread, tobacco, rice, and some tinned food. Im­ported food is used mainly for feasts. While dresses, shirts, and slacks are necessary for church services and feasts, few people own more than two such articles of clothing. In Porakiet, staple foods must be bought. Dresses, shirts, and slacks, both for work and for Sunday and feast dress, are worn whenever one leaves the village. Such clothing is worn more often, wears out sooner, and has to be replaced more often than clothing on the atoll. Wage workers need several sets of clothing, since washing is done only once a week. Villagers spend more than half their incomes on such necessities, although some villagers own radios, motorcycles, out­board engines, and the like. There are relatively fewer fishermen 55in Porakiet than on the atoll, partly because canoes are far more expensive to build in the village. Trees for the hull and gunwales must be bought. The custom of feeding the workers who help con­struct it requires money, since the food must be bought. A good deal of money is also spent on beer and liquor in Porakiet, whereas these were illegal on the atoll until recently.

Maintenance of the Porakiet social system, then, has required that members of that system participate in relationships outside the system. These relationships are contexts of interethnic contact whose structure consists of the rules of role performance. The Kapinga in Porakiet maintain their traditional system of personal relationships in which these roles are irrelevant. The roles do, however, constitute the means for acquiring the material and tech­nical resources that Kapinga bring to their personal relationships with one another. To the extent that the performance of these roles requires the allocation of time, effort, and material resources out­side Porakiet, the life-styles of Porakiet villagers have changed considerably from those of their fellows on the atoll. Maintaining the traditional forms of social relationships within the Porakiet social system, in other words, has required changes in the life­styles of individuals within the system.


The most obvious sort of relationship between the atoll and Porakiet is that the Porakiet social system is a replication of the traditional atoll system. Despite its obviousness, this relation is of profound importance. The very existence of a community on Ponape whose internal social relations are identifiable as Kapinga in type has been crucial in shaping the postcontact world view of Kapinga in both communities. Since 1919, the Kapinga have had to deal conceptually with the fact that their social order has an ex­istence within a larger universe apart from the atoll. The atoll is but one concrete manifestation of the Kapinga social order and not simply identical to it. This has become clear to the Kapinga through the process of having to debate and resolve several con­troversies in which the relationship between the atoll and Porakiet was a key issue (a process comparable to that described by Martin Silverman in chapter 6).

In 1930 and again in 1964, controversy was raised when some 56residents wanted to divide Porakiet land into private leaseholds (Lieber 1968b:78–79, 179). In both instances, the majority of the residents decided that the land would be kept intact to be used by ‘all the Kapinga people’. What ‘all the Kapinga people’ meant in 1930, however, was different from what it came to mean by 1964. In 1930, Porakiet was a community of transients, a place for atoll people to stay while visiting Ponape. ‘All the Kapinga people’ meant residents of Kapingamarangi Atoll.

By 1964, there was a core of families in Porakiet who con­sidered themselves to be permanent residents, claiming Ponapean citizenship and paying head taxes to Kolonia Municipality. The majority included people who were either staying temporarily in Porakiet and intending to return to the atoll or people who had been in Porakiet for some time and had not decided where they would reside permanently. Several household heads who were per­manent residents wanted to join a housing cooperative in order to construct cement houses in the village. Because the cooperative demanded land as collateral for housing loans, these men were un­able to join. Porakiet was still public land. When one of the men proposed in a meeting that the village land be divided into twenty leaseholds, a long and at times bitter controversy followed. Perma­nent residents argued that they were the only people who cared about the village enough to maintain it. Thus the land should be theirs. Others, including the headman, argued that the land had been given to all the Kapinga people. It should be maintained for all, not just for the permanent residents. The latter’s argument that they were the major contributors of money and labor to vil­lage upkeep was granted as valid by their opponents. The head­man added that all Kapinga who stayed in Porakiet were obligat­ed to maintain the village “just as if they lived there all the time.”

That Porakiet and the atoll were separate communities was clear in the argument. That the population of Porakiet consisted of permanent residents and transients was also made clear. More­over, it was clear that ‘all the Kapinga people’ meant all the peo­ple who consider themselves to be of Kapinga ethnic identity. In the argument, the category ‘Kapinga person’ included people liv­ing on the atoll, on Nukuoro, Ngatik, Ponape, Kusaie, Palau, Oroluk, and any other place where Kapinga might reside. The ‘Kapinga people’ is now a category that transcends place of resi­dence and, for that matter, one’s commitment to a particular lo­cality. 57 The concept of ‘Kapinga people’ has been universalized in a manner not unlike the universalization of Jehovah and Jewish­ness during the relocation called the Babylonian Captivity.

In 1966, a bitter debate over the relationship between Porakiet and another relocated Kapinga community in the southern part of Ponape was resolved by interpreting it in the framework devel­oped two years earlier.10 Members of the southern community, who stayed in Porakiet while visiting Kolonia town, had con­sistently refused to contribute money toward the cost of renovat­ing the village bathhouse. They reasoned that they had no respon­sibility in the matter, since they lived and paid taxes in another municipality. In a meeting called to vote on assessments for the project, some Porakiet residents (including the headman) de­nounced the refusal of the southern villagers to help, disregarding their reasoning. In the heat of debate, it was suggested that southern villagers who would not contribute should be barred from Porakiet facilities or from Porakiet altogether. The headman, once he had calmed down, resolved the argument. He reasoned that barring the southerners from Porakiet contradicted the prop­osition that Porakiet was for ‘all Kapinga people’. The southern villagers, he said, would always be welcome in Porakiet because they were Kapinga people. They ought to help their fellows in Porakiet, he said, but it was up to them to decide what to do. By viewing the controversy in terms of the universalized concept of ‘Kapinga people’, not only was the controversy resolved but the relationship between the two villages was clarified.

The universalization of the concept of ‘community’ has further clarified the relationship between the atoll and Porakiet. ‘Com­munity’ is used by the Kapinga to denote all the people on the island (or in the village), the organization of the people engaged in some community project, those present and eligible to vote in a community meeting, and, more generally, everybody.

A controversy mentioned previously concerning the use of com­munal roofing materials for the atoll church raised the issue of the application of the term ‘community’ in Porakiet in 1966. After the chief magistrate and council refused to allow the roofing materials to be used for the church, the atoll minister wrote to the Porakiet headman requesting a contribution of roofing sheets from the Porakiet community. He claimed that he was writing on behalf of the chief magistrate. The letter was read at a village meeting, and 58a debate quickly ensued. It was agreed that the villagers ought to comply if in fact the chief magistrate had made the request. Some people doubted whether the chief magistrate even knew of the let­ter, since church and state were legally separate. One old man replied that in the day of the former chief, such a separation was not an issue and should not be an issue now. The issue then be­came one of what constituted a community issue and a communi­ty responsibility, and, most important, to what extent and for what purposes Porakiet as a community was obligated to the atoll as a whole or to groups within it.

The debate was resolved by an impassioned speech by a coun­cilman. He stated that whenever a major project was undertaken on the atoll, it was conducted by the entire community. Such was the ethic of ‘love’ for one another in the community. Whether the project was a church or a courthouse made no difference, he as­serted. “We are all one community, and so we must help each other. Let every man decide for himself what is right, but if we are really members of the community, we will do what he [the minis­ter] asks us.” Community, in this statement, meant the social order that includes all Kapinga as its members. By universalizing ‘community’ and by identifying it concretely with the atoll proj­ect, his exhortation to accede to the request connected the atoll and the village in a single community. By saying that every person should “decide for himself,” the councilman took the issue out of the context of the meeting and placed responsibility on the shoul­ders of individuals as real members of the community. The majori­ty of those present voiced agreement with him. The impact of his speech was enhanced by the fact that the church on Kapingama­rangi is Protestant whereas the councilman is a Roman Catholic.

The universalization of ‘the Kapinga people’ and ‘community’ represents an increase in the complexity of the Kapinga concepts of themselves and of their social order. That the atoll and Porakiet are separate, independent communities is recognized. ‘Porakiet people’ and ‘atoll people’ are frequently used phrases that denote the different communites. The fact that ‘Kapinga people’ and ‘community’ now denote Kapinga people in general and the Ka­pinga social order in general indicates two sorts of change. First, there has been an increase in the amount of information encoded in these phrases. Second, there has been a change in the organiza­tion of the information encoded in these phrases: their meanings 59are more abstract than before. Their present order of generality is new. The older meanings of the phrases are only part of the new, more abstract meanings.

The increasing complexity of the Kapinga image of their own society corresponds with an increase in the complexity of their view of the larger world in which they live and the relations they have in it. The Kapinga have learned a good deal about of­ficialdom and about other ethnic groups through their experience on the atoll and through travel and schooling. People on the atoll and Ponape know about the hierarchical structure of the colonial government (the ‘office’), the connection between the government and other island municipalities, and the connection between the Trust Territory and the United States and the United Nations. Children learn about these relations in school, while adults in both communities deal with the government as employees, councilmen, representatives to the district legislature, or teachers. Kapinga liv­ing on Ponape have continual contact with people of other ethnic groups—Ponapeans, Kusaieans, Mokilese, Pingelapese, Ngatikese, Trukese, Mortlockese, and Palauans. Several Kapinga in both communities have traveled to these islands, as well as to Guam, the Marshall Islands, Japan, Hawaii, and islands in the South Pacific. Information about all these groups has come from face-to-face contact and reports of such contact to others in the communi­ty. Owing to the continual movement of people between the atoll and Porakiet, information about the nature of officialdom and other islands and their inhabitants seems to be generally shared in both communities.11 Thus, for example, one who leaves the atoll for the first time to live on Ponape already has most of the in­formation about the island and strategies for coping with life there that he needs. His experience then fills in the details.

The universalized concepts of ‘Kapinga people’ and Kapinga social order and the larger world in which these concepts have their reality are all part of a growing body of information that Kapinga have about themselves. Their ideas about officialdom and other ethnic groups, about the atoll and Porakiet and the differences between them, are all part of the information that com­prises Kapinga culture. The processes that have led to changes in their ideas about their world are processes of culture change. The process consists in incorporating new information, which serves to reorganize previous information in some ways but is organized by 60previous information in yet other ways. Some of the most impor­tant changes in Kapinga culture, such as their definitions of themselves as a people, are the outcomes of the increasingly com­plex relationship between the atoll and Porakiet.


At one time or another, most Kapinga have the experience of liv­ing in two different communities, both of which are recognizably Kapinga communities and both of which are recognizably dif­ferent in many ways. The emigrant from the atoll has a particular­ly profound experience in that he or she experiences both a dif­ferent kind of Kapinga community and continuous contact with other ethnic groups. The emigrant’s experience is an object lesson in what it means to be a Kapinga person. This is quite a different experience from that of migrants to an island where there is no migrant community. There may be contact between the home island and the island to which people have migrated, but there is not the kind of three-way contrast between the home island, the resettled community, and other ethnic communities that charac­terize the situation of the Kapinga and, say, the Tikopia. It is the experience of this sort of contrast that results in the universaliza­tion of island group to ethnic category and ethnic community characteristic of the Kapinga.

What is essential to the object lesson of Kapinga ethnicity is each individual’s experience of very different contexts of inter­action—those characteristic of the Kapinga community (on the atoll and at Porakiet) and those characteristic of relations with non-Kapinga. The very differences in the life-style in the two communities, moreover, highlight that which is common to both: the structure of contexts of interaction referred to previously as whole-person-to-whole-person relations. It is these contexts of in­teraction that pose such a striking contrast to those of interethnic relations.

The information a Kapinga needs to interact with other Kapin­ga is different from that needed to interact with a non-Kapinga. The rules that structure the information in Kapinga relations with other Kapinga are different from the rules structuring the informa­tion in an interethnic relationship. When a Kapinga interacts with another Kapinga, he needs to know the other’s biography and the 61setting of the interaction. He also needs to know the roles that are being played, although these are often of less importance than biography and setting. This is the case because information about biography structures his expectations about how the other will play his role. It is information about biography that structures ex­pectations of others in most situations. Biography, in other words, is the dominant information as regards setting and role. In in­terethnic relations, biography is the least important information. A Kapinga can interact with a Ponapean, for instance, without either knowing anything of the other’s biography. All that is necessary for the relationship is a knowledge of the setting and the roles appropriate to it. Furthermore, setting and role are in one-to-one correspondence. Each role is confined to a specific setting. One plays the role of customer in stores, that of employee at the place of work, and so on. Setting and role are not in one-to-one correspondence in intraethnic relations. One can play the role of son, friend, steward, or chief in any number of different settings. The rules by which information about the relationship is put together are very different for relations among Kapinga and for in­terethnic relations. This is why the minimal information necessary for Kapinga to interact with one another is different from that needed for Kapinga to interact with non-Kapinga. It is this differ­ence that constitutes the ethnic boundary between the Kapinga social system and all other social systems.

Relations among Kapinga and relations between Kapinga and non-Kapinga constitute different contexts of interaction. They are different because the rules for combining information that struc­tures the contexts are different. The intraethnic contexts are con­texts of personal relations, relationships between persons who are intimately involved in each other’s biographies (cf. Hiller 1947). The interethnic contexts are those of categorical relations in which each person interacts with others in terms of the role or ethnic category the others represent.

Defining ethnic boundaries in this manner for Kapinga vis-à-vis others implies a contradiction in the atoll system with regard to the change described previously. Although Kapinga ethnicity is defined in terms of contexts of personal relations, the atoll social system includes contexts whose structure is identical to those of in­terethnic contexts. It is precisely this structure that accounts for differentiation in the social system. The presence of such contexts 62within an ethnic boundary whose definition excludes them con­stitutes a contradiction. Not only does this contradiction exist in fact, but Kapinga on the atoll are aware of at least some of its im­plications. The contradiction is manifested in several ways, the clearest of which are intergenerational hostility and an incipient church versus secularist factionalism.

Government-sponsored programs on the atoll have generated the categorical relations that have led to differentiation. These programs have been aimed at and run by younger people. Leader­ship and economic control, traditionally prerogatives of elders, have to some extent passed into the hands of younger people. In such settings as council meetings, retail stores, the school, and the dispensary, expectations of behavior based on personal relation­ships are continually being violated as role requirements take pre­cedence in these settings. Older people respond by complaining about the incompetence, immorality, and irresponsibility of younger people, claiming that they are unfit for the positions of responsibility they hold. Older people decry the lack of respect they are shown by their juniors and the latter’s disregard of their experience. Yet younger people continue to be elected or ap­pointed to these positions by their peers and by their elders.

At the same time, younger people seem to be ambivalent about their own positions. Many younger people, both men and women, claim that the older people are right in their criticism of young people in responsible positions. Moreover, the esteem that is nor­mally accorded to people in responsible positions has not been forthcoming to the young men who assume positions on the coun­cil, in the co-op, and in the schools, regardless of how hard they work. While the young men remain committed to these activities, they are also committed to such traditional activities as craft work, fishing, and land stewardship, in which excellence brings esteem. Those who are most involved in the council, co-op, and schools have the least time for the traditional activities. These peo­ple, mainly men in their twenties and thirties, feel this am­bivalence most keenly and are among those most overtly hostile to their elders. Hostility is most often expressed in malicious gossip. A measure of just how serious the situation had become by 1966 can be seen in the council’s consideration of a bill to outlaw and establish criminal penalties for malicious gossip. 63

The members of the Congregational church have become a quasi-political group on the atoll, often voting as a bloc in com­munity meetings. Although ‘church people’ are thought of as older people, almost a third of the church leadership—the Christian Endeavor Society—are young people.

For about eight years, between 1957 and 1964, the island coun­cil was dominated by church members.12 Many of the issues in which the council was involved reflected the strong ties of its members to the church. An early act of the council was to prohibit the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. The council fired three schoolteachers for violating this law. Another teacher was fired for introducing social dancing into the school curriculum and yet another for “illicit” sexual activity. A close look at the im­plications of these positions makes it obvious why church leader­ship is identified with older people. What ‘church people’ repre­sent in atoll affairs is, symbolically, the kind of integration typical of the traditional atoll social system. Implied in the firing of the teachers for offences committed outside the classroom is the belief that the school is not separate from the rest of the community. Similarly, the issue concerning the use of communal roofing materials for the church involves the same kind of premise—that religious activity is not separate from other activities. It is a denial of the differentiation implicit in the new categories of activity.

It is significant that even though the ‘church people’ eventually lost on the issues of firing the teachers and using community-owned materials, they lost not by a community vote but by the intervention of outside authority. The Office of Education on Ponape made it clear that hiring and firing teachers was the res­ponsibility of that office, not of the council. The church was prohi­bited from using the roofing materials because of regulations in the Trust Territory Code. Many people, old and young, were un­happy about the decision, but they felt that there was little they could do about it.

The contradiction in the atoll system thus manifests itself in in­tergenerational hostility and some of the conditions for fac­tionalism which everyone feels but cannot quite understand. The commitment of people to very different and sometimes mutually exclusive contexts has produced conflicts that are painful and frustrating. They are frustrating inasmuch as no one can really 64point to any well-defined culprit or, for that matter, to any well-defined group as victim. Kapinga living on the atoll continue to define themselves in terms of traditional contexts of interaction as the atoll system continues to differentiate. The ‘church people’ continue to take positions that embody integration rather than dif­ferentiation. Although no one wholly disagrees with the church positions or their premises, the positions continue to meet with defeat. The outcomes of this process are hostility, frustration, and ambivalence—which are inevitable whenever people commit themselves to both horns of a dilemma.


We can conclude that the changes described for the atoll com­munity and the community at Porakiet are the outcome of contact between the Kapinga and the colonial system. This conclusion tells us very little, however, since the kinds of contact are different for each community. Contact between the atoll and the colonial system involves a relationship between the atoll as a polity and the highest echelons of the district administration on Ponape. It has been the maintenance of the form of that relationship through historical changes in the administration that has resulted in change in the atoll system. Contact between Porakiet and the co­lonial system involves a relationship between individuals or small groups in the village and government agencies, businesses, groups, and individuals of other ethnic groups outside the village. Main­taining traditional social relationships within the village has re­quired that its residents participate in relations with individuals, groups, and agencies outside the village. These relations require of villagers an allocation of time and resources which differs from that of atoll residents. The outcome has been a change in life-styles of Porakiet residents.

The changes in each community have occurred at different systemic levels. Yet in both communities change has resulted from the maintenance of certain relationships. These data demonstrate the validity of Gregory Bateson’s hypothesis that “the constancy and survival of some larger system is maintained by changes in the constituent subsystems” (Bateson 1972:339). Bateson has also posited that such systemic change generates its own paradoxes (1972:339). This proposition also is demonstrated by the con­tradiction 65 that has arisen on the atoll between traditional personal relationships and the categorical relations that have emerged from the differentiation in the atoll social system.

As the atoll community and the community at Porakiet have undergone changes, the relationship between them has changed. Porakiet is no longer a colony of the atoll. It is a separate social system that is politically independent of the atoll. The question re­mains whether the universalization of the Kapinga concepts of ‘community’ and ‘Kapinga people’ was inevitable given the ex­istence of these two politically independent social systems. The answer is no: universalization of these concepts was not in­evitable. The process of universalization depended on two histori­cal contingencies: (1) the identification of a significant minority of Porakiet residents with Ponapean citizenship and (2) the raising of specific issues in the village by this minority, which called into question concepts of ‘Kapinga person’ and ‘community’. Given that the Kapinga continue to think of ‘person’ in terms of relation­ships,13 one might posit that the universalization of ‘community’ and ‘Kapinga people’ was inevitable once the issues were raised. Otherwise, the concepts could have been left safely ambiguous.

Finally, this chapter has dealt with the processes of social and cultural change and stability in two Kapinga communities. The processes of change have been viewed as changes in the organiza­tion of social relationships and the organization of ideas resulting from relationships between each community and other social sys­tems that constitute its environment. The focus on relationships within which change occurs allows us not only to identify the change we are dealing with but also to account for it. The focus on relationships between social systems also forces us to identify precisely the systemic level at which change or stability is rele­vant.


This chapter is based on data collected on Ponape and Kapingamarangi during thirteen months of field research in 1965 and 1966. The research was sponsored by the Pacific Displaced Communities Project at the University of Oregon. The project was directed by Homer G. Barnett and was funded by the National Science Foundation. I would like to thank Dr. Barnett, Vern Carroll, and Martin Silverman for their help in preparing this chapter. 66

1. Huria was transferred to Ponape in about 1920, where he faced charges of criminal cruelty by the administration on Ponape. He remained on Ponape for several years thereafter. The outcome of his hearing is unknown.

2. Atoll chiefs occasionally made decisions for and about the village (see, for example, Lieber 1968b:83–84).

3. Ponape is one of six administrative districts. It includes six municipalities on Ponape Island and the additional municipalities of Kusaie Island and Pingelap, Mokil, Ngatik, Nukuoro, and Kapingamarangi atolls.

4. There are a few Roman Catholic families on the atoll and in Porakiet, but with only one exception they have not been prominent in either community (see Lieber 1968b:129–138).

5. There are three reasons why there has been no autocratic rule. First, the population has been largely transient, with people continually going back and forth between the atoll and Ponape. Second, the headman was subor­dinate to the atoll chief until 1961. Third, people easily avoid any attempt at autocratic rule by moving out of Porakiet to other parts of Ponape, by ap­pealing the headman’s decision to the atoll chief, or by simply ignoring the headman.

6. It sometimes happens that Kapinga must interact with one another in such contexts. When such interaction is public—student and teacher in a Kolonia school, for example—Kapinga feel very uncomfortable about it. When the interaction is private, roles tend to be played down.

7. By dependents, I mean people who join one’s household, people who exercise use rights over one’s land, people who become one’s apprentices, people who borrow one’s possessions, and the like. All these acts may encode messages of dependency in the sense of a relationship in which one assumes responsibility for the support or training of another.

8. The atoll chief’s assistants were concerned with the enforcement of ‘law’ rather than with its formulation.

9. Running a lucrative business usually involves catering to a largely Microne­sian clientele. The stores whose main clientele is composed of villagers usual­ly run at no profit or at a loss. But even without profit, the people who have maintained stores have accumulated many debtors through extending credit. The symbolic dependency maintains the creditor’s image as a responsible person. It is for prestige rather than for profit that the two village stores are maintained by their owners.

10. A homestead program was initiated by the district administration in 1954—sixty people were brought to Metalanimwh in the southern part of Ponape, a village was built, and a headman was appointed by the atoll chief. This headman attempted to maintain his political autonomy in his village, which had a population of twenty-three persons in 1966.

11. By way of contrast, although Kapinga on the atoll (most of whom except young children have lived on Ponape) have knowledge of the same ethnic stereotypes as do Porakiet villagers, very few of the stereotypes operate on the atoll. The distinctions employed on the atoll for occasional visitors are those of ‘Euro-American’ (dangada baalangi) and ‘Ponapean’ (combining Ponapean, Kusaiean, Mokilese, Ngatikese, and Pingelapese into one 67category). It is the outsider’s role that is important in his relations with atoll people, and contact is so brief and official that the two categories usually suffice for the interaction (see chapter 7).

12. Although the council is composed mainly of young people at present, one-third to one-half of the members continue to be church members.

13. For a fuller discussion of personhood see Lieber (1972).

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