Academic journal article Oceania

Resisting RAMSI: Intervention, Identity and Symbolism in Solomon Islands

Academic journal article Oceania

Resisting RAMSI: Intervention, Identity and Symbolism in Solomon Islands

Article excerpt

The act of colonisation imposed upon the politically fragmented and linguistically and culturally diverse peoples of Solomon Islands a monolithic set of foreign laws and customs. In many parts of the islands, most famously on the densely populated island of Malaita, these laws were fiercely resisted. Local traditional or customary law, described here under the rubric of kastom law, was invoked as a symbol of resistance against foreign hegemony in general and the imposition of colonial law in particular. The Constitution adopted at Independence in 1978 enshrined a complex legal pluralism in which two distinct sources of law, introduced law and kastom law, have not always sat together comfortably. The Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), with its focus on arresting and prosecuting ex-militants and others for crimes committed and allegedly committed during the recent period of conflict (1998-2003), (1) has effectively bolstered the introduced law that is only one strand in the Solomons' pluralist legal system. Malaitans have responded to the RAMSI intervention by invoking kastom as a symbol of difference, unity and resistance, just as they have done many times in the past. It is argued here that RAMSI is the latest 'alien' to attract the symbolic opposition of Malaitan kastom and that this provides a useful, perhaps alternative, lens through which to interpret Malaitan articulations of resistance to RAMSI.

Notwithstanding the anti-Australia and anti-RAMSI rhetoric of the second Sogavare government (April 2006-November 2007), expressions of opposition to RAMSI have mostly emanated from Malaitan quarters. (2) Indeed, though not a Malaitan, Sogavare's political rhetoric nevertheless reflected Malaitan interests, particularly those of former members and associates of the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) which installed the first Sogavare government to power following the coup of June 2000. These men, many of whom were profiting handsomely from the material crime and compensation rorts that characterised the post-coup period and continued despite the signing of the Townsville Peace Agreement in October 2000, had more to lose by the intervention of RAMSI in July 2003 than did their Gaule counterparts (with the important exception of Harold Keke and his followers) or any other island or provincial ethnic grouping (see, in particular, Dinnen 2002 and Fraenkel 2004). Prior to the arrival of the intervention force, armed gangs of former MEF 'soldiers' led by men such Jimmy 'Rasta' Lusibaea controlled the nation's capital, Honiara, and were closely associated with both the first Sogavare government and its successor led by Sir Allan Kemakeza (2001-2006).

It is tempting to interpret Malaitan expressions of opposition to RAMSI primarily in terms of the mission's challenge to the coercive power of former members and associates of the MEF, and the opportunities for pecuniary gain and patronage which that power afforded. However, Malaitan opposition to RAMSI must also be located in a much deeper tradition of Malaitan resistance to the imposition of alien and centralised authority. The invocation by Malaitans of kastom, and of kastom law in particular, as a challenge to RAMSI, especially its policing operations, represents a strong continuity with the past. It is argued that resistance to RAMSI must therefore be (re)interpreted as having fundamentally cultural and historical underpinnings. Resisting RAMSI is as much about asserting culture and identity as it is about strategy, power and political expediency.

This article sets out to situate and analyse contemporary voices of opposition to RAMSI within a longstanding tradition of resisting the perceived imposition of alien hegemony--including the postcolonial state--upon kastom and other aspects of local sovereignty. The first part of the article describes this tradition of resistance, with a particular focus on Malaita where it has historically been strongest. …

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.