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In 1985 the Vanuatu government imposed a moratorium on all humanities field-based research within the country. With only a very few exceptions, no fieldwork was carried out in Vanuatu for the following nine years. Although archival and library-based research continued to be conducted elsewhere (for example, Jolly 1992; Rodman 1999), and although scholars who had undertaken field research prior to the moratorium continued to publish their findings (for example, Spriggs and Mumford 1992; Lindstrom 1990; Jolly 1994), without the stimulus of new data and new theoretical perspectives arising from fieldwork, and without postgraduate students taking up the challenge of new field research, Vanuatu studies slowed. Academic research moves forward by a process of interaction and stimulation, through the impact that information and analysis in one project has upon the next. The moratorium, though it controlled only what did or did not happen within the country's borders, affected nearly all humanities research on Vanuatu .

In 1994 the moratorium was lifted. This collection publishes the results of some of the first research projects undertaken since then, and is intended as a contribution to the re-energising of academic exchange about Vanuatu. The papers discuss new research in anthropology, archaeology and linguistics. Most of them were initially presented to a seminar in January 1998, which brought together people working in Vanuatu who are based at the Australian National University. [1] The intention of the seminar was, in part, to discern issues emerging from both data and analysis of post-moratorium research. The years between 1985 and 1994 have seen some very significant changes in Vanuatu itself, and they have also seen many developments in the disciplines concerned. In some ways, the new research is still engaging with questions raised prior to the Moratorium, questions raised for example in Michael Allen's edited collection published in 1981. However, changes in Vanuatu, and the post-moratorium research policy condi tions are significantly affecting new research outcomes.

So far, the most significant impact on research has been made by the new research policy. Policy conditions relate in particular to the role and impact of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre (VCC), and especially of the Cultural Centre's volunteer extension workers, who are known as fieldworkers. The new policy requires that research be implemented through the Cultural Centre. The VCC usually assigns new researchers to a fieldworker in the area in which they wish to work, and established researchers are expected, and in general are very willing, to incorporate a fieldworker into their project design. Five of the seven papers in this collection discuss research undertaken with fieldworkers, while in the sixth Darrell Tryon discusses the history of the fieldworker project itself, with which he has been extensively involved. The seventh paper, by Greg Rawlings, is based on research in a peri-urban village. Until 1998, the Cultural Centre did not appoint fieldworkers in urban and periurban areas. In the Afterword, the d irector of the Cultural Centre, Ralph Regenvanu, discusses the research policy, and the Cultural Centre's view of research. The central focus of this introduction is the impact, and the potential, of collaboration with fieldworkers in fieldwork.


Fieldwork is a central activity of archaeology and anthropology, and to a lesser extent of linguistics. It is 'in the field' that much research takes place. As James Clifford has argued recently, for anthropology fieldwork is a mark of disciplinary distinction (1997:89), although the notion of what 'the field' is, has altered so that it is 'conceived less as a discrete, other place than as a set of embodied research practices, patterns of discretion, of professional distance, of coming and going' (1997:90). As a methodology, fieldwork has come under considerable theoretical and political scrutiny within anthropology, and is beginning to be debated within archaeology.

Part of that scrutiny involves consideration of the relationship between the researcher and the people to whom he or she is talking. Although the figure of the indigenous anthropologist has received some attention (Fahim 1982; Narayan 1993), fieldwork is often characterised in terms of unequal power relations. George Marcus observes, for example, that such relations are assumed to be 'always weighted structurally on the side of the ethnographer, who is implicated in Western colonialism' (Marcus 1997:98), while Peter Metcalf argues that even when terms like co-researcher, mentor or ethnographic intermediary -- or interlocutor -- are substituted for the standard 'informant', they merely mask the potentially exploitative character of these relationships (1998:327). In these analyses, fieldwork relationships are viewed through the lens of the academic project -- the production of texts which refer to each other, Fieldwork relations are embroiled in issues of appropriation, of representation and of misrepresentat ion. It is not being with or talking to other people that involves exploitation (though of course it may), but transforming what is said and done into text. The recognition of these issues in academic contexts is often, however, paralleled by similar preoccupations among people in the field. In Vanuatu at least, academic researchers are regularly faced with questions about the use and profit they will make from the things, the knowledge, they are writing down. As a former Cultural Centre curator, Kirk Huffman, has observed (pers. comm.), in Vanuatu people tend to view knowledge as a non-renewable resource. In a system in which knowledge, skills or songs are exchanged with finality, so that the giver loses the right to use the knowledge, skills or words given away, the researcher's taking of information in any form is unlikely to be seen as a neutral act.

Only a few ni-Vanuatu have entered into the written conversation of academia. In general they have done so through participation in a number of edited volumes. [2] Authors such as Selwyn Arutangai (1987, 1995) have contributed a number of articles, mostly concerning issues of land ownership and political development, to such volumes. A number of ni-Vanuatu contributed articles about the 1991 general election to Howard van Trease's volume Melanesian politics: stael blong Vanuatu (1995). Grace Molisa has published a number of small books of various kinds, including poetry (1983, 1989) and other material, such as reports from the First National Women's Festival (Molisa n.d. [1990]).

In the islands, however, there are few books or papers, and although people use writing as notation, in trade stores or, for example, in tracking the complexities of large exchanges, writing text is not a widespread practice. There are some contexts in which academic texts are relevant. Joan Larcom reports on the use made in Southwest Bay, Malakula, of Bernard Deacon's 1920s ethnography of that region. Larcom records Deacon's work being used to legitimate certain practices as kastom (1982:332). However, in general the technologies that transmit voice and performance -- audiotape, radio and video -- are far more important. Of these, radio is the most significant. The national radio service, Radio Vanuatu, has been a critical and highly influential source of information and ideas for people in the islands since the mid-seventies.


According to Kirk Huffman, Curator of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre from 1977 to 1989, the research moratorium was instituted for at least two reasons (pers. comm.). One was that several senior members of the new Vanuatu government had been (justly or not) annoyed by the behaviour of certain researchers. In this period the government was quick to issue 'green cards' -- orders to quit the country -- to any expatriate whose behaviour they found unacceptable. The other and perhaps more significant reason was that in the early eighties there was a strong feeling that ni-Vanuatu should research their own knowledges and practices. This was at the time of Independence, after the First National Arts Festival, when indigenous practice had been redeemed from the negative classification to which it had been assigned by missionaries and other expatriates, and become a symbol of the identity of the new nation. The Bislama [3] term kastom, used to refer to the knowledge and practice which ni-Vanuatu see as belonging to their pre-colonial past and to their place, had become a significant reference point in the formulation of national identity. The moratorium was above all an expression of national identity which Walter Lini's government sought to affirm in the first years after Independence. This involved the assertion of kastom as the property of ni-Vanuatu, not to be made subject to expatriates.

As Darrell Tryon outlines in his account of ni-Vanuatu research in this collection, the fieldworker program has been the core project of the Cultural Centre since the late 1970s, when it began as an Oral Tradition Training Program. Kirk Huffman is said to have dubbed these oral-tradition trainees 'fieldworkers', a term that is now so widely recognised in Vanuatu that it has obtained its own entry in the Bislama dictionary. The entry reads: 'filwoka (n) fieldworker (the Vanuatu Cultural Centre has an extensive network of local people who gather historical and cultural information that is stored in Vila)' (Crowley 1995:78). The fieldworkers' role has developed and matured over the years, partly through the influence of Kirk Huffman and Darrell Tryon, but also importantly through their own discussions and interactions. Until 1990 the fieldworkers were exclusively male. Under pressure from a number of influential ni-Vanuatu women, most especially from Grace Molisa, who was a member of the Cultural Centre's board of management, and with the approval of the men fieldworkers, moves were made from 1989 to set up a Women Fieldworker Network. This was modeled on the men's group, but following local gender divisions, exists as a separate network.

Several research projects were permitted during the moratorium. When the moratorium was announced to the Vanuatu Parliament, Sethy Regenvanu explicitly excluded Darrell Tryon from its provisions. The anthropologist Annie Walter, based in the Vila office of the French research organisation ORSTOM, was prohibited from doing strictly anthropological research, but instead undertook an ethnobotanical project for the Department of Agriculture, documenting fruit and nut trees throughout the archipelago. In implementing this project, Walter worked with many fieldworkers. The other projects which took place during the moratorium, some of which are dicussed below, were all associated with or were directly under the management of the VCC. My own research, on women's redefinition of pandanus textiles as kastom, was permitted as part of the work Jean Tarisesei and I implemented in 1991-92, setting up the VCC's Women's Culture Project, founded to create the Women Fieldworker Network. All the VCC projects implemented invol ved fieldworker participation.

The moratorium was lifted in 1994. As Ralph Regenvanu discusses in this volume, the lifting of the moratorium reflects changing priorities in Vanuatu. During the 1990s, and especially after the 1992 election which saw the defeat of Walter Lini's first government, kastom became less important in political rhetoric. This is not an alteration that reflects attitudes among ni-Vanuatu themselves: as the papers in this volume attest, kastom remains a central category and metaphor for many ni-Vanuatu.

When the fieldworkers speak about what they do, they speak not about fieldwork, but about their work. During the year, they are mostly based in their own areas, doing their work as opportunity and their own skills, experience and commitment permit. Over the years, training in a number of academic documentation techniques drawn from anthropology, archaeology and linguistics have become part of the fieldworker workshop program. However, the work of the fieldworkers has as much to do with the revival of practice as with its documentation. Many fieldworkers focus more on projects such as the re-opening of dancing grounds and the revival of ceremonies, as on their documentation. Thus, while fieldworkers are familiar with some of the techniques of fieldwork, their project, their work, is to promote kastom (leftemap kastom), to make it alive again (mekim hem i laev bakagen).

While the women fieldworkers are still establishing a sense of the breadth and possibility of their work, the men fieldworkers, having met annually for eighteen years, have developed a sophisticated discourse about their project. Despite some fluctuations, there is a core group of committed fieldworkers who take the workshops as an opportunity for serious talk. Every year a topic is set for the following year, fieldworkers undertake their own research during the year, reporting at the next workshop. After each fieldworker makes a report, he or she is questioned by others on the material presented. Although the sessions are recorded and transcribed, it is not the transformation of the reports into text that is important to the fieldworkers, but the discussion itself. Talk is the objective. There is, however, an interesting gender difference in men's and women's talking practice. To make a broad generalisation, in Vanuatu, women often communicate more trough action than words. This distinction is too complex t o investigate here. However, women's unfamiliarity with discussion has been a hurdle to overcome in the women fieldworkers' group, and Jean Tarisesei and I, in teaching the annual women fieldworker workshops, have found that we need to teach the women how to report on and discuss knowledges and practices which they would usually communicate through enactment.

The fieldworkers' discussion intersects with academic disciplines in a number of complex ways. There is a long history of exchange and influence between fieldworkers and academic researchers. Initial oral-tradition training was provided by ethnomusicologist Peter Crowe, linguist Jean-Michel Charpentier and by Huffman himself, an anthropologist by training. Darrell Tryon, a linguist, leads the men fieldworkers' workshops every year, and when the women fieldworkers' group was established I brought my own anthropological training and understanding to the task of teaching that group. All of us have contributed our own understandings of culture and of kastom to the fieldworkers' discourse, and have introduced them to fieldwork methodologies from our disciplines. However, if fieldwork is a means to an end for researchers, only part of the work of an academic, for fieldworkers it is their whole project, their whole work. Fieldwork is in this sense their discipline, a discipline that produces knowledge embodied in t alk and translated into action.

Individual fieldworkers have received a greater exposure to academic disciplines by working with researchers. Before the moratorium, and in most cases before they became fieldworkers, some men worked as field assistants to researchers, as Tryon documents in his paper. A number of fieldworkers were also involved in Cultural Centre projects during the moratorium, most especially the work of the Vanuatu Cultural and Historical Sites Survey (VCHSS). This project, as Bedford and Spriggs discuss in their paper (this collection) did not involve any excavation (out of deference to the moratorium) but only the recording of significant sites. A number of fieldworkers were trained in site recording by the VCHSS, and they all prepared site lists which acted as starting documents for VCHSS regional recording projects. Other fieldworkers learnt ethnobotanical recording techniques from Annie Walter. Lamont Lindstrom's 1988 Cultural Centre documentation program also provided training. Lindstrom and James Gwero organised fie ldworkers to record ni-vanuatu stories about experiences of World War II. About thirteen fieldworkers made recordings on behalf of the project. Lindstrom and Gwero edited these into about fifteen radio programmes, and subsequently co-edited the transcripts into a book, published in 1998, in Bislama (Lindstrom and Gwero 1998).

An anthropologist, linguist or archaeologist will sometimes work for decades in one place with one person -- sometimes identified as a field assistant or informant -- who will become so conversant in the methodology of the discipline that they deeply influence not only the kinds of data recorded but also the researcher's interpretations and analysis. Roger Keesing, writing about thirty years of research with the Kwaio of the Solomon Islands, for example, acknowledges his 'personal and intellectual debt' to Jonathon Fifi'i. Of Fifi'i Keesing writes, 'we worked together for most of those years, as friends and fellow ethnographers' (1992:viii). Keesing translated and edited Fifi'i's recollections, published as From pig-theft to parliament: my life between two worlds (1989). In such cases, the engagement is between two individuals who influence and shape each other, even while their interests in the outcome of their work may differ.

In Vanuatu, however, fieldworkers are influenced by a wide range of individuals, both by each other and by expatriates, in the construction of their ideas about their role or work. In some cases, apart from the interactions and training they receive through the Cultural Centre, they have never worked with an individual researcher. Titus Joel, for example, has recorded genealogies for the entire Torres Islands group. No extensive academic research has yet been conducted in the Tones Islands. There are other fieldworkers who have cooperated with a number of different researchers.

James Gwero, for example, has worked with many different people. In the 1960s he worked with the anthropologist Michael Allen in west Ambae, making recordings on his behalf. In 1976 he attended the first oral traditions training workshop, run by Peter Crowe on Ambae. Some years later Kirk Huffman gave Gwero some funds and a photocopy of the pages in Stone Men of Malakula in which John Layard talks about trade between Vao and Ambae. Gwero visited both south Ambae and Vao, and made recordings documenting people's memories of this connection. In 1988 he worked with Lamont Lindstrom on the World War II project, subsequently visiting Hawaii to work with Lindstrom on the editing process. By the time I undertook my project on east Ambae in 1991-92 James Gwero was a sage and an experienced fleidworker, well able to give me advice on the conduct of my project and the choice of my fieldsite; I recognised the wisdom of his advice increasingly as my own experience grew.

Since the moratorium has been lifted some research programs have been set up with a specific component of fieldworker training written into them. This is particularly the case for archaeology. As Bedford et al. discuss in this collection, a number of excavations in the ANU-VCC Archaeology Project have been run as field-training programs for Cultural Centre staff and fieldworkers. Indeed the ANU-VCC project is very much designed with Cultural Centre priorities in mind. As Bedford et al. discuss, the research questions this project set out to answer were raised by archaeological research elsewhere in Melanesia, but especially by the needs of the VCHSS. The project aims to establish the date of the earliest human occupation in the archipelago, and to establish cultural sequences for key islands in Vanuatu. Without the cultural sequences it is difficult for the VCHSS to assess the significance of the archaeological sites they record.

In general, fieldworkers are glad to have academic researchers based with them. The researcher usually provides transport, equipment (field workers receive no funding and are always struggling for such resources) and training, and often lend some cachet to the fieldworker's status in his or her own area. Researchers generally also provide conversation - an opportunity for the field worker to talk about his or her work. At the same time, a researcher can be a burden to a fieldworker, much as he or she might be to any informant.

Whereas linguists, archaeologists and anthropologists often have ethical concerns about the impact they might make on the subjects they investigate, fleidworkers find out in order to act. In his paper Tim Curtis talks about the significance of the work of Longdal Nobel Maasingyau, who has worked for many years in southwest Malakula to encourage the revival of indigenous practice, in an area where Christian groups had condemned it. Maasingyau encouraged the community to hold an arts festival in 1988, and in 1998 opened a regional cultural centre at Leuanari Bay. While supporting and assisting Curtis's research -- taking him, for example, to see Tom Moses about whom Curtis writes in this collection -- Maasingyau's own focus is on the battle to uphold and sustain indigenous knowledge and practice in the face of Christian opposition.

Maasingyau and Curtis's interests in a sense take parallel courses. One subject Curtis discusses, the idea of restricted knowledge (here expressed by restricting certain spaces), is a subject about which the men fieldworkers have had extensive discussions. The idea of documenting restricted knowledge has been dealt with in part through a series of established proscriptions about who can access tape recordings, while in their workshops the men fleidworkers constantly negotiate what should and should not be talked about, what can and cannot be recorded, and how revival and the transmission of restricted knowledge can be achieved.

Fieldworkers are not alert to disciplinary boundaries, for example between linguistics and archaeology. For them, research is a matter of interest in some or other aspect of kastom, and kastom can be broadly defined as anything understood to derive from pre-colonial knowledge and practice. Researchers are understood to be specialising in the same way that the fieldworkers themselves might specialise according to their own interests. In this sense the Erromangan fieldworker Jerry Taki is equally at home in assisting in excavations (Bedford et al., this collection), participating in rock art recording (Wilson, this collection), documenting language, or helping with material culture research. In fact these different involvements can be of great value to the research itself. It was Taki's familiarity with the designs used on Erromangan bark cloth (no longer made on Erromango, but familiar to Jerry through photographs of objects in museum collections) that enabled him to recognise some of the rock art motifs he a nd Wilson were recording, and to make the important suggestion that some of the art might have been produced by women. As Wilson claims, the ideas of both Taki and Erromangan fieldworker Sophie Nempan Sei were significant to her analysis of Erromangan rock art. The depth of knowledge of fieldworkers such as Taki, their seniority and familiarity with some of the goals and methods of academic research means that they stand in a far different relationship to expatriate researchers than is most often the case in Melanesia.

Of course, not all fieldworkers are equally experienced. Catriona Hyslop's linguistic research on Ambae was ably assisted by Roselyn Garae, who has been a fieldworker since 1994, and who brought her own considerable intelligence and interest to Hyslop's project, but who has not had extensive training. However, Garae's interest in Hyslop's research reflects the fact that language is an issue of considerable importance to the fieldworkers, and is one of the recurrent themes of the fieldworker discussions about kastom. While language is not defined as kastom, fieldworkers recognise language as a crucial locus of kastorn, acknowledging, for example, that it is much easier to speak about local knowledge and practice in the local language than in Bislama. The importance of documenting languages and teaching children to speak their own language is a consistent theme of discussion at the workshops, especially among women fieldworkers. Hyslop's contribution discusses an issue to which Garae drew her attention: that i s, the complex system of spatial reference used in North-East Ambae language.

Not all fieldworkers are active, and not all research subjects are interesting or accessible to them. I was alerted to the subject of my paper in this collection -- the relationship of women to place -- both by the interest in place in recent anthropological literature and by the way in which people identify themselves by place rather than by kin or by language group throughout the archipelago. In talking to fieldworkers about this subject, and especially in talking to Jean Tarisesei and Roselyn Garae, I gained many insights into the specifics of women's connection to place after marriage in north Vanuatu. Neither woman, however, recognised this as an important issue, nor even as one related to kastom. Rather, like many 'informants', they engaged with my questions out of respect for my desire to understand something self-evident to them.

Greg Rawlings' paper also focuses on a subject not presently of interest to the fieldworker program, indeed, a subject not currently encompassed at all in the discourse about kastom: that is, historical transformations in the organisation and practice of a particular community. [4] Rawlings traces the history of settlement in south-western Efate, which has produced the present village of Pango. The discourse about kastom opposes kastom to modernity and development, presenting each as alternative models of present practice. Although, clearly, people understand that in the past things were different, this opposition, which is central to much thinking in the country, does not allow for history. In general, the pen-urban villages around Port Vila see themselves as having long ago rejected their kastom (Philibert 1986:11 fn6), so that it is perhaps significant that it is about such a village that Rawlings has written a history of community transformations.

Informants shape much of our understanding of what we learn in the field. As Christine Jourdan observes, 'the role of informants in our ethnographies goes beyond the simple act of answering our questions. They co-opt our projects, they guide our learning, they shape our knowledge and thus shape the way we think about them ...' (1997:4). The ni-Vanuatu individuals who are shaping the knowledge of a new generation of academic researchers are people who are familiar with the project of research but have their own distinct interest in it. Researchers working with fieldworkers can work collaboratively, acknowledging and assisting each other's distinct projects. It seems important that these collaborations, in all their complexities, are both acknowledged and discussed, and it is in this spirit that these papers have been gathered together here.


(1.) Five of the papers in this collection (Bedford et al., Hyslop, Curtis, Rawlings and Wilson) were presented at the seminar. I thank all the seminar participants for their involvement, including Dorothy Shineberg and Bronwen Douglas who did not contribute to this volume. I also thank the Centre for Cross-Cultural Research at the Australian National University. Centre staff assisted in the organisation of the seminar, and provided support in the preparation of this collection. Most especially I thank Hilary Ericksen of the Centre for CrossCultural Research for her advice and for her substantial assistance in editing these papers for publication.

(2.) These volumes are often hard to trace outside the Pacific, being produced for a largely regional audience by the University of the South Pacific and other local publishers. They rarely enter the wider field of academic exchange.

(3.) Bislama is a neo-Melanesia pidgin, which is Vanuatu's lingua franca. Given the existence of 113 indigenous languages (Tryon 1996), and two languages of government (English and French), Bislama is an important means of communication for the nation's 180,000 inhabitants. It is the language in which all the work of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre is conducted.

(4.) In 1998 the Cultural Centre established a project to trace the local history of the labour trade. This was established in part because Australian descendents of ni-Vanuatu who went to Queensland are returning to Vanuatu in increasing numbers in search of relatives.
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Author:Bolton, Lissant
Date:Sep 1, 1999
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