AT an exceptional occasion Tuesday this week at the Australian National University’s (ANU) University House, coinciding with the Solomon Islands Transition Workshop, a little known Esau Kekeubata of the interior of East Kwaio was given an uncommon honor to launch Dr David Akin’s book: Colonialism, Maasina Rule, and the Origins of Malaitan Kastom.
Dr Akin has been working in Malaita, particularly the East Kwaio communities as an anthropologist.
He was an independent scholar living in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Currently, he is Managing editor of the Journal Comparative Studies in Society and History and teaches at the University of Michan.
In his work to write the: “Colonialism, Maasina Rule, and the Origins of Malaitan Kastom”, Dr Akin has been in contact with the people of East Kwaio for the past 15 years.
Mr. Kekeubata however, was the star of the show and received a standing ovation from professors, academics, scholars and other distinguished invitees.
He began the ritual by acknowledging the original owners of the land where he is now standing and where ANU is built.
“I wish to begin by acknowledging the owners of this land which I stand today to launch this book,” he started.
He then stunned the audience when he admitted that he only attended school for only one and half years and humbled to be given the rare opportunity to launch Dr Akin’s book.
“When I was first asked by David to launch this book, I was confused, don’t even know what a launch is,” Mr Kekeubata told the audience.
“I haven’t spoken English to an audience like this in my life, but I felt confident because I have a message to share with the academics,” he said after.
The Kwaio man thanked Dr Akin for the great piece of work and the 15 years he has spent and working with the Kwaio people of East Kwaio.
“This book has a written piece of history of us (Kwaio) and has a message for the future generation of East Kwaio.
“Culture forms an integral part of any society.
“We (present generation) are the custodians of culture but if we do not look after it, we will lose it.
“And once we lose it, who will be affected?”
Mr Kekubata said currently a lot of what is happening is the result of the breakdown of culture.
The present generation do not respect their own culture hence the breakdown of law and order in our societies.
Chief executive officer of Forum Solomon Islands International (FSII) Ben Afuga was attending a working at ANU and was also invited to the book launch.
“It was an honor and privilege to witness someone from the rural communities of Solomon Islands, particularly the interior of East Kwaio launch a book in a prestigious institution like ANU,” Mr Afuga said.
He congratulated Dr Atkin for the passion and commitment he has for the East Kwaio people.
“Maasina Rule as highlighted by academics and scholars during the transition workshop is an important transition in Solomon Islands history.
“This is an important piece of history and must be documented for the future generation,” Mr Afuga said.
This book is a political history of the island of Malaita in the British Solomon Islands Protectorate from 1927, when the last violent resistance to colonial rule was crushed, to 1953 and the inauguration of the island’s first representative political body, the Malaita Council.
At the book’s heart is a political movement known as Maasina Rule, which dominated political affairs in the southeastern Solomons for many years after World War II.
The movement’s ideology, kastom, was grounded in the determination that only Malaitans themselves could properly chart their future through application of Malaitan sensibilities and methods, free from British interference.
Kastom promoted a radical transformation of Malaitan lives by sweeping social engineering projects and alternative governing and legal structures.
When the government tried to suppress Maasina Rule through force, its followers brought colonial administration on the island to a halt for several years through a labor strike and massive civil resistance actions that overflowed government prison camps.
David Akin draws on extensive archival and field research to present a practice-based analysis of colonial officers’ interactions with Malaitans in the years leading up to and during Maasina Rule.
A primary focus is the place of knowledge in the colonial administration.
Many scholars have explored how various regimes deployed “colonial knowledge” of subject populations in Asia and Africa to reorder and rule them.
The British imported to the Solomons models for “native administration” based on such an approach, particularly schemes of indirect rule developed in Africa.
The concept of “custom” was basic to these schemes and to European understandings of Melanesians, and it was made the lynchpin of government policies that granted limited political roles to local ideas and practices.
Officers knew very little about Malaitan cultures, however, and Malaitans seized the opportunity to transform custom into kastom, as the foundation for a new society.
The book’s overarching topic is the dangerous road that colonial ignorance paved for policy makers, from young cadets in the field to high officials in distant Fiji and London.
Today kastom remains a powerful concept on Malaita, but continued confusion regarding its origins, history, and meanings hampers understandings of contemporary Malaitan politics and of Malaitan people’s ongoing, problematic relations with the state.
Also speaking at the launch was our very own Dr Tarcisius Tara Kabutaulaka, an Associate Professor at the University of Hawaii and
Editor of the Pacific Islands Monograph Series at the Centre for Pacific Islands at the University of Hawaii.
Dr Kabautalaka spoke of his experience as an Editor and his close collaboration with Dr David Atkin in his manuscripts.