Pacific Studies Initiative Syllabi & Bibliographies

 


Home


Syllabi & Bibliographies


Internet Resources


The Politics of Indigenous Identity, Ethnicity and Tradition

History 4/5 CPM - 1995

la trobe university
school of history

Instructor: Dr Bronwen Douglas
Division of Pacific & Asian History
RSPAS, Australian National University
Canberra ACT 0200
Australia
bronwen.douglas@anu.edu.au

In this subject we shall apply critical reflections on the problematic concepts of "identity" and "tradition"/"custom" to the elucidation of selected episodes and themes in the recent history of indigenous societies in Melanesia and Australia. We shall focus on a variety of meanings of these concepts - indigenous, colonial and academic - and their uses in particular contexts. This will involve a study of anthropological concepts of culture; of the dialectics of cultural creativity, continuity, rupture and change; of processes of construction and objectification of "traditional culture" in colonial and postcolonial contexts; of indigenous appropriation and domestication of novelties, such as Christianity; of the negotiation, contestation and deployment of concepts of custom and ethnicity as ideologies and symbols of identity and exclusion, to further local, regional, national, class, ethnic and gender purposes and interests.

The texts consulted will include: theoretical reflections and specific interpretations by historians and anthropologists; contemporary accounts by participants and observers; newspapers; documentary films. We shall engage in explicit critical reflection on the status of these texts: their politics; their relationships to wider discourses - academic, colonialist, anti- and postcolonialist, feminist, postmodernist; their authors' interests and intentions; our own politics of reading and interpretion. We shall pay particular attention to the words - the categories, concepts, labels and images - which they and we use to construct and communicate understandings.

reading guide

WEEK 1: introduction
Film: Trobriand Cricket (1980).
Workshop: Introduction to the subject.
  - problematics of "culture", "tradition" and "custom" lived and objectified. Read Linnekin carefully and think about her definitions and her and Thomas' discourses.
  - note the concepts of "text" (= medium for representation: most of the texts used in this subject are written, but texts can also include stories told orally, memories, gestures, visual media such as paintings, sculptures, photographs and films, landscapes, buildings and objects); and "discourse" ([< L. discurrere, to run to and fro] = a politically embedded, presently persuasive set of ideas, terms, images and practices, with its own logic, distinctive emphases, exclusions and silences. The ideas, terms and images which comprise texts can be seen to cluster in discourses; understanding a text's discursive context and components is indispensable to deciphering its meanings, politics and content. In any era and culture, prevailing dominant discourses broadly define the limits, in particular contexts, of the taken-for-granted, the proper, the sayable/do-able, the not entirely proper, the improper and the unsayable/undo-able; but there are always other discourses to contest and subvert the dominant, such as the submerged discourses of the dominated and the dispossed, echoes of previous dominant discourses or precursors of future ones. Discourses, then, are multiple, unstable, not necessarily consistent and always contested).

Core Reading:

Jocelyn Linnekin "On the Theory and Politics of Cultural Construction in the Pacific", in Margaret Jolly and Nicholas Thomas (ed.), The Politics of Tradition in the Pacific, special issue, Oceania, 62:4 (1992):249-63.
Nicholas Thomas "Tin and Thatch: Identity and Tradition in Rural Fiji", Age Monthly Review, 8:11 (March 1989), 15-18.

Recommended Reading:

Jocelyn Linnekin and Lin Poyer "Introduction", in Jocelyn Linnekin and Lin Poyer (ed.), Cultural Identity and Ethnicity in the Pacific (Honolulu 1990), 1-16.
Nicholas Thomas "Anthropology and Orientalism", Anthropology Today, 7 (1991):4-7.

 

WEEK 2: "invention"/construction of tradition
Video: Gogodala - a Cultural Revival? (1989).
Workshop: Constructing traditions.
  - what is the argument of Keesing's 1989 article? How convincing is it? Compare it with Jolly's and Trask's critiques. Compare the academic and "native" discourses.
  - who constructs tradition? How? Why? Is "authenticity" an issue?
  - I want you to start thinking critically about Keesing's insistence that Melanesian kastom and resistance were invariably (and only) oppositional, counterhegemonic reflexes ("the discourse of the dominant shapes and structures the discourse of the dominated" - 1994:41). Consider the usefulness (and the politics) of conceiving indigenous encounters with the novel and experiences of colonial domination in terms of creative appropriation, domestication and refashioning.

Core Reading:

Margaret Jolly "Specters of Inauthenticity", Contemporary Pacific, 4 (1992):49-72.
Roger M. Keesing "Creating the Past: Custom and Identity in the Contemporary Pacific", Contemporary Pacific, 1 (1989):19-42.
Haunani-Kay Trask "Natives and Anthropologists: the Colonial Struggle", Contemporary Pacific, 3 (1991):159-67 (a savage attack on Keesing).
Hugh Trevor-Roper "The Invention of Tradition: the Highland Tradition of Scotland", in Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (ed.), The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge 1983), 15-41.

Recommended Reading:

Alain Babadzan "Kastom and Nation-Building in the South Pacific", in Remo Guidieri, Francesco Pellizzi and Stanley J. Tambiah (ed.), Ethnicities and Nations: Processes of Interethnic Relations in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific (Austin 1988), 199-228.
Roger M. Keesing "Reply to Trask", Contemporary Pacific, 3 (1991):168-71.
Roger M. Keesing "Colonial and Counter-Colonial Discourse in Melanesia", Critique of Anthropology, 14 (1994):41-58 - N.B., this is the clearest and most unequivocal statement of his counterhegemony argument.

 

WEEK 3: tradition and colonialism
Film: Fiji: the Great Council of Chiefs (1980).
Lecture: The Invention of Tradition literature.
Workshop: Inventing tradition in colonial Fiji.
  - who invented tradition(s) in colonial Fiji? How? Why? Whose "tradition(s)"? What involvements did/do Fijians have in processes of invention?
  - what are the implications for constructionist concepts of culture and tradition as mobile and discursive (constructed, contested, plural, changing, political) rather than as enduring entities (received, homogeneous, essential, abstract)?

Core Reading:

Martha Kaplan "The 'Dangerous and Disaffected Native' in Fiji: British Colonial Constructions of the Tuka Movement", Social Analysis, 26 (1989):22-45.
Peter France The Charter of the Land: Custom and Colonization in Fiji (Melbourne 1969), 102-28.
Nicholas Thomas "The Inversion of Tradition", American Ethnologist, 19 (1992):213-32.

Recommended Reading:

John Clammer "Colonialism and the Perception of Tradition in Fiji", in Talal Asad (ed.), Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter (London 1973), 199-220.
Terence Ranger "The Invention of Tradition in Colonial Africa", in Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (ed.), The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge 1983), 211-62.

 

WEEK 4: colonial inventions of Aboriginality in Australia
Video: Lousy Little Sixpence (1983).
Workshop: Constructions of Aboriginality in colonial Australia.
  - what elements of constraint and choice are there in Jack McPhee's recollections of his early years in the Pilbara? What traces are there in his narrative of the power of colonial discourses of Aboriginality and of variety and change in indigenous experiences of identity? - Beckett's "public"/"private ethnicity".
  - who invented "Aborigines" in Australia? Why? How, when and in what practical contexts did discourses of Aboriginality emerge, change and help shape the actions of the colonisers? e.g., see Morris' concept of the colonial "culture of terror" as both inflicted on Aborigines and as inspired by (colonial perceptions) of Aboriginal actions.

Core Reading:

Jeremy Beckett "Introduction" and "The Past in the Present; the Present in the Past: Constructing a National Aboriginality", in Jeremy Beckett (ed.), Past and Present: the Construction of Aboriginality (Canberra 1988), 1-10, 191-217.
Richard Broome "Should We Call a Koori a 'Koori'?", Australian Historical Association Bulletin, 68 (1991):43-6.
Sally Morgan Wanamurraganya: the Story of Jack McPhee (Freemantle 1989), 18-117.
Barry Morris "Frontier Colonialism as a Culture of Terror", in Bain Attwood and John Arnold (ed.), Power, Knowledge and Aborigines. Special issue, Journal of Australian Studies, 35 (1992):72-87.

 

WEEK 5: "custom" and anticolonialism
Video: New Caledonia - a Land in Search of Itself (1983).
Workshop: The Maasina Rule Movement in the Solomon Islands.
  - what label(s) best describe Maasina Rule? What were its objectives and strategies as expressed by its leaders at the time and later? How did they vary in place and time? between Christians and pagans?
  - what was the varied and changing significance of kastom in Maasina Rule, as behaviour/code/ideology? What were its relationships to regionally diverse precolonial practices? to colonial hegemony?

Core Reading:

Jonathon Fifi'i and Barry Shineberg "Interview with Jonathon Fifi'i", Pacific Islands Monthly, 53:7 (1982):15-18.
Hugh Laracy (ed.) Pacific Protest: the Maasina Rule Movement Solomon Islands, 1944-1952 (Suva 1983), 1-38, #53-81, 85-87, 112-13, 117-22, 125-34, #135-49, #183-86 (# = key references).
R.M. Keesing (ed.) 'Elota's Story: the Life and Times of a Solomon Islands Big Man (St Lucia 1978), 155-64, 182-85.
Roger M. Keesing "Kastom and Anticolonialism on Malaita: 'Culture' as Political Symbol", in Roger M. Keesing and Robert Tonkinson (ed.), Reinventing Traditional Culture: the Politics of Kastom in Island Melanesia. Special issue, Mankind, 13:4 (1982):357-73.

Recommended Reading:

Jonathan Fifi'i From Pig-Theft to Parliament: My Life Between Two Worlds (Honiara 1989), 39-93.
Roger M. Keesing "Politico-Religious Movements and Anticolonialism on Malaita:Maasina Rule in Historical Perspective", Oceania, 48 (1978):241-61; 49 (1979):46-73.

 

WEEK 6: kastom lived and objectified
Video: The Lau of Malaita.(1987).
Workshop: Meanings and experience of kastom for traditionalists in Melanesia.
  - what were the meanings, content and uses of kastom for the modern traditionalists variously described by Fifi'i, Jolly and Keesing? How did their concepts of kastom relate to their changing lived experience, gender and identities?
  - in what ways was kastom a political ideology, a counterhegemonic discourse to those of Christianity, colonialism and nationalism? What else was it?
  - what are the anthropological agenda at stake?

Core Reading:

Jonathan Fifi'i From Pig-Theft to Parliament: My Life Between Two Worlds (Honiara 1989), 91-150.
Margaret Jolly "Birds and Banyans of South Pentecost: Kastom in Anti-Colonial Struggle", in Roger M. Keesing and Robert Tonkinson (ed.), Reinventing Traditional Culture: the Politics of Kastom in Island Melanesia. Special issue, Mankind, 13:4 (1982):338-56.
Roger M. Keesing "Kwaio Women Speak: the Micropolitics of Autobiography in a Solomon Island Society", American Anthropologist, 87 (1985):27-39.

Recommended Reading:

Roger M. Keesing "Traditionalist Enclaves in Melanesia", in R.J. May and Hank Nelson (ed.), Melanesia: Beyond Diversity (Canberra 1982), vol. 1, 39-54.
Roger M. Keesing "Colonial and Counter-Colonial Discourse in Melanesia", Critique of Anthropology, 14 (1994):41-58
Lamont Lindstrom "Leftamap Kastom: the Political History of Tradition on Tanna (Vanuatu)", in Roger M. Keesing and Robert Tonkinson (ed.), Reinventing Traditional Culture: the Politics of Kastom in Island Melanesia. Special issue, Mankind, 13:4 (1982):316-29.

 

WEEK 7: kastom and Christianity
Video: Shark Callers of Kontu (1987).
Workshop: Kastom and Christianity in Malaita.
  - what were the varied and changing meanings and relationships of kastom/tradition and Christianity in the identity constructions of Kwara-ae Christians, as described by Burt?
  - compare kastom as lived, conceived and deployed by Kwaio traditionalists and the traditionalist women's conceptions (and experiences) of Christianity and Christians recorded by Keesing.
  - should Christians in Melanesia be seen as passive recipients/victims of dominant alien discourses or as actively engaged in the construction and manipulation of indigenous Christian cultures, ideologies and identities? What are the implications for the concepts of "culture" and "conversion"?

Core Reading:

Ben Burt "Kastom, Christianity and the First Ancestor of the Kwara-ae of Malaita", in Roger M. Keesing and Robert Tonkinson (ed.), Reinventing Traditional Culture: the Politics of Kastom in Island Melanesia. Special issue, Mankind, 13:4 (1982):374-99.
Roger M. Keesing "Sins of a Mission: Christian Life as Kwaio Traditionalist Ideology", in Margaret Jolly and Martha Macintyre (ed.), Family and Gender in the Pacific: Domestic Contradictions and the Colonial Impact (Cambridge 1989), 193-212.

Recommended Reading:

Martha Kaplan "Christianity, People of the Land, and Chiefs in Fiji", in John Barker (ed.), Christianity in Oceania: Ethnographic Perspectives(Lanham 1990), 127-47.
Joan Larcom "The Invention of Convention", in Roger M. Keesing and Robert Tonkinson (ed.), Reinventing Traditional Culture: the Politics of Kastom in Island Melanesia. Special issue, Mankind, 13:4 (1982):330-37 [Malakula, Vanuatu].
Robert Tonkinson "Church and Kastom in Southeast Ambrym", in Michael Allen (ed.), Vanuatu: Politics, Economics and Ritual in Island Melanesia (Sydney 1981), 237-67 [Ambrim, Vanuatu].

 

WEEK 8: women and "custom"
Video: The Trobriand Islanders of Papua New Guinea (1990).
Workshops Women and "custom" in Melanesia.
  - what were the varied images in the texts of the status and agency of women in precolonial, colonial and postcolonial contexts in Melanesia? Why?
  - compare the varied significance of "custom" for village women and educated urban women in modern societies in Melanesia? Cf. gender and class? What seem to be the changing meanings to them of Western feminism?
  - what are the politics of representation and self-representation involved?

Core Reading:

Grace Mera Molisa Colonised People. Poems by Grace Mera Molisa (Port Vila 1987), 5-13, 19, 23.
Vanuatu Nasonal Kaonsel Blong Ol Woman Who Will Carry the Bag? (Port Vila 1990), 12-13, 18-19, 23, 34, 38, 40-4, 47-8, 50-1.
Margaret Jolly "The Politics of Difference: Feminism, Colonialism, and Decolonization in Vanuatu", in Gill Bottomley, Marie de Lepervanche and Jeannie Martin (ed.), Intersexions: Gender/Class/Culture/Ethnicity (Sydney 1991), 52-74.
Roger M. Keesing "Ta'a geni: Women's Perspectives on Kwaio Society", in Marilyn Strathern (ed.), Dealing with Inequality: Analysing Gender Relations in Melanesia and Beyond (Cambridge 1987), 33-62.
OR  
Wayne Warry "Politics of a New Order: the Kafaina Movement", in Maev O'Collins et al., Women and Politics in Papua New Guinea (Canberra 1985), 26-38.

 

WEEK 9: women and Aboriginality
Video: Essie Coffey's My Survival as an Aboriginal (1978).
Workshop: Women and Aboriginality in Australia.
  - what are the common/unshared elements in these women's accounts of their experiences, and their varied and changing sense of being Aboriginal, taking account of different discourses, times, places and contexts?
  - what suggestions are there of effective female agency? In what ways did they see themselves as enabled/constrained? What strategies did they adopt and how useful were they? Did they see themselves as victims? Should we?
  - how appropriate to their discourses are white feminist agenda, and intersections of race, gender and class (see Pettman)?

Core Reading:

Oodgeroo My People (3rd ed., Milton, Qld 1990 [first published 1970; second ed. 1981]), esp. pp. 2, 8-9#, 12-14#, 15-16, 21-2, 24-7, 32-3#, 34, 38, 42-3, 46, 48-9, 54-5, 70-1, 85, 94-5, 103-12.
Chandra Talpade Mohanty "Introduction: Cartographies of Struggle: Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism", in Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Ann Russo and Lourdes Torres (ed.), Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism (Bloomington and Indianapolis 1991, 1-47, esp. 32-9.
Jan Pettman "Gendered Knowledges: Aboriginal Women and the Politics of Feminism", in Bain Attwood and John Arnold (ed.), Power, Knowledge and Aborigines. Special issue, Journal of Australian Studies, 35 (1992):120-31.
AND THREE OF  
Ruby Langford Ginibi Don't Take Your Love to Town (Penguin 1988), chs. 3-6, 15, 21, 22.
Sally Morgan My Place (Freemantle 1987), chs 15, 16, 21 + Daisy Corunna's Story.
Margaret Tucker If Everyone Cared(Melbourne1983 [1977]), chs 1, 6-13.
Ruby de Satge "I Was Born on the Banks of the Georgina River", in Bill Rosser, Dreamtime Nightmares: Biographies of Aborigines under the Queensland Aborigines Act (Canberra 1985)

 

WEEK 10: the "Melanesian Way" and regional ethnicity
Lecture: Politics of Aboriginality in Australia.
  Myrna Ewart Tonkinson - "Is it in the Blood? Australian Aboriginal Identity", in Jocelyn Linnekin and Lin Poyer (ed.), Cultural Identity and Ethnicity in the Pacific (Honolulu 1990), 191-218.
Workshop: The "Melanesian Way", regional ethnicity and the power of ambiguous symbols
  - what did Walter Lini mean by the "Melanesian Way"? What uses have Melanesian political leaders made of the concept?
  - what relationships were described between kastom and nationalism in Vanuatu, between national kastom, local kastoms, the lived kastom of traditionalists and precolonial cultures and behaviour?
  - compare and contrast the abstract, international/national-level politicians' discourse of the "Melanesian Way" with the explicitly racist, reciprocal discourses of ethnicity reported with reference to Bougainville by Nash and Ogan.

Core Reading:

Walter Lini Independence Address to the Nation, 30 July 1980 (Lini was Prime Minister of Vanuatu).
Walter Lini "Keynote Address", Australia and the South Pacific Conference, Canberra 1982, Pacific Islands Monthly, 53:4 (1982), 25-28.
  Newspaper extracts.
Jill Nash and Eugene Ogan "The red and the black: Bougainvillean perceptions of other Papua New Guineans", Pacific Studies, 13 (1990):1-17.
Jean-Marc Philibert "The Politics of Tradition: Toward a Generic Culture in Vanuatu", Mankind, 16 (1986):1-12.

Recommended Reading:

Robert Tonkinson "National Identity and the Problem of Kastom in Vanuatu", in Roger M. Keesing and Robert Tonkinson (ed.), Reinventing Traditional Culture: the Politics of Kastom in Island Melanesia. Special issue, Mankind, 13:4 (1982):306-15.
Daniel A. Segal and Richard Handler "How European is Nationalism?", Social Analysis, 32 (1992): 1-15.

 

WEEK 11: experiences, constructions and deconstructions of Aboriginality
Video: Black Man's Houses (1992).
Workshop: Dispossession and the politics of identity.
  - what are the various discourses of identity and Aboriginality in the texts? Whose are they? How are they constructed and contested?
  - in what ways do Aborigines "poach" on Western discourses in constructing Aboriginality? What are the politics of debates over the morality of biological metaphors, resistance and "oppositional culture"? Where are these politics located?
  - what are the similarities to and differences from Melanesian conceptions and uses of custom/tradition and identity encountered in this subject?

Core Reading:

  Kevin Gilbert, Living Black: Blacks Talk to Kevin Gilbert (Melbourne 1977), extracts; Roberta B. Sykes, "Identities - Who Am I?", Hecate, 17:2 (1991):32-4; Maureen Watson to Bronwen Levy, "But Most Certainly I am Aboriginal", Hecate, 17:2 (191):192-3.
Jackie Huggins "Always Was Always Will Be", Australian Historical Studies, 25:100 (1993):459-64 (an Aboriginal critique of My Place).
Myrna Ewart Tonkinson "Is it in the Blood? Australian Aboriginal Identity", in Jocelyn Linnekin and Lin Poyer (ed.), Cultural Identity and Ethnicity in he Pacific (Honolulu 1990), 191-218.
David Hollinsworth "Discourses on Aboriginality and the Politics of Identity in Urban Australia", Oceania, 63 (1992):137-55.
Mudrooroo Nyoongah "Comments on Hollinsworth: Self-Determining our Aboriginality, a Response to 'Discourses on Aboriginality and the Politics of Identity in Urban Australia'", Oceania, 63 (1992):156-7.
Andrew Lattas "Wiping the Blood off Aboriginality: the Politics of Aboriginal Embodiment in Contemporary Intellectual Debate", Oceania, 63 (1992):160-4.

 

WEEK 12: "inventing" culture and the limits of liberal humanism
Video: The Fantastic Invasion.
Workshop: Constructing culture; universal values and the abortion debate on Guam.
  - try to disentangle the various discourses in the contest over the anti-abortion bill in Guam.
  - how were the concepts of culture, identity, Catholic, self-determination, female agency, rights, citizen and liberty variously deployed in the actual debate and in the texts? Consider the politics and moralities of tension between humanism/cultural relativism.
  - whose culture? When and for what? Is "authenticity" an issue? For whom?

Core Reading:

Vicente Diaz "Pious Sites: Chamorro Culture at the Crossroads of Spanish Catholicism and American Liberalism", in Amy Kaplan and Donald E. Pease (ed.), Cultures of United States Imperialism (Durham 1993), 312-39.
David North "The Right of the Unborn", Pacific Islands Monthly, May 1990:23-24.
Donald H. Rubinstein "Culture in Court: Notes and Reflections on Abortion in Guam", Journal de la Société des Océanistes, 94 (1992):35-44, esp. 35-7 and conclusion.

Recommended Reading:

Kalpana Ram "Too 'Traditional' Once Again: some Post-Structuralists on the Aspirations of the Immigrant/Third World Female Subject", Australian Feminist Studies, 17 (1993):5-28.

 

WEEK 13: reprise and reflections
Video: Cannibal Tours (1987).
Workshop: Concepts rehearsed and reconsidered.
  -identify and analyse critically the various meanings and uses we have encountered of the concepts "culture", "custom", "tradition", kastom:, "identity": as lived; deployed politically as symbol and ideology; as counterhegemonic; as poached from other discourses; invoked as an analytic construct.
  - what are the discourses involved?

Core Reading:

Alain Babadzan "Kastom and Nation-Building in the South Pacific", in Remo Guidieri, Francesco Pellizzi and Stanley J. Tambiah (eds), Ethnicities and Nations: Processes of Interethnic Relations in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific (Austin 1988), 199-228.
Frederick K. Errington and Deborah B. Gewertz "Tourism and Anthropology in a Post-Modern World", Oceania, 60 (1989):37-54.
Margaret Jolly "Specters of Inauthenticity", The Contemporary Pacific. A Journal of Island Affairs, 4 (1992):49-72.
Jocelyn Linnekin "On the Theory and Politics of Cultural Construction in the Pacific", in Margaret Jolly and Nicholas Thomas (ed.), The Politics of Tradition in the Pacific, special issue, Oceania, 62:4 (1992):249-63.

[Subject: Pacific/Comparative; Anthropology; Contemporary Issues]



oceania | academic programs | people | outreach | resources | publications
news & events | about the center | contact | home | text only site

© 2005, UHM, Center for Pacific Island Studies. | Site Credits