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Another time, another place.


Our languages of time and place frequently articulate. Both in the idiolect of theoretical physics and everyday talk in English, there is a condensation of the temporal and the spatial. This 'talking together' of time and place (1) is apparent in many languages other than English and there is reason to believe that this might represent a universal propensity in human thought. Nancy Munn (1986) speaks of space-time in her study of value transformations on Gawa in the Massim. (2) Bakhtin earlier (1981) devised a parallel concept of the chronotope to deal with this condensation of space and time in literary texts such as the epic and the novel. Such notions convey the inseparable connection of place and time, but simultaneously suggest that this connection is configured differently. (3)

Here I explore the particular ways in which space and time are conjoined in some narratives from South Pentecost, Vanuatu. The spatial values of fixity and fluidity are linked to the temporal values of persistence and transience, and both spatial and temporal transformations are gendered in intricate ways. Moreover, the divergent impact of colonial history on men and women has created novel and profound tensions in the way that space and time are articulated.


Place and time are conjoined in Vanuatu in both national and local narratives. Elsewhere I have explored this in national representations of ples (place) and kastom (tradition) (Jolly 1992). I pointed to how the colonial experience was presented as a rupture, and how in nationalist rhetoric the reclaiming of land was tantamount to a reclaiming of the ancestral past. One of the key tropes in this was the idea of the rootedness of manples, as against the rootlessness of Europeans: rootedness implies permanence or persistence, while rootlessness implies temporal as well as spatial transience. But such nationalist narratives, told in English or French or the lingua franca of Bislama also echo the spatio-temporal constructs of many vernaculars. (4) Here I focus exclusively on narratives from South Pentecost, recorded in the Sa language, predominantly from those people who still proclaim adherence to kastom or tradition. (5)

In Sa, the term ut condenses the concept of time and place. Ut refers both to a geographical site and to a moment or an epoch of time. In the canonical form of address, one asks o mama ra ut mbe--"where are you coming from' (rather than 'how are you' as in English). Ut more particularly means garden or cultivated site. The topography of garden sites is crucial in the everyday arts of memory. In the process of recalling past events, or trying to establish the age of a person, it is usual to mark time by marking space--e.g. 'that was the year that we made our yam gardens at Lon Beriul', or 'that was the time that I was clearing the taro gardens at Lon Butua'. Cultivated sites are distinguished from those uncultivated groves, ut loas which are conceived as originary sites of ancestors and which it is expressly forbidden to cultivate (cf. Bonnemaison 1985:41-42). Past events and the memories of ancestral trajectories are thus traced on the ground, but the living reconstitute and recreate these places by their movements, for instance by cultivating some places and not others. (6)

The attachment of people to place, as many have noted, deploys a botanical idiom (7)--people are planted or rooted, as is a taro or yam, and even more forcefully and permanently, a banyan tree. (8) Conventional Sa metaphors recurrently contrast banyans and birds, rootedness and movement. Other ethnographers of Vanuatu, like Bonnemaison (1985, 1994) and Lindstrom (1990), have observed how this tension between rootedness and movement--between the values of the tree and the canoe, to use a Tannese idiom--is gendered. Men are canonically constructed as rooted and powerfully in place and women as 'like birds' who must at marriage fly from one place to another. But in many contexts the Sa speakers also oppose both women and men of the place with outsiders--especially Europeans--who are called ai salsaliri the floating ones. Elsewhere I have explored the tension between these antinomies in the context of colonial history (Jolly 1991a, 1994a).

But this is still not sufficiently nuanced. For it is not simply that immobility is privileged over mobility, but rather that certain kinds of mobility are devalued. Mere wandering or floating is deplored; enforced movement at marriage or in warfare is devalued, but strategic or motivated mobility on the part of men is highly valued (Bonnemaison 1985:48-56; Lindstrom 1990:90-94). Movement was in the past far more dangerous as both enemies and sorcerers threatened the traveller, but strategic mobility was a necessity for a man seeking to attain high rank. Exchanges of goods, of knowledge and of ritual forms were crucial to the higher echelons of rank in both the achieved systems of the north and the hereditary systems of the centre and south. This often entailed extensive if dangerous journeys by men of influence. In the symbology of the graded society, the high-ranking man became a soaring hawk--a bird characterised not by a restless flitting from tree to tree, but by well-directed and long-distance flight at such an elevation that it can look down upon creatures on the ground and survey potential prey. (9)

This relation between being rooted combined with empowering motivated journeyings versus restless or refugee movement is also obvious if we consider stories of the past which the Sa speakers call dun. These often deal with tensions between attachment and detachment--but forms of movement are also distinguished--the wilful journeys of powerful ancestors as against the enforced movement of women or of men who are refugees. Such stories of the past, though all called dun, are situated in different spatio-temporal zones. At the most remote are the primordial creator beings--who by their very movement are seen to create topography, the geomorphic character of the ground. These beings did not emerge authochthonously from the ground, as they are said to do in other parts of the archipelago, but rather came down to land from the sky world. Barkulkul ('the great big one' or 'the swollen one') and his brothers slid down the trunk of a coconut palm to reach the earth. These primordial beings, Barkulkul and his brothers, are credited with creating major topographical features. Thus at a site near Rebrion there is a cleft stone where it is said Barkulkul sat down and left the trace of his buttocks. Close to Bale Barrier is the rock Arkes--literally rock-bed--which Barkulkul is said to have inverted to prevent his trickster brother Melesia acquiring his magical powers. More proximate are those named ancestors (again usually male) who are credited not with the creation of the ground, but with other features of the natural and created environment--yams, taro, pigs, houses. Finally, there are those later ancestors who figure in the specific category dun na buluim, which explains the movement of groups of men across the landscape, in accounting for contemporary distributions of population and in claiming rights to land. In all of these narratives temporal and spatial sequence merge: precedence in time and place confers greater value. (10)

Here I consider four narratives which are located successively in the first, second and third of these epochs as they are indigenously conceived. They all explore the tension between land and sea, ground and fluidity, rootedness and floating. In my past writing I have stressed the value of rootedness. Here I want to ponder the mythic evocation of flight, floating and the risk to known and possessed places posed by swamping and deluge, by the tidal waves of dispossession and diaspora. (11) The spectre of flight, floating and flood constantly recurs in Sa narratives, and usually emanates from women. There is a gendering of these tropes, and in the articulation of these narratives with colonial history, there is also an ethnic marking. Europeans are associated with the sea, with restless wandering and with transience.

I have elsewhere (Jolly 1991a, 1994a, 1994b) dealt with several of the myths from this primordial epoch--the time of Barkulkul and his brothers. In this time the world was created, male and female distinguished, the forms of kinship and marriage decreed, the segregation of men's huts and households established, and the arts of war and peace discovered. In most of these myths the prime agents of movement and creation are men, but there are several which endow women with powerful agency. Typically however this agency is associated with water, sea and the threat of flood. The myth which recounts the origin of the sea is a palpable example.
 Watery Women and the Origin of the Sea

 In the beginning there was no sea, only land. One day the men of
 Pan Taiyial were planting their yams and the sun was very hot and
 they were thirsty. The men sent two women to collect water. They
 left to get water and collected it from a grotto, in a wild taro
 leaf. They found this water in a spot called Lon Buliu. As they
 returned the thorns of the eri liana pierced the wild taro leaf
 and the water flowed and ran onto the ground. The expanse of water
 was huge. The two women tore out a tree and crossed the water. They
 placed the two rocks Mut, but the water rose above them. The women
 followed the stream and laid down another rock Ruat, but the water
 covered that and kept flowing. Then the two of them made Simarup,
 but the water flowed over it, and they created Atlah, but the water
 passed on top. And the two women kept following the water because
 they were ashamed. By following the water they arrived at the
 Watsun river, and then at a spot called Sae. Then they created the
 rock Wor, but the water flowed over it. They followed the water to
 a place called Bunlap. As they pursued its path they saw that the
 ground had become large again and they returned to the place of
 their husbands--Ta Pan Taiyial. The men of Pan Taiyial questioned
 them and they replied that the earth was large again. Those who had
 made houses in the path where the water flooded were all drowned.
 They are all dead now. This spot is called Lon Wor. In the
 beginning the sea was not deep. The women told the men they could
 go into the sea and they would not drown. It was thus they died
 and were lost. And then the women took the wood called li simwil
 and threw it into the sea and the sea became blue and dark. And
 the sea is salty because the water flowed from the wild taro leaf
 and tore all the trees. Since the sap of some trees is salty this
 made the sea salty. Men no longer went into the sea because they
 were afraid.

All of the named places are recognised sites in south-east Pentecost today. The first settlement of the men of Pan Taiyial is just north of Baie Barrier, the site of Bunlap is today the largest village with kastorn adherents, and Sae is a small settlement just south of the Watsun River. The rocks created and named by the women--Ruat, Simarup, Atlah and Mut--are prominent landmarks in the contemporary landscape around Baie Barrier (see Plate One). In traversing this landscape of ground and water, people today recall these stories and the mythic associations of settlements, stones, rivers and sea. But the myth also works as a spatialized narrative which underlines the gendered associations of fluidity and ground. Women are the source of a huge flood which flows from their mundane task of collecting water. They pass through the inundation by creating bridges and stones, but the swirling water cuts off entire villages and drowns people. Significantly this flood of fresh water (wa) is transformed into salt water (tas) (12) through their actions, and men are portrayed not as intrepid voyagers like the Austronesian navigators of old but rather as fearful of the deep, dark sea. Throughout this watery pilgrimage of the women, the men are depicted as remaining in place, hard at work in their yam gardens. The wandering women threaten the very survival of some men by urging them to venture into the sea in which they drown. Men's fear of the sea seems eminently justified.

The second narrative I recount is that of a woman with wings. When telling this story, Pieri, a Catholic man of Baie Barrier, told me that this woman was 'like an angel', (13) although the association most kastom adherents made was rather that she was 'like a bird'. This is how the story goes.
 The Banyan Tree, and the Watery Woman with Wings

 Formerly, beings with wings came to bathe in the Watsun river. They
 came from the sea, they bathed and then went back to the sea. One
 day they went to bathe in this way and a man from Lon Bwili saw them
 bathing. Though he was already married, he desired one of these
 women. While they were bathing they left their wings on the bank and
 after bathing put them on again. One woman left her child close to
 her wings and said to him, 'Guard these wings, I am going to bathe'.
 And they bathed and bathed. Seeing them dive in, the man at that
 moment seized the woman's wings and hid them by burying them in the
 ground. The bathers all returned to the bank and the woman asked her
 child, 'Where are my wings?'. The child replied, 'Someone came out
 of the bushes and took them'. The mother searched everywhere, but
 could not find them. She began to cry. After bathing the other women
 departed. The man then appeared on the sand and asked, 'What are you
 doing here?'. The woman replied, 'I left my child here and my wings
 close by. After I had bathed, I asked him where my wings were and he
 said that someone had taken them'. The man asked, 'Where are you
 going now? Come and stay at my house'. They left. The woman and the
 child stayed for a long time in his house. One day the husband
 scolded them both, 'Where did you come from? You should leave'.
 Hearing this the woman sobbed bitterly. She was sitting on the
 teabol (14)--[the transversal log dividing the hut]--and her tears
 fell and ran deeper and deeper into the earth, uncovering her wings.
 She saw the tip of her wings and cried, 'What! My wings!'. She dug
 them out of the ground, took them and hid them where her husband's
 first wife could not see them. Then, carrying her child, she went
 to the beach close to the Watsun river. She put on her wings and
 flew towards the place from which she had come. The man left the
 men's house and went back inside the house. He asked his first wife
 why the woman and the child had gone. The woman said, 'You scolded
 them'. He said, 'Where have they gone to?'. She replied, 'They were
 sitting on the teabol and she was crying. Then they got up and
 left'. The man realised that she had found what he had hidden. He
 went to look and saw the hole still there. He said, 'They have left
 and returned home'. The man started to make arrows and continued
 making them until there were plenty. He left and went far away and
 arrived at the rock called Mut. From there he poised his bow and
 arrow and fired. His arrow stuck in the branch of a banyan tree,
 close to the house of the two fugitives. He tensed his bow and shot
 again, and the second arrow stuck in the end of the first. He tensed
 his bow again and the third arrow stuck in the end of the third.
 Thus he continued until the end of the last arrow was close to him.
 Then he took a root from the banyan tree and put it on top of the
 arrows, rolled it out and unfolded it. He crawled along the root of
 the banyan tree, which was close to the woman's house. The man then
 departed carrying his basket from Lon Bwili laden with almonds,
 fruit and breadfruit. He walked on the branch of the banyan tree
 until he came to the branch into which he had shot the first arrow.
 And he watched. The woman's child was playing near the stream and
 gazing at the sky reflected in the water. The man took a fruit and
 threw it. The child picked it up, went inside the house and said to
 his mother, 'Mother, look, I was near the stream and this fell and
 I picked it up'. And his mother said, 'Oh. It is what we used to eat
 in the village which we have left'. The child left the fruit inside
 and went outside again. The man came and threw down another fruit
 and the child grabbed this too and took it inside. The mother said
 to her child 'Let us both go outside'. And they went out. And she
 asked the child, 'Where did it fall?'. He replied, 'Here'. And the
 woman looked up and saw the man and said to him, 'What? What are you
 looking for?'. And the man said, 'I have been searching for you, both
 of you'. And the woman said, 'How did you get here?'. And he replied,
 'I have come to find you. Take all your belongings'. Neither of them
 wanted to go, but the man wanted them to and so they took their
 belongings. The woman carried her child. The man said, 'I will carry
 the child'. The woman replied, 'No, I will carry him. It is better
 that way. You carry the basket'. And the man carried the basket and
 they left. The woman carried her child and she took a stone axe,
 stuck into a piece of wood. And the man said to them, 'You go
 first'. They argued and argued. Finally they left on the road by
 which he had come. They walked and walked and then when they arrived
 in the middle, the woman said, 'Right, your village is far away, and
 so is mine'. She took the stone axe she was carrying behind her and
 cut the path in two. The man said, 'What's that?'. And he looked
 behind him and the woman said, 'The banyan tree between us is
 severed. One half goes to your village, the other to ours'. And
 she added, 'A large gap separates us'. One half led the man back to
 the rock called Mut and the other took the woman back to her

Again all of the sites named in this narrative are contemporary place names. The river of Watsun is a fast-flowing stream which comes out to the south of Baie Barrier, on a sandy beach, near Sae. This river flows so fast in the wet season that the sand near its mouth can turn to quicksand. (15) The name Lon Bwili, which means 'inside the hole', is a frequently occurring place name and is used in the generic place name Ion bwili wa--at/in the river. But the site referred to here is a site south of the Watsun river. The rock called Mut is also a prominent topographical feature in this area. Stories such as this then convert space into place, by endowing landscape not just with the memories of one's own life experiences, but with ancestral imprints and trajectories (see Rodman 1992). But in this story too there is a gendering of meanings attaching and detaching people and place.

The narrative situates the man as resolutely in place, on his own ground, in his own village, already married. It is his desire for the woman which makes him move. The woman on the other hand is associated with fluidity and movement. She comes from an all-female, but parthenogenetically reproductive community who dwell in the sea. In her movement from the ocean to the fresh water of the land to bathe, she divests herself of her wings. The river in which she bathes is a fast-flowing stream. Her flood of tears is the route to her revelation and escape back home to her watery locale. The man, though his desire for her causes him to travel, is firmly rooted in his place, and tries to secure the woman to his place--literally by burying her wings.16 Although his arrows are associated with flight and movement, they are stuck together in such a way as to make a road, and indeed anchored in and composed of that most rooted of all trees--the banyan. She is thus associated with flight and fluidity in several ways, while he is envisaged as in place, but capable of making directed movements on a road constructed from arrows and a banyan root. But she severs his banyan root with her stone axe and by this act cuts the road of heterosexual conjugality, returning him to his place and her to hers.

This story thus imagines a time when women (with wings unlike today) did have their own place to return to, albeit a watery, fluid place. In cutting the road of arrows/the root of the banyan, she not only severs her marital relation with the man, but also prevents him from taking her from her own place. No woman living in the kastom communities would be able to so refuse 'walking' on the road to a man in marriage (see Jolly 1994a:117), nor would she have 'her own place' to return to--let alone one without a father or a brother. On divorce or the death of her husband she might return to her natal hamlet, but this would in no way guarantee the security of being 'in place', in a way akin to her brother, with rights to use, possess and transmit ground. (17)

These two narratives are publically available myths of origin, not patented stories, able to be told only by a few. Versions of them were recounted to me by both women and men. The third and fourth narratives are by contrast dun na buluim--a genre of narrative which can only be recounted in full by senior men of the buluim concerned. What follows are edited versions, since the full stories are told as part of local contests about the ownership of ground. The first is an abbreviated version of a story explaining how the men of Ta Ponorlorl and Ta Rerat became one buluim, as recounted to me by Tom or Molkil of Pangpanglap.
 Tom's dun na buluim

 Some ancestors of the men of Ta Rerat were previously living at
 Panap, close to the stone called Atlah. But they became too
 populous and their land for cultivating gardens could not support
 them. They decided to go in search of new land. On the road near
 Sae they met two women carrying a large trunk of li amli. They
 split the wood in two--one half was used as a canoe, but this sunk
 close to Sae and turned to stone. This is now a sacred site (ut
 loas) inhabited by the ancestral spirit (adumwat) of Ta Rerat which
 can overturn canoes. This spirit looks like a fish but it also has
 tusks like a pig. The other half of the wood the men of Rerat
 carried with them as they ascended into the bush. Here they met a
 man of Ta Ponorlorl who asked them 'Where are you going?' They
 answered, 'We have nowhere to live and garden, our ground is too
 small. Can we live with you here?'. The man of Ta Ponorlorl
 answered, 'Here too there is not enough room. Where will you
 make your house? The only place is down below where we throw all our
 rubbish'. (18) The men of Rerat said, 'That's fine, we'll clean away
 the rubbish and build our houses there'. And the trunk of the li
 amli tree was used to construct the first hut, as the taeblis
 wood (the base post).

This narrative explains very simply the present geographical distribution of the men of Ta Rerat and Ta Ponorlorl. It also evokes the past situation of those who were short of land and compelled to become refugees. They are not engaged on a valued journey of discovery or exchange--they are instead pitiful creatures, floating and rootless. Women are again associated with the sea, as the source of the li amli tree, from which the men create a canoe. But significantly this transformation from the rooted to the floating fails. The canoe sinks and turns to stone, a sacred stone, which presents a peril for other canoes. The ancestral spirit is a creature liminal between sea and land--combining features of a fish and a tusked boar. Significantly when the men root in their new place, they use the same tree they used to forge their canoe, li amli. The taeblis wood is the base or first post of a house in its construction. Although secured and settled in this way, they remain perforce inferior later arrivals, who must live on rubbish ground.

Similar adjudications apply to those who were forced to move because of losing land in warfare. In all of these narratives the men who were first in place are cast as superior to the later arrivals, who though they are accepted--in some cases as brothers, in others as wife-givers--remain in a subordinate position in claims to land and other resources. (19) But also envisaged are other more mysterious reasons for migration--witness this narrative which was told to me by Luke of Ranwas to explain the present dispersal of the men of Ta Raen Bwelamorp, his buluim.
 Luke's dun na buluim

 Previously all the men of Ta Raen Bwelamorp lived at Sarop, close to
 the present site of Bale Martelli. These men constantly heard the
 sound of the conch shell being blown. One day, while all his
 brothers were gardening, one man decided to investigate where the
 sound was coming from. He listened carefully and decided that the
 sound was coming from the sea. He dived into the ocean close to the
 village and there he saw a remarkable sight. There was an enormous
 shark resting its head on a conch which he used as a pillow. Next to
 the shark was a fighting spear, which the shark had made. The shark
 was sleeping soundly and his heavy breathing was causing the conch
 to blow. The man decided to steal the conch shell and the spear.
 Carefully he wriggled the conch shell out from under the shark's
 head and replaced it with a stone pillow. Then he seized the spear
 and fled. The man realised that this shell would have magical powers
 in raising pigs. He rubbed it on the tusks of his boars and the
 tusks quickly became gigantic. Thus his herd was large and his
 tuskers so numerous that he was soon able to hold a grade-taking
 ceremony. On this day, as part of the dancing, the conch was blown.
 Hearing this sound, the shark knew immediately that his conch had
 been stolen. He then realised that his spear was also missing.
 Enraged he created hurricane force winds and enormous seas. The
 mountainous seas swirled over the peninsula, as far as the point of
 Ta Loas, where the men were dancing. They were thus cut off from the
 rest of the island. The refugees fled in three groups to where they
 are found today. One group swam and took a canoe to the north, where
 they joined up with the men of Ta Lon Si, living close to Pohurur.
 This group took the spear. The second group went to Wanour. They
 took the conch shell. The third group went to the present site of
 Ranwas. They had nothing.

In this story, dispersal and diaspora derive not from women, but from foolhardy dealings with a dangerous underwater creature--the shark. (20) He is endowed with the accoutrements of the power associated both with graded society rank and with warrior power. The conch shell is both the emblem and the means whereby high-ranking men call meetings or make announcements. The fighting spear was the weapon of a warrior and is still the icon of such power when carried--in the rituals of circumcision in particular. Wrongful usurpation of these tools of power is what precipitates natural catastrophe--a hurricane and a tidal wave causes the men to evacuate their original ground and disperse in several directions. (21)

Again flood and dispossession are connected. Refugees are thus associated with fluidity in a very literal sense. This link is further developed in the imagining of Europeans--who have been variously labelled--but in ways that have consistently emphasised their rootlessness. An earlier term used for Europeans was kabiniri, which refers to them as the people of ships' cabins (see Lane 1956:154). The more recent term is ai salsaliri--literally 'the floating ones'. The political uses of this term in denying and resisting colonial possession of the land are as patent at the local level as they are at the national level.

Although the emphasis in these stories is very much on the tension between the spatial values of rootedness versus fluidity, also implied is a temporal contrast between persistence and transience. The first men, if not credited with permanent occupation of the land, are given value for being first. Those who come later are destined to make their houses in a rubbish dump or cultivate the worst land. Europeans who came last of all are denied any rights of occupation, and those few who did alienate land locally were seen as having stolen it or secured it by deception (see Jolly 1994a:33-35). The period of European colonization is thus presented, as in nationalist rhetoric, as a rupture, a break, a transient moment. (22)

Precedence is thus simultaneously a spatial and a temporal value, and coming first is still no doubt best. In South Pentecost those who came first retain their power and precedence, and it is later arrivals, even Europeans, who are rendered 'like women'. In Sa narratives told by kastom adherents, Europeans are seen as pitiful transients, and expressly not as powerful sharks who came to land. (23) They are often denigrated as weak, as ma mlimlim, soft like women in contrast to the strength of manples. This contrasts radically with other Pacific places--settler colonies like Hawai'i, New Zealand or Australia--where the original inhabitants have been dispossessed and subjugated by the successive waves of other migrants. (24) But rather than consider that contrast here, I want to conclude by pondering the significance of narratives such as these not just in engendering local attachments to space, but in how national and global spatialities are gendered.


Spatialized narratives like these are not just recounted for ai salsaliri, for foreign anthropologists like myself, or for local ethnographers affiliated with the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, to tape-record and transcribe. The telling and retelling of dun is a part of the quotidian arts of orality and memory in these kastom communities, as in most ni-Vanuatu villages. They are spoken, often with accompanying songs or bu, as people huddle around fires inside houses during the wet, or sit outside on the moonlit nights of the dry season. The dominant emotional tone of dun is one of nostalgia and of loss--of both people and of places. This tone is amplified by the bu or songs which accompany them. (25) But because these stories are written down and circulated to literate audiences far beyond, as my writing of this paper attests, their local meaning and their salience changes. (26) In telling such stories to me and insisting that I record them, Sa speakers were vaunting their attachment to place, celebrating not only their rights to their own ground but also the intensity of their emotional and spiritual roots. To tell such stories of place in place is to persuade the listener of the speaker's indissociable connection to that ground.

When stories such as these travel beyond the island, they not only become detached from their embodied sites of telling but respatialized. In the national context, they affirm the distinctiveness of the language and culture of South Pentecost, as part of an array of oral traditions in an archipelago which still has 108 distinct local languages (tok ples). Since the declaration of the independent state in 1980, the recording and transciption of such stories has been an essential part of the recuperation and recreation of kastom, on the part of field workers (fildwokas) affiliated with the Vanuatu Cultural Centre in particular (see Jolly 1992, Bolton 1993). Separately for each place and together as an ensemble they lay claim to the land, and assert the inseparability of people and place, their inalienable and substantive connection, even if rival stories and claims are also the subject of much local contest and strife (cf. Sope 1974). (27) But, for each of the small linguistic communities of the archipelago, stories such as these betoken attachment to places rendered different by the processes of colonization, migration and the uneven effects of a world system. (28) Rootedness in a village and in a particular landscape is constructed now in opposition to the detachment of town and the mobility of modernity. For the kastom communities of South Pentecost such mobility is gendered in a way which complicates the indigenous tropes which associated women with fluidity, with water and the capacities of flight.

The indigenous values of the 'tree' and the canoe, of rootedness and directed journeying, have been profoundly reconfigured by the events and the tropes of colonial history. In South Pentecost this has typically rendered men mobile and women rooted (see Jolly 1987, 1994a:88-89). The patterns of circular labour migration which developed from the 1860s were predominantly a male experience, and become a new initiatory journey for young men. Women were always a minority of such migrants but in the last two decades, women beyond the traditionalist, kastom enclaves have become far more mobile to towns and plantations (Bonnemaison 1977, Haberkorn 1989). However, the migration experience is still locally represented as pre-eminently masculine and men in the kastom communities still celebrate their capacity to 'hold women tight'. Thus a tension is generated between notions of power through rootedness and the facts of chronic male absence from the place where they should be securing their roots.

Today the value of being 'of the place' is still seen as superior to that of being immigrant. Rootedness or groundedness is seen to confer strength, while wandering or displacement is seen to confer weakness. But the gendered logic of this association is not taken to its logical limit: manples is counterposed to outsiders, canonically Europeans, rather than to womanples. Stressing ethnic difference perhaps avoids too close an association between women, place and power.

But this association of women and stasis also has a temporal dimension. Women from these kastom communities have been immobilised in the course of colonial history, and marginalised in the trajectories of postcolonial transformations. In the retelling of their lives it is clear that women have had a vicarious rather than a direct experience of those relations constitutive of both colonialism and modernity. Both men and women acknowledge that men in the kastom communities have often forcefully inhibited women's mobility in space and in time. As I argued earlier (Jolly 1994a), this is not to say that women are 'out of time', but they have been symbolically constituted in Sa idiom as 'of the place'.

But here I ponder--how far is this their construct or mine? In my interpretation of these Sa idioms, I am aware of my own space-time and its gendering, and in particular how certain Western constructs posit a simple dualism between space as stasis and time as movement, and associate the first with women and the second with men. Am I merely reiterating this weary Western dualism?

Some feminist cultural geographers like Doreen Massey (1993) have strenuously criticised how space-time is conceived by some social theorists who analyse modernity and postmodernity. She notes a surfeit of recent talk about spatiality which links it to temporality. But in many such theories there is not so much a 'talking together', of space-time (as I suggested at the start), but a 'talking apart'. Thus, for Jameson (1991) postmodernity is characterized by the heightened importance of space over time, but a space typified by a multiplicity of sites, the complex chaos of global connectedness, even the 'vertiginous terror' of electronic simultaneity between remote places (enabled by all modern media, but heightened no doubt by e-mail and the World Wide Web of computer communication). Laclau (1990) on the other hand conceives of spatiality as stasis, or at most cyclical temporality, which reproduces rather than transforms, as does moving time or 'history'.

Massey argues that, although Jameson and Laclau have antithetical theories of space-time, for both theorists space and time become antinomies of each other. For instance, rather than an integrated space-time, embodying tensions between stasis and movement, constancy and change, Laclau conceives time as movement and space as constancy (Massey 1993:143-49, 152-59). Moreover, she argues such theories saturate these dichotomous dualisms with gender. As with those other dichotomous dualisms, which have been fodder for a devouring feminist critique (reason-nature, public-domestic), woman is constructed as the devalued term, the term which lacks. Thus time is associated with men, movement, progress and the future and space is associated with women, stasis, nostalgia, times past.

In Soja's postmodern geography (1993[1989]) the project is to revalue space, and to give it the kind of glamour which time as history has enjoyed. For Massey on the other hand the need is rather to transcend this kind of gendered dichotomy. But, we might ask, whose gendered dichotomies are these? There is no doubt that such dualisms pervade the writings of Ernesto Laclau and, perhaps, Fredric Jameson. Do they also pervade the consciousness of ordinary people in their experience of modernity and postmodernity, not just in Europe and North America but also in the Pacific? I have large doubts about this. From the earliest epochs of capitalist development in Europe and most particularly in the epoch of postmodern international integration, women have both statistically and discursively been prime movers towards the 'modern'. Women figured largely in the first movements of migrant labour towards the mills of Manchester and the factories of Birmingham and New York (e.g. Tilly and Scott 1978). Women are even more predominant in the 'postmodernist' international migratory flows of the last decade, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. Such movements have not been unproblematic, as migrant women, be they workers in textile mills, on sugar plantations or electronics factories, have typically been underpaid, socially devalued and hyper-sexualised, the 'electric women' of the factories of Kuala Lumpur being one notable example (Ong 1987).

A similar process can be detected in early descriptions of those women who departed from Pentecost to Queensland as tantamount to prostitutes (see Jolly 1987). The loss of control over the sexual and maternal bodies of migrant women was in South Pentecost early perceived as a problem and long resisted by men. But South Pentecost, or more accurately the kastom communities there, are if not unique, unusual, both in the degree of female immobility and the metaphoric association of women with statis in time and place. Throughout the archipelago women are moving away from their islands of origin for schooling, for employment and sometimes for marriage and in this process they are also moving towards a localised variant of modernity. Not only are the numbers of women in the port towns increasing, as urban numbers swell and become more permanent, but towns are becoming more acceptable as a space for women as well as men (Bonnemaison 1977, Haberkorn 1989). (29)

Port Vila is no large metropolis, walking along Rue Higginson can hardly rival the experiences of Benjamin's flaneur, wandering the streets and emporia of Paris. It is a small Pacific port town of about 40,000 people. But here too urban 'detachment' from island origins and landscapes is embodied and signified both as freedom and as loss of roots, both for those living in settlements with people from their own place, and those who live in more mixed suburbs or squatter settlements. Urban living and the associated values of modernity and mobility are contested in Vanuatu today. They are more often deplored by the older generation, while younger urbanites whose parents come from different islands and who speak Bislama as their first language can rather relish urban life and popular culture. Town is often seen both by government and many urban dwellers as the source of social problems--increased poverty and dependence, crowded and inferior housing, the greater consumption of alcohol and kava, and the increasing rates of crime and especially domestic disputes and violence (see Jolly 1996, Mitchell 1997, Mason 1997). Haberkorn (1989) suggests that distinctions are still drawn, particularly by older people, between being in town with a strategic goal related to health, education or employment and 'wandering about'. Increasingly young people, and particularly young men are resisting such derogations, as is clear from the recent work of the Young Peoples Culture Project, affiliated with the Vanuatu Cultural Centre in Port Vila. In the film, Kilim Taem, made as part of that project, both young men and women talk about the way in which they try to deal with the harsh realities of unemployment and settlement life and the prejudicial attitudes of older people and of police in particular. Some young men formed what they call the 'Sperem Publik Rod Kampani'--or 'Hitting the Public Road Company', a collective self-designation which converts wandering the streets of Vila to motivated movement or even work akin to garden labour. Some sport tee-shirts which proclaim 'Mi Wok Long SPR Kampani'--'I work for the SPR Company' (see Plate Two). Some parody the protocols of business by greeting passers-by with expressions like, 'Have a nice day'. (30)

Still, women and men seem to be treated differently in such adjudications by both older and younger people. Whereas young men might be expected to walk around for a while, being unemployed, over-indulging in kava bars, discos and nightclubs, a young woman hanging around in town is in danger of being denigrated not just as 'flas to mus' but as 'loose'. Her mobility entails an additional risk--of her sexual and maternal body being compromised in this urban space. Thus some kastom chiefs on islands like Tanna have, in the past decade, ordered women to return home to their island, if they succumbed to the temptations of town (Jolly 1996), and especially if they became pregnant to men from other islands.

So, both in villages like Bunlap and in port towns like Vila we have a nervous tension and a political contest created by the integration of local codes of gendered spatiality into the broader spaces created by capitalist modernity and postmodernity. We witness not just a contradiction of conventional metaphors--women as mobile, men as rooted as against women as rooted, men as mobile--but contests about the movement of sexed and embodied persons, especially if they are women. Perhaps like those women with wings in Sa stories of the deep past, it is 'modern girls' who especially embody the spectre of floating, or even of flight. (31)


This paper derives from a very different one presented in the session on Narratives of Place, Experience and Identity, held at the American Anthropological Association meetings in San Francisco in 1992. This excellent session was co-organized by Margaret Rodman and Terri Aihoshi and connected the anthropology and geography of Oceanic and North American experiences. Alas, the edited volume projected from this did not appear despite their best editorial efforts. I thank them for their invitation, inspiration and commitment however, as I do the anonymous reviewers of this paper in its earliest and ultimate forms. I must also acknowedge the enthusiastic collegiality of Lisa Law who introduced me to the work of Doreen Massey and the new geographers of gender. I have also benefitted from more recent conversations I have had about ples in Vanuatu with Lissant Bolton, Tim Curtis, Jean Mitchell, Greg Rawlings and Jack Taylor. My greatest debt as ever is to the people of the kastom villages of southeast Pentecost who graciously welcomed me into their lives and transformed me for a while from a 'floating person' to a woman of their place.


(1.) In recent time there is an increasing tendency to differentiate between space and place (see Rodman 1992). This usually discriminates between an inert or abstract location and a landscape which is inhabited and personified. I tend to use place in this paper, but note that space in Munn and Bakhtin's terms is lived landscape. I also note some problems with any conception of space as inert, as a container which is both infinite and geographically divisible into homogenous, discrete bits. This implies an omniscient viewer who is not a part of the geometry or the map. Smith and Katz (1993) have challenged this notion of absolute space (which some call 'real space') as a project of Enlightenment philosophy and of capitalist domination. Massey (1993) has argued that the first is an archaic Newtonian conception of space and time as pre-existing objects rather than as constituted, as in modern physics through the relations of objects and events, in which velocity and acceleration might be defined, but space and time are not. She also asserts that not only are space-time relational and inherently connected in such a view, but that the observer is part of the observed world (Massey 1993:152).

(2.) Nancy Munn in her writings on Warlpiri, Gawa and recently on Kaluli has dealt extensively with this condensation of space and time, and how this condensation is basic to the arts of memory (1973, 1986, 1990). Like Bakhtin she is also concerned to construct a comparative model of space-time: she speaks of regional worlds of experience. The Kaluli material is especially poignant--for what is dwelt upon is not co-presence in time and place, but rather detachment or rupture. Thus the songs of the Gisaro ceremony, a narrative sequence of place names, traverse a series of displacements--the singer is a stranger, not the host who is attached to those place names, and the songs are meant to evoke a sense of profound nostalgia for lost places, past times and dead persons.

(3.) Chronotope derives from the Greek words for time chronos, and space topos. Bakhtin sees the chronotope as defining genres, in Greek romances, in ancient adventure novels, in biography and in Rabelais' works, amongst others.

(4.) See especially the construction of indigenous-foreign relations in the book published to celebrate ten years of independence (Vanuatu Republic 1990) and the tropes of immobility/constancy in the poetry of Grace Mera Molisa--like Black Stone (Mera Molisa 1983, see Jolly 1991b).

(5.) This term, which I loosely translate here as tradition, is both polysemic and contested, especially between those who have converted to Christianity and those who have not. The latter constitute a minority of the population of South Pentecost being 345 of 1625 at the last census count. See Jolly (1992, 1994a).

(6.) See also Weiner on the Foi landscape as a 'double image of ancestrally constituted places over which are inscribed the currently creative movements of the present-day Foi' (1991:197).

(7.) This botanical imagery is also applied to the body of persons. As I have argued in many places, taro is linked to feminine corporeality and yams to masculine corporeality in many ways (e.g. Jolly 1991a, 1994b).The womb is called tewung, the word also used for the kind of basket used to carry tubers after harvesting.

(8.) See the paper by Margaret and Bill Rodman (n.d.) in the AAA conference session and the projected volume for which this paper was originally commissioned. This evokes the profound disorientation engendered by a cyclone and the peculiarly disturbing image of a banyan tree which is uprooted. Also crucial to their analysis of narratives of this event is the way in which the village is quickly rebuilt and the community reoriented, not just by collective work but by cumulative, collective story-telling about the cyclone.

(9.) Harrisson notes that there are two kinds of hawks, the Harrier (Circus approximans wolffi) and the Falcon (Peregrinus Ernesti) (Layard 1942:751). They both have the capacity for elevated and extended flight and for ferocious killing of other birds.

(10.) In another ethnographic context, Fox (1994) has employed the notion of spatio-temporal precedence in preference to the idea of hierarchy in his analysis of eastern Indonesian societies and their narratives of the past.

(11.) Here again there is an echo with the paper by Margaret and Bill Rodman cited in note 8. The power of Cyclone Nigel not only destroys houses, ravages gardens and uproots trees, but in the words of many of the narratives turns the landscape to seascape. In several acounts of that disastrous wind, the pounding cyclonic rains are likened to the froth of a breaking wave, like sea-foam. After the storm in that dislocated, denuded landscape the sea appeared to come closer to the land, and threatened to engulf it. Similar tropes which both contrast and compare land and sea, the swelling of taro gardens with the swelling of waves, pervade agricultural magic and the sorcery techniques on the Lelet Plateau, New Ireland (Eves 1998). The recent English version of La derniere ile (1986), Bonnemaison's The Tree and the Canoe (1994), explores in an even more vivid way the values of stasis and mobility. The primordial narratives from Tanna imagine a time when 'howling hordes' of stones whirled around, in circles, before land settled down, paths were made and people appeared.

(12.) Fresh and salt water are strongly discriminated and are seen as having distinctive ritual properties. Successive bathing in salt and fresh water is part of a sequence of many rituals. During my field work I was notorious for taking long, langorous swims successively in the sea at Sac and the fresh water of the Watsun river. Wari-Sus of Pohurur composed an amusing chant about my predilection for bathing which implicitly celebrated the aptness of this sequence of swimming.

(13.) I am not here discounting the way in which local stories and those deriving from the Bible and other external sources have been brought into relation. A version of this story was recorded by the Marist priest Elie Tattevin (1929-31) who, unlike Pieri, did not compare the woman to an angel.

(14.) This is the transversal log which divides the im, or household dwelling, between the rear section where the men's fire is located and the front section where the women's fire is located (see Jolly 1994a:193).

(15.) This I discovered to my horror when I walked out one morning before breakfast, after staying overnight at Sac. I was skilfully rescued by a couple of children who passed me a large branch and dragged me out.

(16.) In other myths ancestral men are portrayed as trying to secure women in different ways--Melesia at one point traps a woman he desires as his wife in a clam shell, thus forcing her parents to accept the bride-wealth of mats and pigs he offers for her.

(17.) I should, however, note here that the unambiguously masculine character of this transmission of rights to land can be compromised. There is in South Pentecost a cycle of debts which are due to matrilateral kin from birth to death. If these have been insufficient when a person dies, the agnatic principle can be negated and the matrilateral kin can acquire rights to such land (see Jolly 1994a:54). Although this is described as 'pulling land out through women', it is still the male matrilateral kin to whom the land passes--mothers' brothers and mothers' brothers' sons most particularly. Compare Margaret Rodman's discussion of inheritance on Ambae (1987).

(18.) In the longer taped version Tom reiterates the fact that they were accommodated in a rubbish dump several times, with dramatic denigrating effect. I should here note that these narratives are replete with repetition and duplication--and that in the songs which accompany these narratives the expression of distance in a journey--mba mba tuba tuba--is also expressive of time passing.

(19.) This is in radical contrast to the situation in Fiji, where later migrants are seen as superior and chiefly in contrast to the original people of the land (Sahlins 1976, 1985). See Jolly (1994b) for a more elaborated consideration of this difference.

(20.) Sharks are, as in much of North Vanuatu, seen not just as dangerous because of their sharp teeth, but also because they are sacred ancestral beings. One buluim traces descent from a shark and its adherents must refrain from eating it. Shark symbolism is employed in some grade-taking ceremonies and in the past in secret society rituals, although not in such a pronounced way as Layard reported for Vao initiation rites (1942:483ff).

(21.) Why the last of these three waves of migrants is credited with having neither conch nor spear, I do not know, although it is interesting that Luke comes from Ranwas, the only south-east site of adherents of the Church of Christ, who most vigorously eschew all such indigenous instruments of power.

(22.) I have argued elsewhere (Jolly 1992) that this is radically different to the rhetorical stress on continuity in Fijian constructs of the colonial past.

(23.) The allusion here is of course to Sahlins (1976, 1985).

(24.) Within the earlier volume projected from the AAA conference session there was a particularly poignant example by Modell (n.d) how Hawaiian talk-stories in stressing indigenous attachment to the land do so in resistance to the way in which foreigners--haoles and Japanese--relate to the land as a commodity or as a paradisical exotic spectacle. She stresses how native Hawaiians both overtly contest and ironically subvert these foreign claims to attachment, for example by suggesting that only their care and nurturing renders the land a paradise. Australia and New Zealand also afford compelling examples of how contestations over land can be fought not just through powers of coercion, but through persuasion, through different stories of attachment.

(25.) I do not here have space to offer these in the original, with both spoken and sung elements, but allude to one particular recreation of the dun na Simarugrug, which moved me and the women with me to tears. This is the story of Simarugrug who commits suicide by incinerating himself when his mother scolds him for his greediness in eating too many bananas. His sister, working in a distant garden, feels the hot ashes of his burnt body fall on her breasts, and intuits what has happened back at home. She then sings a heart-rending lament for her brother.

(26.) The first to transcribe such Sa 'myths and legends' and convert them to text was the Marist priest Elie Tattevin, resident in Baie Barrier from 1910 to 1927 (see Tattevin 1929-31). Other foreign anthropologists followed, the Lanes in the 1950s (see Lane 1956) and myself in 1970-71, 72-73, and 1977. From the mid-1970s local ethnographers, including field workers (filwokas) with the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, started recording such stories on tapes, many of which are held by the VCC in Port Vila.

(27.) Barak Sope (1974), for example, describes land in this way in his book published prior to independence. Since independence, and most particularly since his conflict with Walter Lini in 1989, he has been promoting the particular interests of his own Ifira island in laying claim to the land of urban Port Vila. This issue has still not been resolved and there are presently huge claims for compensation outstanding. Tonkinson (1985) raised a different sort of problem of dislocation in his study of the Ambrymese people who were evacuated after the volcanic eruption on Ambrym in 1950 and resettled on the outskirts of Port Vila at Mele-Maat.

(28.) Margaret Rodman (1987) has earlier brilliantly documented how (despite these assertions of inalienability at both national and local levels) this has not meant that each person has equal rights in land, in Longana, Ambae. Although there was not in Longana in that period a landless peasantry, there were certainly those without a place, most poignantly illegitimate children without a recognised local father and widows who came from elsewhere. Moreover, as she demonstrates, the indigenous cultivation of coconut plantations has changed the earlier protocols whereby the person who planted a tree owned that tree. Now the person who owns the land owns the coconuts planted there. And, as she attests, some men have far more land than others and are rich copra entrepreneurs. She sees these men, as 'masters of tradition', maintaining the dual illusions of constancy between past and present and of insularity despite capitalist dependency. Thus, those whose leadership is intimately connected with capitalist economics and emergent class differentiation proclaim that they are akin to those high-ranking men of old Ambae.

(29.) But apart from these two works just cited, the urban experience of ni-Vanuatu and especially of young women and men, has not so far been much addressed in published literature. This is a gap in research which is being redressed by a new generation of graduate scholars from Canada, Australia and Europe. Jean Mitchell (of York University, Canada) has just completed three years research between the Black Sands settlement of Port Vila and Tanna. Greg Rawlings (Research School of Pacific Studies, ANU) has been working on the relation between the peri-urban people of Pango village and Port Vila. Delfine Griendl (from Belgium) has been doing important work on nutrition in Luganville town, Espiritu Santo. Jack Taylor (CCR, ANU) is about to start research with young men, most likely focused in Luganville town.

(30.) I thank Tim Curtis for conversation on the subversive and parodic meanings of these phrases.

(31.) Elsewhere, (Jolly 1998) I have explored how the image of the mobile woman and the prostitute condenses in contemporary representations from Papua New Guinea, both textual and visual. The paintings of Akis and Kauage, from the Highlands of Papua New Guinea often portray pamuk meri (prostitutes) or modern women in association with vehicles, roads and helicopters. See also Hogan (1985), Clark (1997) on PNG and the biting satire of the early poem 'Civilised Girl' (1981) by Jully Sipolo (now Makini) from the Western Province of the Solomon Islands.


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Margaret Jolly

Australian National University
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Title Annotation:concepts of time and space
Author:Jolly, Margaret
Geographic Code:8VANU
Date:Jun 1, 1999
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