Malaitan Kastom in historical perspective

Event details

SSGM Seminar Series

Date & time

Thursday 07 November 2013


Law Link Lecture Theatre, ANU College of Law (7), Fellows Road, ANU
ANU Canberra


David Akin, University of Michigan


Louana Gaffey
+61 2 6125 8244


In the 1930s, colonial officers in the British Solomon Islands Protectorate began implementing a system of €œnative administration€ that loosely followed models of indirect rule from Africa. It centered on €œnative councils€ and €œnative courts€ whose operations were grounded in €œnative custom€. 

In this talk David Akin will examine how this scheme played out on the island of Malaita, where it met the most difficulties. One fundamental problem for officers was that most €œcustom€"which they conceived as enduring indigenous ways whose origins pre-dated European's arrival"had by the 1930s been largely forgotten, and in any case retained little relevance for Malaitans. Another was that officers' possessed remarkably little knowledge about Malaitans' daily lives either past or present. The €œcustom€ of indirect rule was thus set down on Malaita as an empty vessel, and Malaitans took the opportunity to fill it with contents of their own liking, which they called kastom. This term subsequently became the name for the ideology of the post-war Maasina Rule movement, which rejected colonial domination and sought a radical transformation of Malaitan society according to Malaitan sensibilities. Today, kastom remains for many Malaitans a vibrant political ideology, but outsiders, unaware of its history and meanings, still often misunderstand it in much the way that BSIP officers once did, as merely a Pijin gloss for €œcustom€ or €œculture€. Such ahistorical misreadings confuse political situations in which Malaitans, and sometimes other Solomon Islanders, are key players.

About the Speaker

David Akin is an anthropologist and independent scholar living in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is managing editor of the journal Comparative Studies in Society and History and teaches at the University of Michigan. Since 1979 he has spent several years living with Kwaio people of inland Malaita. His publications include studies of spirits, ancestral taboos, politics, currencies and exchange, dispute management, suicide, art, educational development, anthropological data repatriation, and colonial history. He has just published Colonialism, Maasina Rule, and the Origins of Malaitan Kastom (University of Hawai`i Press, 2013), and is writing a book about changing women's taboos in Kwaio.

This event is held in conjunction with the Solomon Islands in Transition Workshop, 4 - 5 November.

All Welcome.

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