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Land, custom and conflict in New Britain

CollectionsANU Resources, Environment & Development Group (RE&D)
Title: Land, custom and conflict in New Britain
Author(s): Martin, Keir
Keywords: melanesian society
clan land
kin networks
East New Britain
volcanic eruption
resettlement process
Publisher: Canberra, ACT: Resource Management in Asia-Pacific Program (RMAP), Division of Pacific and Asian History, Research School for Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University
Series/Report no.: Resource Management in Asia-Pacific Program (RMAP) Working Paper: No. 53
Conclusion: To conclude I would like to suggest that the volcanic eruption and in particular the settlement of new land at Sikut has acted to an extent as a catalyst for certain changes that the Matupi have been battling with at home for decades. Although no anthropologist would argue that they are simply being ‘Westernised’ (although many Tolai will themselves make this claim rhetorically with either a positive or negative gloss), I would argue that there are more opportunities for Tolai who wish to partially cut themselves out of the extended networks of obligation that tend to characterise Melanesian society. The Sikut resident that I quoted earlier clearly recognises the importance of land tenure to these changes when he admits that his attempts to limit his relationship with his clan nephews would create a lot of trouble if he was living on clan land. I suspect he and others like him will still have plenty of battles ahead, but for now they clearly believe that new land tenure gives them extra possibilities to act in new ways. Yet it is also clear that simply changing land tenure by itself is not the magic bullet that will turn Melanesians into the acquisitive individuals so beloved of economic developers, even if this were morally desirable. The fear of sorcery for example shows that extended kin networks and the passions that they arouse will have to be taken into account for a long time to come.


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