From my field diary: 2008 goals

Since I am on something of a roll here (I’ve been sick as a dog this weekend, but now recovering) I may as well keep these long-delayed entries coming. This is the first in a series in which I want to reflect on the nature of fieldwork, with specific reference to my most recent experience in Island Melanesia.So what was I up to? I had not been to Vanuatu for almost 20 months, and wanted to make the most of this period. There were three overall goals that I was aiming to address during my visit to North Vanuatu.hukwe

  • To inquire further about the Torres sukwe (graded society) and lehtemete (the most elaborate form of ritual dancing), especially in respect of the nature of the spirits that come into being during the status-alteration ceremony in which new men are inducted into the hukwe and ranked members acquire greater prestige.
  • To address the history and situation of the Church of Melanesia (Anglican) in the Torres Islands, and to study local perceptions about the power and purpose of the Melanesian Brotherhood (Irareta Tasiu). tasiu on lohThe cover of the Brotherhood’s prayer book and brother (tasiu) Tenseley, at Towia Household, Loh Island.
  • To record the life stories of middle-aged and elderly people with whom I had not yet had in-depth interviews, in order to round off my knowledge of the recent social history of the islands.Fred and Pita
left: Fred Vava and jif Pita Wotekwo
I had an additional fourth goal, which was to try to get back to Big Bay and continue to pursue my research in respect of the social history of this area of North Santo.
Matantas kinship
above: A surprisingly anthropological rendering, by the firstborn son of the Tavue family, of his father’s lineage; Matantas, Big Bay.
Incredibly, I managed to fulfill all of these goals, with the indispensable help of William Collins and Thomas Jimmy, fieldworkers for the VKS from Torres and South Santo, respectively. For the first time since writing up my PhD thesis I feel I have managed to obtain a really full picture about the history and life worlds (including, yes, cosmology, with all that the term implies) of the Torres people. In addition, the research that we carried out in Big Bay last week was absolutely perfect, especially with respect to the kinship systems and recent social history of the overall region, and has helped me to obtain enough data to write several different papers.
However, rather than engaging in academic hocus-pocus here, in the coming days I want to use this space in order to decant a number of personal reflections regarding fieldwork and current events in North Vanuatu. Stay tuned.

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