New Internationalist

Dancing, dying, crawling, crying

September 2008

Stories of continuity and change in the Polynesian community of Tikopia by Julian Treadaway

Tikopia is a tiny volcanic island in the Solomon Islands with a population of about 1,200 people. Getting to the island is arduous, culminating in a boat journey of at least a week from the Solomon capital of Honoria. The result has been that the islanders have retained, to a greater degree perhaps than on other South Pacific islands, their Polynesian traditions and culture. In 1928, Tikopia was visited by the pioneering anthropologist Raymond Firth and life there was the subject of his book, We, the Tikopia, a groundbreaking volume which Firth followed up with further books and articles.

Almost 70 years after Firth’s studies, the writer Julian Treadaway made several visits to the island, sharing the way of life of his Tikopian hosts and observing continuity and change since Firth’s time. Writing for the general reader, Treadaway is meticulous in his descriptions of society on Tikopia – a pastoral economy with a clan system that divides the island into two zones with four clan chiefs. Unlike other Pacific islands which have become highly Westernized, Tikopia has maintained long-established customs, such as the tradition of ritualistic crying and of crawling into the house of a neighbour when visiting.

Tikopia stands as a paradigm of successful retention of identity despite the dual pressures of outside influence and emigration. With warmth and sensitivity, Julian Treadaway has provided the fascinating detail of how, in their daily lives, the Tikopians have managed to integrate change without losing the essential values that make them who they are.

This column was published in the September 2008 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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