Academic journal article Oceania

Land in Kwara'ae and Development in Solomon Islands

Academic journal article Oceania

Land in Kwara'ae and Development in Solomon Islands

Article excerpt

Land tenure is a pressing concern for the peoples and governments of Melanesia, where the contradictions between tribal and capitalist economic values are being acted out on the ground in disputes between local people over what should become of their land. This concern is shared by the Kwara'ae people of Malaita Island, the largest of more than 80 local ethnic groups in Solomon Islands. Kwara'ae community leaders or 'chiefs' have long been engaged in a lively debate with government authorities over land law, which has not been helped by the difficulties each side seems to have in understanding the other's culture and values, the one heavily Westernised and the other based on local tradition. The problem is by no means confined to Malaita, and this paper documents Kwara'ae land tenure in the hope of contributing to a better understanding of the relationship between people, land and economic development elsewhere in Solomon Islands and Melanesia.

For Kwara'ae, land represents their whole natural resource base, the foundation of their material and cultural existence. Relationships to land are an integral part of their relationships with one another. What we choose to distinguish as 'land tenure' entails values basic to the tribal social and economic system of earlier generations which are still invoked, if not always honoured, in the rapidly changing society of the present. But the actual claims to land which embody these traditional values are the histories of relationships, often over many generations, while the problems surrounding land tenure in Kwara'ae and Solomon Islands today are explained by the history of government development policy, shaped by the very different values of the colonial economic and political system. The contradictions between tribal and colonial value systems continue to plague Solomon Islands under its independent government, leading to what Baines has described as a Melanesian 'development dilemma': 'the hope of building on tradition while at the same time subscribing to forms of development which in so many ways appear opposed to that tradition and are, in fact, contributing to its demise' (1989:278).

The government perspective on this problem is summarised in a report by the Malaita Provincial Planning Office, which echoes an opinion going back to the earliest days of colonial government in the 1890s when it states that 'Land tenure is the main constraint against development in the Province' (1988:19). Government policy differences with local practice represent powerful conflicts of economic and political interest, but the resolution of the 'development dilemma' is not assisted by some longstanding misunderstandings of local land tenure systems by government policy-makers. Unfortunately the main contribution of anthropology to date seems to be the view that traditional relationships to land are inherited through a single line of descent ('unilineally', including 'matrilineally' or 'patrilineally'). Historically this view derives from anthropological models which were first researched in Africa, before being adopted by the British colonial service in the Pacific (see Tiffany 1983), and anthropological efforts to contradict it with evidence from Melanesia (eg, Scheffler 1971) seem to have had rather less influence. It is no coincidence that unilineal inheritance is easier to reconcile with Western notions of property, which have proved more appropriate to capitalist rural development policies. The Kwara'ae example is given here to demonstrate once again the essential flexibility of Melanesian land tenure, which actually depends on the possibility of 'cognatic' (or 'ambilineal') inheritance through both male and female ancestors. In this paper we will look at Kwara'ae land tenure both in terms of general principles and through the kind of idealised clan history which does indeed serve to advance the claims of inheritance in the male line. We will then go on to look at more complex case histories which confirm a system of traditional values far more difficult to reconcile with the government land policies and reforms advanced in Solomon Islands. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.