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The silent missiles of Guadalcanal: magic as rhetoric in the Sandline controversy.


In February of 1997, then Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan of Papua New Guinea (PNG) secretly hired mercenaries from the Sandline Corporation to assist the PNG Defence Forces (PNGDF) in the conflict in Bougainville. The revelation of this event, first reported in late February 1997, led to a political and government crisis in PNG, a threatened coup d'etat by fired PNGDF General Singirok, the threatened withdrawal of Australian military assistance, and violent street protests in Port Moresby. In the end, the mercenaries were expelled and Chan would lose general elections scheduled for June that year (Suter 2005:28).

Chan had hired mercenaries because of real and perceived successes by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA). Bougainville, which had been the scene of conflict and guerrilla warfare since 1988 (Oliver 1991:149), is geographically close to the Western Province of the Solomon Islands (SI) and its people are linguistically, culturally and historically related to peoples in the western SI. In fact, there were many back and forth accusations about SI support for the BRA, on the one hand, and PNGDF incursions into SI on the other. There were also many Bougainville refugees in SI, including in Guadalcanal, numbering perhaps as many as two thousand (Australian Broadcasting Corporation 1996; Lilo 2000; US Department of State 1999).

During this period, I was engaged in ethnographic fieldwork in the Vaturanga District of Guadalcanal in SI. The villagers were keenly interested in the Bougainville conflict, and regularly consumed mass media representations of it via radio (Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation or SIBC and short-wave Radio Niu Gini and Radio Australia) as well as newspaper reporting (The Solomons Star especially). I was sometimes an unwitting source of this information, as I would frequently bring newspapers into the village and also had one of the few short-wave radios. When the Sandline deal was revealed, and its attendant political crisis in PNG developed, Vaturanga villagers around me took a keen interest. This did not surprise me, but one aspect of the crisis did: many of the villagers began to say things like 'Guadalcanal is fighting with the BRA' and 'The BRA will win because we are sending silent missiles to support them.' Even the downfall of Sir Julius Chan was attributed by some villagers to Guadalcanal support.

The form this support took was sorcery and magic, specifically two kinds: riana pupuku, which is a traditional magic present in Guadalcanal oral traditions, and poke sosolo which was described by the villagers as a new and 'rubbish' form of magic which had emerged only in recent years (Ryniker 2001:110). These specific interpretations were part of a larger pattern I observed in which the Vaturanga used discussions about magic as a form of rhetoric about the modern world and the changes they were experiencing. But this was the first direct instance I found of it being directly related to transnational consciousness.

Hannerz (1992) has noted that '[t]he media ... carry meanings ... [t]hey entail a range of different modes of externalization, as technologies variously constrain and make possible particular symbol systems' (Hannerz 1992:27). For the Vaturanga, magic as a system of symbols has been reshaped to form a commentary about the problems faced in being part of a global economic order, and the attendant political, economic and social changes. Specifically, Vaturanga have typically come to see sorcery and magic as reflections of social disorder and conflict. But in its original understanding, many of these forms were seen as positive or at least politically useful. Kapferer (2003a) has noted that:

sorcery is that imaginal formation of force and power that is to be expected in social circumstances that are disjunctive or in some sense discontinuous. Its concept in many different ethnographic contexts revolves around its magical capacity to work with the very potencies of difference, differentiation, division, opposition, contradiction and transgression. It gathers the force of such potencies, harnessing them to the purpose of destruction or to conjunction. Sorcery makes the disjunctive conjunctive, the discontinuous continuous, the weak powerful (Kapferer 2003a: 14).

The anthropological interest in magic and sorcery has often been seen as a form of exoticism or 'othering,' but magic and sorcery have also been reframed in colonial and postcolonial contexts. Sorcery, particularly, 'encapsulates the violence of new politically and economically conditioned fears and struggles' (Kapferer 2003a:17). As such, 'the magical is thoroughly integral in the modern' (Kapferer 2003a: 18).

Rather than being understood as 'survivals' from a pre-colonial past, magical practices in the modern world involve a 'radical reconfiguration of the ideas and practices of the past in terms of the circumstances of the present' (Kapferer 2003a: 19; cf Comaroff & Comaroff 1999). New forms of magic thrive in such circumstances, as each gains greater potency in the reshaping of magical practice in the context of today's economic and political struggles (Kapferer 2003a:20).

Guadalcanal is, in some sense, 'famous' for its magic (see Patterson 1974, 1975). The Vaturanga live in an area that is rapidly being reshaped by modern, post-colonial political and economic forces. Much of their land has been alienated (Bathgate 1975, 1978, 1985) and at the time of the controversy there were also many outsiders, mainly from Malaita, living in the area. The Vaturanga described their world as one of conflict, land loss, encroaching outsiders (both in the form of plantation workers and others from Malaita, and foreign workers in the logging industry) and ecological change.

Sympathy for Bougainville (and the BRA), and the utilization of sorcery and magic as rhetorical devices, I assert, must be understood in this larger context, in which the 'silent missiles' of Guadalcanal not only assisted in the conflict in Bougainville and in overthrowing the Prime Minister of PNG, but also helped to shape a discourse, a political economy, if you will, of their sense of losses (both literal and symbolic) in the modern nation-state of the Solomon Islands.

Support for the BRA against the PNGDF is refrained and reshaped to establish and solidify new forms of identity in Guadalcanal, especially by comparison of their experiences with the people of Bougainville. (1)


The Vaturanga are a Melanesian people living at the northwestern end of Guadalcanal Island (see Map 1). The region is about 50 km west of the capital city (Honiara) along one of the few good roads in the country. There are two main groups living in the area: 1) the indigenous villagers (known in casual parlance as 'landowners' or 'lo') and 2) outsiders associated with development projects and missions, mainly plantation workers from the neighbouring island of Malaita, as well as missionaries and religious orders (especially the Anglican Sisters of Melanesia and the Anglican Society of Saint Francis). There is also an Anglican run secondary school (Selwyn College) in the district. So this is an area in which land tenure is changing and social relationships are evolving through new contacts and new resources.

The Vaturanga speak Ndi, which has been classified by the Summer Institute of Linguistics as a dialect of the language Ghari. They describe themselves as one part of a larger community of peoples who live in West Guadalcanal, including those who call themselves Nggae, Ngeri, Ghari, Tambulivu, and Kakabona. The dialects spoken here are known collectively as hoko ni hita ('our language'). They also share many customary practices, the same matrilineages and clans, and there is a strong web of economic and social relationships established through exchange systems, both traditional and modern.

In West Guadalcanal land is controlled corporately by matrilineages which in the local language are called puku. These are grouped into six matriclans (duli) known as Kakau, Lakuili, Haubata, Kidipale, Kiki and Simbo. Only the first four of these have an important presence in the Vaturanga District, the last two having no puku in this district. They are all grouped into two moieties, and the people practice moiety exogamy. They have an Iroquois kinship system and practice avunculocal residence.

The outsiders, especially the plantation workers from Malaita, have a very different set of customs being mainly patrilineal and more dependent upon wages than the villagers. There has been conflict between the two groups and violence broke out in 1998 (see Moore 2004).

The Vaturanga continue to live mainly by subsistence horticulture, although they do make copra for sale, and sometimes sell in markets both locally and in the capital city. They also keep pigs and chickens, and fish and sometimes hunt and gather wild foodstuffs.

Their traditional exchange system is called kavo ome (lit. 'distribute things'). They have a big man system, and the exchange system not only creates political power, but is used to determine land tenure issues. Because of the practice of avunculocality, land must be rented by women and their children who usually belong to outside matrilineages. The main exchanges are mortuary feasts, bride wealth, land distribution (or renting), and clan consolidation (establishing a specific pattern of obligation between two lineages of the same clan due to avunculocality and the status of women as outsiders).

We can see that the Vaturanga have many interconnections, some traditional, some modem. They maintain traditional land tenure and feasting. But they also make copra, sell fish and vegetables in markets, travel frequently to the capital city, and encounter outsiders on a daily basis. In all this, the role of magic has clearly changed. Whereas it was once primarily the domain of big men, who used it protect the people, but which also made them 'dangerous' and 'taboo' (tambu in the local language), today the Vaturanga say that magic has lost its value and has been turned into a 'rubbish' thing mainly used to hurt others and usually relating to some competition arising out of the modernization and contact issues around them. For instance Hoana (this name and the name of all Vaturanga people quoted in the article are pseudonyms) a tatali (shaman or healer) told me:

   These magics were what Guadalcanal has always been known for, a
   silent way to fight. Pupuku, sosolo, susui and vele (2) ... they
   were our protection before. Now they have been turned into rubbish
   things. These things used to be helpful, were used against
   marauders and invading warriors. Now it is brother against brother,
   it is jealousy, it is getting away with crime, it is not listening
   to the chiefs' decisionsin a land dispute. What used to be good has
   been turned against us. A vele is no longer feared and respected.
   He is feared and hated, beaten up, run off, not wanted.

Using Patterson's (1974, 1975) typology, I found that the Vaturanga practiced Personal Leavings Magic, Disease Sorcery, Vele (Assault sorcery), Miscellany, Tabu, Lucky and Curative forms of magic. Some specific magics were regarded as new and particularly problematic, especially the two most important forms which played a role in local understandings of the Sandline Controversy: riana pupuku and poke sosolo both of which are widely regarded as forms of mischief. In the Sandline Controversy, we see these transformed into 'silent missiles' supporting the BRA.


Approximately 10.2% or 546.7 square kilometers of Guadalcanal's land is alienated (Rural Development Division 2001:14). In 1998 there were at least 20,000 persons of Malaitan ancestry in Guadalcanal outside of Honiara (Olyan et al. 2010:2). Although migration to Guadalcanal began in earnest after World War If, high population growth rates on Malaita led to land shortages there in the 1990s and increased emigration to other islands, mainly Guadalcanal (Sodhi 2008:4). This exacerbated land tenure issues in Guadalcanal, where many landowners began to complain loudly and frequently about encroachment upon unregistered customary lands by newcomers.

The Vaturanga District and adjacent Nggeri District have two large plantations (see Map 2). In the Vaturanga District itself, there is the Anglican mission's Taitai Plantation, which was eventually converted to several uses (Selwyn College, two monastic communities, and the district priest) and a smaller portion returned to the Vaturanga. In the nearby Nggeri District (which contains many Vaturanga as district lines do not exactly correspond to linguistic ones) is the huge Lavuro Plantation which was still operating commercially and producing copra and cocoa during the time of the controversy in question. At the time of the Sandline Controversy, the former Taitai Plantation (converted to mission uses) had a population of approximately 250 persons, consisting of teachers, students, priests, sisters and friars. Lavuro Plantation had a somewhat smaller number of workers. Out of an indigenous population of less than 2000, this would mean somewhere between fifteen and twenty percent of the local population consisted of outsiders, the largest group being from Malaita.


How do the issues of land alienation, rapid population immigration, and changing social and economic priorities intersect with the Sandline Controversy and the BRA? I have three questions or problems to answer: 1) How did the Solomon Islands' media portray the crisis? 2) What are the contexts (social, economic, political, etc.) for understanding how the Vaturanga perceive Bougainville? and 3) What symbols do the Vaturanga employ in thinking about the Bougainville Crisis?

As noted, there were approximately two thousand refugees from Bougainville in the Solomon Islands at the time of the Sandline Controversy. Many of these had moved to Guadalcanal, where there are more services and facilities than in Western Province. Some of these refugees were present in areas just west of the capital city and I observed some contact between them and locals, though these were not significant in the Vaturanga District itself, at least during my time there.

As such, local information about these issues came mainly from media reporting, both radio (Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation or SIBC) and newspapers. In a random sampling of twenty (20) weekly newspapers from November 1996 to April 1997, I counted thirty-six (36) articles, columns, opinion pieces and photographic essays on Bougainville (see Ryniker 2001:206).

Much of the reporting focused on alleged atrocities committed by the PNGDF against civilians in Bougainville. For instance, on December 6, 1996, The Solomon Citizen newspaper contained a front-page headline 'P.N.G.'S ARMY KILLS WOMEN AND CHILDREN'. This article lists a series of acts by the PNGDF, including the murder of a three-year-old boy, a six-year-old girl, the bombing of a church in which fourteen people died, and the attack upon a village in South Bougainville.

Other reporting emphasized the success of the BRA. For instance, in the November 29, 1996 issue of The Solomon Star, the PNGDF is portrayed as incompetent and undisciplined in comparison with the BRA.

Still other reports focus on territorial issues, especially accusations of border incursions by the PNGDF chasing Bougainvillean refugees (and perhaps BRA fighters) into the Solomon Islands published in the Solomon Star in 1997. Many photographic essays in these newspapers showed either wounded Bougainvilleans in hospital (Number Nine) in Honiara, or BRA soldiers toting guns, wearing military fatigues. (3) van Dijk (1988:217) has observed that this type of reporting attempts to establish a discourse about the conflict, framing the issues by creating and establishing images (imaginary landscapes or mediascapes). These mediascapes present to Solomon Islanders a somewhat distorted version of the conflict. As such, Solomon Islanders are led to develop a particular consciousness regarding the conflict, one which overall sees an incompetent, violent, and murderous PNG government arrayed against a heroic BRA, and a long-suffering civilian population.


In this context, the Vaturanga began to reevaluate their own experience being part of the Solomon Islands nation-state, especially in terms of economic development. Vaturanga often spoke of how their own island was similar to Bougainville, in that it was a place of considerable development, controlled by outside interests, and to the benefit of outsiders. Many expressed solidarity with the people of Bougainville and strong support for the BRA.

Cheche, a local elder, made comments that were typical. After reading a copy of the Solomon Citizen in which there was a large spread of photos of BRA soldiers with captured PNGDF soldiers, he asked me in Pijin who I thought would win, BRA or PNG. I said (in Pijin) Mi no save (I don't know) and then asked him what he thought. He continued in Pijin:

   Baebae BRA winim (BRA will win). I asked him why he thought so.
   His reply was Bikos PNG stilim long Bougainville, stilim copper
   long olketa pipol
   blong hem. PNG ravish. (Because PNG steals from Bougainville,
   steals copper from
   its people. PNG is rubbish).

This highlights three themes I found common among Vaturanga and other Guadalcanal Islanders about the conflict: 1) the belief that the BRA is superior to the PNGDF, 2) that economic matters justify BRA actions, and 3) that other PNG peoples (i.e., not Bougainvilleans) are 'rubbish' (i.e., not good people).

Another Vaturanga manKesa, amplified these issues in a conversation with me:

   People here don't want Bougainville to join the Solomon Islands.
   It's okay to offer
   medical help and support the BRA, but they want Bougainville
   to be a separate
   country ... 'People on mainland PNG are all rascals, but the
   island New Guinea people
   are good people, yes?

When I asked why this was, he said it was because 'many mainland PNG people are not Christians, but all the island people, they are Christians.' He also added 'PNG Christians are not as good Christians as Solomons Christians. Everybody in Solomon Islands calls themselves Christians. Even the Kwaio of South Malaita.' He went on to point out that

'PNG has oil, copper and gold, Solomons does not have [these things]. Solomons has timber, natural gas and a gold mine is just beginning operations in central Guadalcanal.

'We now have a Solomon Islands Defence Force [because of the Bougainville situation]. They are only about 500 men so far. The Israeli's have sent two advisors.'

Here we find very explicit support for Bougainville independence, including an outright statement that it is acceptable to support the BRA. Likewise, Kesa raises economic matters and specifically compares the Solomon Islands with PNG. This is a clear indication of transnational consciousness.

Most interestingly, he offers an explanation as to why the Bougainvilleans are superior to PNG. He expresses a belief that Bougainvilleans along with Solomon Islanders and island PNG peoples are 'good Christians' compared to mainland PNG peoples, many of whom (he implies) are not Christian, even nominally. Thus, he unites his own community with island Melanesians in general, defined using a religious parameter.


As noted, Guadalcanal is renowned for its magic (see Patterson 1974:142; 1975:219-221 ; Hogbin 1964). I identified fifteen different kinds of magic practiced in Guadalcanal (see Ryniker 2001:109-112). These include (a la Patterson 1974) the following forms: 1) personal leavings/food remains magic, 2) disease sorcery, 3) vele or assault sorcery, 4) miscellany, 5) tabu, 6) lucky, and 7) healing or curative. In fact the Vaturanga said that the number of and kinds of magic were increasing all the time. Two kinds of magic which played a role in the Sandline Controversy (as understood by my informants) were in the miscellany category: riana pupuku which involves tying ginger while casting a spell, and poke sosolo which is regarded as a new or recently invented form of magic which involves blowing ground coral or other powdery substances into the air.

Neither of these forms leads to death, but are involved with creating bad luck or misfortune, or causing an individual to act in uncharacteristic ways or to make stupid mistakes. Riana pupuku plays a role in the origin myths told in Western Guadalcanal, in which a mumu (a mythical being regarded as powerful and as the true owner of Guadalcanal) named all the people and in so doing, while tying ginger, created anomalous and even improper behavior in the people so named (e.g., the word Vaturanga means 'stubborn'). As such, the mumu is a sort of trickster figure, explaining human foibles and general disorder.

When encountering misfortune or bad luck (in love, fishing, or life's aspirations), Guadalcanal islanders often attribute it to riana pupuku. I counted numerous instances of men claiming it as the reason they had had little luck in fishing, or could not find a wife, or even blaming vehicle trouble on it.

In contrast, poke sosolo plays no role in the charter myths of Guadalcanal, but is said to have been recently discovered (Ryniker 2001:124). It is a kind of easier or simpler version of sosolo, a very powerful and disease causing magic which few people are said to know (perhaps only very powerful men or big men). Poke sosolo, on the other hand, is small time stuff: it makes a person do stupid things, forget themselves, act foolishly, and leaves them open to being robbed or otherwise deprived. It is said to be used mainly to rob people or commit rape (Ryniker 2001:121).

In the interpretations of the Vaturanga during the Sandline Crisis, both these forms were prominent. Many expressed beliefs that Guadalcanal men had used riana pupuku to jinx Sir Julius Chan, and thatpoke sosolo had been 'sold' to the BRA and was partially responsible for their success.

The Vaturanga discuss magic as part of their explanations of the changes they experience around them, especially economic and social changes, such as economic inequality and the breakdown of traditional customs like generalized reciprocity and the refusal of individuals to cooperate in community projects organized by the big men. As such, I have identified magic as a rhetorical device which both explains social problems and is regarded (in part) a symptom of them.

Thus, the discussions about magic in relation to the Sandline Controversy and the fall of Sir Julius Chan need to be understood as part of this larger picture of overall change and the attendant social and economic challenges faced by the islanders.

One informant, Veke, told me: 'Our magic has unlimited reach-all the way around the world. You only have to know the name of the person. Guadalcanal is supporting the BRA with many forms of magic.' I followed this up with Veke and another informant, Kesa. Kesa told me:

   A man from West Guadalcanal sold poke sosolo to the BRA for
   2000 kina. They also
   paid this same man to do riana pupuku against [Sir Julius] Chan,
   which is why his
   government is in crisis now. Guadalcanal is part of [the]
   Bougainville [war].
   Guadalcanal is silent fighting with the BRA.

Veke, in response to this statement said 'BRA cannot lose now.'

The belief that Guadalcanal people were participating in the Bougainville conflict via traditional magic was expressed in several ways. Most commonly, people referred to it as 'silent missiles.' Such comments were frequent in conversations about Bougainville. Even those who expressed some ambiguity about Guadalcanal magic (i.e., that it was turning rubbish, for instance, or being used mainly for bad purposes) regarded it as a player in the Bougainville conflict, almost with a sense of pride or accomplishment.

Here is a clear instance of the Vaturanga taking media reports from various sources and coming to identify with a people and a cause removed from their immediate daily lives. They saw themselves as connected to Bougainville and the BRA based upon shared economic and social circumstances (i.e., inequality based in development schemes, outside control of resources, etc.) Their own experience with land alienation, the importation of migrant workers, development and economic change, have left them with diverse social problems, the breakdown of the moral order, and a loss of status. The expression of Guadalcanal magic in the Bougainville conflict and the Sandline crisis developed into mechanisms of claiming power over their lives.


Nineteen months after the Sandline Controversy, Guadalcanal itself was plunged into its own crisis. In November 1998, a group of young men of Guadalcanal background, wearing traditional garb, began to blockade the main road in West Guadalcanal. This group would initially call itself the Guadalcanal Revolutionary Army, and others would join and form what would come to be known as the Isatabu Freedom Movement. This group consisted of people from many areas of Guadalcanal, including the Weather (south) Coast, where a customary village had been maintained since the 1960s (see Davenport and Coker 1967).

The actions of these groups, and the reactions of others, would lead to a closure of plantations in many parts of Guadalcanal, the loss of work for plantation workers (mainly from the neighbouring island of Malaita), and considerable hostility. This conflict has been reported elsewhere in great detail (see Dinnen and Firth 2008; Fraenkel 2004; Moore 2004). What interests me is the development of transnational consciousness prior to the development of this crisis.

The belief that Guadalcanal shared many characteristics with Bougainville was oft expressed to me. It came out most powerfully in the Sandline Controversy, but it was present in general discussions about Bougainville, and occasioned by any reporting about the war there. The mass media in the Solomon Islands generated a mediascape of Bougainville which was subsequently overlaid onto Guadalcanal.

That mediascape saw the central government in PNG as incompetent. It depicted the PNGDF forces as poorly trained and given to atrocities. And the BRA was repeatedly portrayed in heroic ways. And Vaturanga took these and applied them to their own situation. The government in Honiara was increasingly seen as corrupt. The complaints by landowners in Guadalcanal about the encroachment of outsiders, especially Malaitans, on traditional lands (along with an increasing hostility to the Malaitans in Guadalcanal), and the general belief that their world was filled with new problems with few solutions met with little effective response from officials.


There was also a powerful rhetoric about magic as part of these changes and conflicts. This consisted of nearly daily references to the problems of 'rubbish' magic. Daily gossip would include frequent references to it. New forms of magic were described as having originated in other regions of Guadalcanal and having spread throughout the island. The most prominent themes I found in the rhetoric around changing magical practices concerned economic change, appropriate behaviour, development and inequality, and social problems.

Briefly, new forms of magic were said to reflect ways of getting ahead of others in the cash economy which was becoming more and more prominent in the district. Some magic forms were specifically about obtaining modern money. Similarly themes of jealousy over another's success in the modern economy arose frequently in the characterizations of 'rubbish' magical practices. Individuals who were heavily involved in the modern economy were described as 'selfish' and if they experienced problems, even as simple as the breakdown of a truck, it was frequently commented upon as being the result of magic.

Because land tenure was changing and land concessions were increasing as the amount of logging increased (see Fraenkel 2004) there were frequent internal disputes over control of even unused customary land. If an individual felled a tree, he might be accused of violating another's land rights. If one or the other of these individuals grew sick or experienced some misfortune, magic was almost always blamed.

And lastly, the rhetoric of magic focused on increasing problems of social cohesion and control. Magic was blamed for night crawling, theft, disobedience to big men and elders, and the general breakdown of customary rules such as sharing, feasting, and cooperative work.

Hoana, a traditional healer among the community, lamented the changes in magic being experienced due to the economic problems and development issues (especially land disputes) facing the people:

   People in a land dispute, if they don't get what they want from the
   customary court,
   they will hire someone to vele their opponent. Before the white
   man came, vele only
   used their magic to travel. They could walk around the entire
   island of Guadalcanal
   in a single night. But now they use magic to make people sick
   and die. This is a
   rubbish thing that has happened because of the problems over
   land disputes. Back in
   the 1960s a vele wiped out an entire Poleo (4) village so
   it is very powerful.

In an interview of Hoana and Oli (another healer), the issues of economic troubles were raised again: Hoana said ' Vele have twelve or thirty powers, we say "horse power".., it depends upon how they do it.' I asked about the origins of vele.

Oli: We are great hunters and we have to move our gardens often. These powers, twelve or thirty, were used for hunting, so you could travel long distances in hunting and not get tired.

Hoana: But vele changed because the traders and missionaries came, brought a new kind of money, axes, cook pots. They started to get greedy, and then started to collect moe (hidden treasures). They would hide everything in caves, protect the caves with magic.

Oli: We almost lost all our custom money because of this ... The sound of the vele is 'koa koa koa' like a bird. Now vele use the magic to kill people. The motive is always jealousy and greed. They try to take away land, or just ruin someone who is doing well making money ...

Hoana: They use to go clear around Guadalcanal, four times in one night using vele magic to hunt. But now just used for rubbish.

As we can see, magic plays a central role in many Vaturanga interpretations of their changing world. This was not just limited to the interviews above. Magic was frequently cited by both male and female informants as a serious social problem.


Kapferer (2003a) tells us that 'much sorcery and witchcraft ... were fomented in the discourses of colonialism and post-colonialism ... factor[s] in reinventing sorcery as a... force resistant to colonial authority and alive in the ambiguities of post-coloniality' (Kapferer 2003a: 16-17). Crucially, these magical practices represent a 'disjunction from pasts' (Kapferer 2003a: 19). He goes on to note 'Sorcery that is well tried loses its strength' (Kapferer 2003a:20). Hence the invention of new types and the hybridising of them with modern forms and elements. Magic and sorcery are coming to be understood as 'major sites of invention' used 'to attack the very ways in which human beings routinely are seen or conceived to construct their realities' (Kapferer 2003a:21). We can see in this example how, as Kapferer (2003b) notes 'some practices connected with sorcery are inherently or enduringly modern' (2003b: 107)

This critique of the ordinary gives magic its rhetorical strength. In a sense, magic attempts to establish reality. Kennneth Burke noted long ago:

Magic, verbal coercion, establishment or management by decree, says, in effect: "Let there be-and there was." And men share in the magical resources of some power by speaking "in the name of" that power ... The magical decree is implicit in all language; for the mere act of naming an object or situation decrees that it is to be singled out as such-and-such rather than something other ... to eliminate magic, in this sense, would involve us in the elimination of vocabulary itself as a way of sizing up reality. Rather, what we may need is correct magic, magic whose decrees about the naming of real situations is the closest possible approximation to the situation named (with the greater accuracy of approximation being supplied by the collective revelation' of testing and discussing) (Burke 1967:3-4; emphasis in original).

Via magic, the Vaturanga attempt to 'establish' or 'coerce' a reality, or better yet, they are 'sizing up reality.' This reality has involved violence, dislocation, economic hardship, and the loss of wealth and land, in a parallel fashion with Bougainville. To participate in the Bougainville Conflict via magical forms 'make(s) a crisis of the state and of its force of social inclusion and exclusion' (Kapferer 2003b: 121). It altered Vaturanga understanding of their own reality and relationship to the nation-state to which they have been subjugated colonially and post-colonially. Just as they helped to free the people of Bougainville, so the people of Guadalcanal began to think about liberation for themselves from powerful forces. Sorcery hence is 'always creative and inventive' and herein is where 'its force resides' (Kapferer 2003b: 126).

The Sandline Controversy is a potent example of how a people have reshaped their past and their present through imaginal forms. The ordinary struggles of life in a new nation-state are given meaning, are critiqued and commented upon and debated. Magic is a means by which this debate is given power, urgency, potency and immediacy.


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(1.) As such, this particular instance of transnational consciousness might also reasonably be understood as part of the background for the coming crisis in Guadalcanal eighteen months later.

(2.) Pupuku is classified as miscellany and is mainly used to cause bad luck sosolo is a form of disease sorcery; susui is a healing magic; and vele is a form of assault sorcery (cf. Patterson 1974, 1975) (see Ryniker 2001:109-112 for more details).

(3.) For an overall summary of the reporting, see Ryniker 2001:208-215.

(4.) The Poleo live on the Weather Coast of Guadalcanal.

David C. Ryniker

The University of British Columbia
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Author:Ryniker, David C.
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:8SOLO
Date:Jul 1, 2012
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