The conventional distinction mode by cultural anthropologists between Melanesian and other Pacific Islands leaders is inaccurate and misleading. Melanesian Leadership accomplishes a variety of complex and valuable community functions, achievement of status has been overemphasized, cooperation and altruism are at least as important as competition, and Melanesian Leaders are both respected and liked. The stereotype of "Big-Man" has been dysfunctional and non-heuristic.
1 One of the less fortunate legacies that we who practice ethnography in Oceania have given the scholarly world is the stereotype of the Melanesian leader as "Big Man". The designation "Big Man", derived literally from the metaphor commonly used in Austronesian languages or from the Neo-Melanesian Pidgin lexicon, has come to denote a "pure type" or "species" of leadership, authority and government. (Rightly or wrongly, ethnographic sources usually ignore women's role in government, although they may have significant impact). In countless introductory anthropology courses students are asked to accept and perpetuate the cliches that Melanesian leaders typify achieved rather than ascribed status, that Melanesian leaders are archetypal symbols of primitive capitalistic competition, and that Melanesian leadership represents an inferior form.
2 Anthropology textbooks reify these professional myths by presenting them in written form. Keesing and Keesing (1971 : 273) note that "the Melanesian big man has become one of the almost stereotyped figures in modern political anthropology", but proceed to use him as an example of achieved status (1971 : 341) and to explain that his "influence, authority, and leadership in secular affairs come from success in mobilizing and manipulating wealth" (1971 : 272), from being "a more successful capitalist than his fellows" (1971 : 273). Haviland (1974 : 457) describes the Melanesian Big Man as a leader who "combines a small a-mount of interest in his tribe's welfare with a great deal of self-interested cunning and calculation for his own personal gain". Pearson (1974 : 220) also emphasizes the exploitive aspect of Melanesian leadership by relating that a population "works to breed and feed pigs which are then slaughtered and given by the "Big Man" or leader as gifts to another "Big Man" representing a neighboring clan group". Swartz and Jordan (1976 : 494) describe the "potential big-man" as "the manipulator of the system" who "takes advantage of a position of economic strength --- to put others in his debt".
3 The theoretical basis for such views derives, albeit imperfectly, from earlier scholarly works by Mead (1937) and Sahlins (1963). In his brilliant classic essay, Sahlins compared the "quality of leadership" in Melanesia and Polynesia (1963 : 288), much to the detriment of the former, contending that because of its fundamental defects, "the Melanesian big-man political order brakes evolutionary advance at a certain level" well below that of their Polynesian cousins (Sahlins 1963 : 293-4). But even more controversial has been Sahlins' characterization of the Melanesian big-man as a capitalist, who : "--- seems so thoroughly bourgeois, so reminiscent of the free enterprising rugged individual of our own heritage. He combines with an ostensible interest in the general welfare a more profound measure of self-interested cunning and economic calculation. His gaze, as Veblen might have put if, is fixed unswervingly to the main chance. His every public action is designed to make a competitive and invidious comparison with others, to show a standing above the masses that is product of his own manufacture" (1963 : 289).
4 Sahlins' article, reprinted in various anthologies (Hogbin and Hiatt 1966 : 159-179, Harding and Wallace 1970 : 203-215) and further elaborated by Sahlins himself (1968), has been especially influential.
5 As long as what we wrote was read only by other western anthropologists, there was no call to question its accuracy or significance. But with the spread of self-government and education in the South Pacific, "native informants" have learned to read, and some do not like what we have been saying about them. Literate young Melanesians have been particularly unhappy with our published conceptions of the Melansian Big Man. These are, they say, a distortion which they resent and reject. Epeli Hau'ofa, who is both an anthropologist and a Pacific Islander, articulates this feeling. Dismissing the quoted excerpt from Sahlins as "a clever, thoughtless and insulting piece of writing" (Hau'ofa 1975 : 285), he charges that "we (anthropologists) have projected onto Melanesian leaders the caricature of the quintessential Western capitalist : grasping, manipulative, calculating, and without a stitch of morality" (Hau'ofa 1975 : 285), that we have denied "that traditional Melanesian leaders have any genuine interest in the welfare of their people" (Hau'ofa 1975 : 285), and that we (as a profession) have presented "incomplete and distorted representations of Melanesians,--- bastardized our discipline, denied people important aspects of their humanity in our literature, and --- thereby unwittingly contributed to the perpetuation of the outrageous stereotypes of them made by ignorant outsiders who lived in their midst" (Hau'ofa 1975 : 286).
6 In some ways this is ironic. Many anthropologists do present a balanced, reasonable assessment of Big Man leadership in both introductory texts (Harris 1975 : 375-6, Kottak 1974 : 157-8) and their more scholarly works (Fried 1967 : 131-2 and 146-7, Service 1975 : 72-3). Even Sahlins, whom some are so quick to condemn as arch-villain and author of the Melanesian Big Man stereotype, asked rhetorically of his own work, "Or is it caricature ?" (Sahlins 1963: 288-9), acknowledging that he had emphasized and simplified (hence "distorted") empirical reality in order to do a comparative study. Still more germane, earlier influential ethnographic reports, such as Oliver's (1955) highly regarded work on the mumi among the Siuai of Bougainville and Hogbin's (1939) work on the ngwane-inoto among the To'abaita of Malaita (both of whom qualify as Big Men), present a balanced and humane picture of traditional Melanesian leaders .
- 1 Research for this essay was supported by the University of Illinois Center for International Compar (...)
7 In the hopes of furthering a more accurate and acceptable understanding of Melanesian leadership, let us add to their good foundations some more recent observations from another Solomon Island society, the Baegu of Malaita1.
8 Today there are some 2300 Baegu speakers living in the tropical rain forests in the highlands of northern Malaita. The Solomon Islands stretch from Bougainville on the northwest to San Cristobal in the southeast and include Choiseul, Santa Isabel, the New Georgia group, Guadalcanal and Malaita. All except Bougainville lie within the British Solomon Islands Protectorate, which is soon to achieve independence.
9 The Baegu are a horticultural people of the interior, who trade fruits and vegetables for fish with their coastal neighbors. They live in small hamlets, practice swidden farming, and raise swine. Like many Melanesian cultures, their social organization includes both unilineal and cognatic elements, and their political organization features hamlet autonomy, loose factions, and an absence of higher lever political integration. Most of them adhere to one of four Christian mission denominations (Roman Catholic, Anglican, Seventh Day Adventist or the fundmentalist South Seas Evangelical Church), but about a third still worship the ancestral ghosts of the pagan religion. Almost all are outside the mainstream of modern Solomon Islands development, and they tend to be conservative in their attitudes to the outside world.
10 The Baegu dialect is one of several comprising the Lauic language. Their neighbors speaking other Lauic dialects include the To'abaita to the northwest, the Baelelea to the north, the lowland Lau of the coast and lagoon to the east, and the Fataleka to the south. Further south in Malaita are the Kwara'ae, Langalanga, Kwaio, 'Are'are and Sa'a.
11 In the ethnographic present and the remembered past, the Baegu recognized several different kinds of leaders as a traditional elite (Deutsch 1970: 39-69); who severally ran Baegu affairs and in effect made the basic political decisions of who gets what, when and how (Fried 1968: 409). All are labeled wane baita, meaning literally wane = man and baita = big or (in metaphoric usage) important.
12 One of these is the wane initoo, whose title is glossed by Ivens (1934: 51) as both "in the middle" and as "glorious or renowned", the first being directly comparable to Hogbin's (1939 : 62) rendering of "centre man" for the To'abaita title ngwane-inoto. These are the hereditary, titular landowners. They are said to own the land, but Baegu property law and land tenure are different from ours (Ross 1973 : 154-175), and it would be wrong to expect them to behave as landlords. For example, they cannot forbid use of their land by fellow clansmen or certain kin, they cannot give permission to outsiders to use the land unless they have the consent of their clans, they cannot give away parcels of land with clear and undivided fee simple title (residual title always remains with the clan), and they are virtually constrained by norms of generosity to grant permission to use the land to any needy person who requests it. Nevertheless, a wane initoo is respected as the most important member of his clan, and his opinions carry great weight. He is the symbol of the land and of his clan or lineage segment. The office of wane initoo is strictly hereditary, with succession based upon primogeniture and seniority according to birth order of siblings. Ideally, the office would pass from father to eldest son, but if an incumbent died without leaving a mature son, his eldest brother or male parallel cousin would succeed him. No clearcut procedures exist to resolve disputed successions. The most apt western analogy for the wane initoowould be that of a chief of state with the right to participate in legislative debate, rather than that of a chief of government ; a titled aristocrat with a seat (or even a portfolio) in parliament, rather than an executive. Wane initoo bear themselves with the quiet, aloof dignity of those who expect deference as their birthright.
13 The wane nifoa, meaning "man who offers prayers", is a priest of the ancestral spirit cults. (Priests are called fata'abu in southern Baegu clans influenced by Fataleka speech habits or arai nifoa near the east coast where Lau usages predominate). A priest presides at the maoma mortuary festivals in honor of the ghosts of deceased priests. There he slaughters by strangulation the pigs offered to the ancestors ; recites a litany composed of genealogies, lists of donors, and prayers for the continued good fortune of participants ; supervises the cooking of pork in leaf ovens ; and acts in general as director of ritual. Priests also officiate at lesser sacrifices to other ancestral spirits, expiatory offerings by sinners, and first fruits offerings for the opening for harvest of new gardens.
14 In Baegu theology a man can offer sacrifices to any of his ancestors, and a priest can pray to any of his and conduct rituals at shrines where they are buried. A woman contributes sacrifices to the spirits through her father, husband, son or brother according to her relevant status as young girl, wife, widow or spinster. In theory, each agnatic clan or recognized patrilineage segment should have its own priest to conduct its ancestor worship and other ritual affairs. In practice, cognatic descent groups and coresidents tend to form ritual congregation centered about a shrine and a priest who is qualified to sacrifice there.
15 Ideally a priest's eldest son should succeed to the priesthood upon his father's death, however, knowledge and demeanor are more significant than genealogical criteria, and priesthoods usually pass to the best qualified of the potential heirs. Baegu informants say that a priest should look and act like a priest, and should know how to do sacrifices properly.
16 They are expected to be dignified, worthy of respect, wise, and professional. A man becomes a priest only if his fellows trust him to make sacrifices and offer prayers for them. Priests are, in effect, elected by consensus of the ritual communities they serve.
17 The wane ramo, meaning "strong man", is (or rather was) a traditional war leader. Ivens (1934 : 88) translates the term from the Lau dialect as "champion" as well. The role no longer functions, but men recognized as ramo are still living. Prior to British pacification of Malaita about 1920, the ramo Led war parties and did killings for hire. They enjoyed brief reflorescences in 1927-28, when they were recruited by British officials for a punitive expedition against the Kwaio around Sinerango, who had assassinated District Officer Bell (Keesing 1965 : 25-27), and again in 1942-44, when Allied commanders used Malaitamen as part of a British Solomon Islands Self-defence Force against the Japanese during the Solomons campaign.
18 In traditional times, ramo served useful purposes as military commanders, providers of defense, agents of social control, and executors of justice. If a man were injured or insulted by another, he (or a Big Man supporting him) could offer a bounty (called finisi) for vengeance. The bounty and casus belli, which was usually adultery or utterance of a traditional curse, would be announced at a feast. A local strong man, or pretender to that title, would then ambush and kill the alleged offender or, if he were too powerful to attack directly, one of his weaker kinsmen. Proper form required a would-be killer to brag publicly of his intention. Subsequently the killer would collect his reward, which was usually shell valuables or produce, although parcels of land might be offered for avenging the murder of a rich man's son. One who felt he was being unjustly accused could also employ the military skills of a strong man to defend himself. In these ways, effective warriors could amass wealth and achieve bigness.
19 Again, ramo was supposed to be an inheritable title, but non-bellicose sons could easily lose the distinction, while aggressive rivals could attain and defend the position. Baegu and Baelelea informants define a ramo simply as one who kills people. This was a hard way to gain success, for competition was keen and there were obvious hazards in the lifestyle. Rivals, hearing a strong man boast of the revenge he was to carry out, might perform a killing first and claim the bounty. Worse yet, Baegu norms held that deaths ought to be avenged. Hence the life of a strong man, who acheived and kept his position by killing, was always in danger. Only the toughest, strongest, most wary, most dominating, and most awe-inspiring succeeded and survived. Current leaders said to be like the ramo of old tend to be aggressive, domineering mesomorphs.
20 Besides these well defined roles of landholder, priest and war leader, there are other Big Men. These are de facto neighborhood leaders, who organize communal work projects, to whom people turn for help, and who mobilize and articulate public opinion. They, too, are called wane baita, although they do not fit into the three more obvious categories. Perhaps the best diagnostic feature of their status appears in the distribution of roast pork and taro from the sacrificial ovens at mortuary feasts. Officiating priests do not feed the communicants directly, but divide the food into portions that are assigned to important men, who in turn feed shares to their clients and associates. Titular landholders, other priests, war leaders, and these neighborhood organizers all receive such public recognition. Leaders who are de facto Big Men are usually gregarious, aggressive men of action.
21 Logically, the semantic domain of contemporary, traditional Baegu leadership has a superordinate category of wane baita (big man). This includes the lower order categories of leaders who are wane initoo (titular landholders). wane nifoa (pagan priests), wane ramo (war leaders), and wane baita (big men of other sorts).
22 From folklore and interviews with aged informants, it appears that in the past the Baegu recognized other kinds of Big Men and that the taxonomy of leadership may have been more complex. Perhaps the warrior ramo should be treated as legendary, for the role is certainly no longer a feasible one. An exceptionally powerful pagan priest, called foa ni gwou (prayer at the head), gwouna foa (head of prayer), or fata' abu baita (big priest), was able to make sacrifices at several shrines. He could pray for more than one lineage, he could call upon priests of lesser shrines for assistance, and he was said to be a priest for toa ka sui, "everybody" in a district or clan. Presumably, he was a chief priest, sacrificing to a higher order of clan ancestral spirit (one nearer the apical ancestor) as well as to the lower order ancestral spirits served by lineage and lesser shrine priests. The wane taloa, whose title means "man of renown or fame", was a Big Man whose prestige extended beyond his own district and clan, and whose right to prestige was certified by formal investiture by a chief priest (Ross 1973 : 201). He was a leader who controlled many people for making big gardens and giving the biggest feasts. Another bigger than usual man was the wanesarea (to feed or foster) or wane saungia (to kill), who was said both to care for his people and to have the power of life or death over them. A wane sarea or saungia was to the people of his district as a farmer is to his pigs, whom he feeds and cares for as pets until he sacrifices them to the ancestors. Finally, the title of wane 'aofia, described for the Fataleka by Russell (1950 : 8), belonged to the most prestigious man of all, who is described in Melanesian Pidgin as "Em i olsem king" ("He is like a king"). None of these, bigger than today's Big Men, exist except in memory or myth.
23 With the coming of western influences, new types of leaders joined, but by no means replaced the Baegu leadership corps. Catholic and Anglican clergymen, Elders of the South Seas Evangelical Church, and some Seventh Day Adventist teachers have assumed the functions of traditional Big Men for mission villages. Sifi or "custom chiefs", who hold high offices in one of the cargoist movements that have followed the nationalistic Marching Rule and nativistic Doliasi Custom Movement in northern Malaita (Cochrane 1971 : 67-118), have considerable power in cult affairs, but this does not always carry over into other aspects of life. Popularly elected members of the Malaita Council may have prestige among their constituents, and headmen appointed by the Protectorate administration to represent it at the sub-district level can be influential, but they rarely are.
24 There are also numerous lesser leaders who have some status, but by no means enough to be considered Big Men. Christian mission teachers and catechists fit into this category, as do minor government functionaries such as police constables, clerks of the various administrative departments, and most of the appointed village or sub-district headmen. The present Custom Movement also has its clerks, genealogists, masters-at-arms, and lesser chiefs. More traditional communities might recognize specialists as wane filo doo or wane filu (a wise man, usually in a genealogical sense), wane toli(specialists at dividing pork and taro among communicants at mortuary feasts), wane anifoa or refoa (priest's assistants who help kill and cook sacrifical pigs), wane sili (experts in singing, dancing and panpipe music who know the traditional epic chants and dance patterns), wane ilala(diviners and soothsayers), and wane gura (herbal curers and magical healers). All of these defer to true Big Men.
25 One of the more obvious generalizations is that although achievement and mobility are important, so too is pedigree. Titular landholders, who are heads of lineages, succeed to office following regular rules or primogeniture and agnatic seniority. The Baegu feel that eldest sons of other kinds of Big Men (priests, warriors and neighborhood organizers) ought to succeed their fathers. Furthermore, they entertain a naive conception of heredity which assumes that such traits as intelligence, strength, grace, and beauty are heritable and which explains (for them) why the children of leading men exhibit talents similar to their parents. Some Baegu men can recite lengthy talisibara, formal genealogies of up to 38 generations in depth, that purport to trace father to son successions to Big Man positions. When all else fails, they fall back upon the potentially self-fulfilling explanation that regardless of the details of inheritance or succession, Big Men always come from good families.
26But even in the absence of anything truly genetic or of any explicit rule of succession, a favorable pedigree confers advantages. Real property rights derive from descent group membership (Ross 1973 : 158-169). Males inherit personal property, including the all important shell valuables and sacrificial swine, patrilineally (Ross 1973 : 173-5). So, one can either inherit or fail to inherit the assets upon which subsequent status rivalry depends.
27Other significant aspects of pedigrees are the networks to which they give a person access and the quantity and quality of potential allies they provide. A man whose bilateral personal kindred contains numerous wealthy, powerful kinsmen to whom he can turn for help has a distinct advantage. Similarly, it is helpful to be part of a descent group that has enough good land to forestall competition, yet which is numerous enough to defend its rights through effective possession and impressive public rituals. A strategic position in the kinship web gives a man grandparents, parents and mother's brothers of the age and status he needs to help him launch his career most effectively.
28In former times a traditional Baegu leader could assist his son, especially his wela wane inao or first-born son, by performing the faabaita (make big) ritual in his behalf. Sometime in adolescence the boy would be dedicated to a leader's carecr. He would retire to a hut in the forest, where he would make a taro garden, observe food taboos, and refrain from bathing while he remained in isolation. When his taro matured, the boy would harvest it for a public feast given by his father in his name. The young man, now bathed, oiled, groomed and dressed most splendidly in the best shell and teeth jewelry his father could provide, watched while the guests ate fish, vegetables and puddings. Besides food, the father might distribute shell valuables provided by the son's kinsmen. These gifts, made in the son's name, then became debits to his accounts receivable, assets which he could collect to further his subsequent ceremonial career.
29Besides pedigree, certain personality and character traits are essential prerequisites for leadership, and not all who would be Big Men have them. The special characteristics associated with priests and war leaders were mentioned previously.
30The ethic of generosity is foremost in the behavior expected of leaders. A leader is obliged to give those who depend upon him whatever assistance they require, even (in theory) impoverishing himself if need be. Hospitality is customary in northern Malaita, and the Baegu consider European and American commercial restaurants and hotels barbaric. I was often advised by my Baegu friends not to ask or offer payment for favors and not to haggle over prices ; these are demeaning practrices for important men, who just give when asked. The father and children analogy of a benevolent authority generously feeding and supporting his dependents is frequently invoked to explain proper leadership. There was a sense of noblesse oblige, but I also have the impression that the big and not-so-big men who entertained, fed and instructed me were warmhearted and outgoing persons who truly enjoyed giving.
31People also expect leaders to be hardworking, to have a pronounced sense of responsibility, and to have oratorical skill in the use of language. Big Men are supposed to use certain words, constructions and semantic ploys that children (and ethnographers) cannot. One presumes, too, that the people expect their leaders to possess practical and specific skills of organization and management, for they defer to Big Men in novel situations, and they rely upon them to cope with sometimes incomprehensible requests of government and visiting researchers. In addition to these practical talents, Baegu Big Men often exhibit charismatic attributes of leadership that cannot be measured or even defined. In the vocabularies of our executive suites and military officer corps, these are "bearing" and "command presence". As the Baegu say, "If you see them, you know them". Finally, Baegu leaders carry with them an aura of success. In the cosmology of northern Malaita, they have mamanaa--power, truth, efficacy, potency, and good fortune (Ross 1973 : 234-5). One of the common Baegu synonyms for Big Men is wane lakea, which is in other contexts obviously the English loan word "lucky".
32Once an ambitious, potential leader gets his start and meets the character tests, he can maintain and enhance his position through competition ; but this is not the free-wheeling unregulated competition of our stereotypes.
33There is a formal friendship institution, called kwaimani, that involves competitive giving of sorts. A man who wants another as friend or ally will make a formal presentation to him of shell bead or porpoise teeth money. Like many other gifts, this can be classified as doo mouri (something live), which should be repaid, or doo maena (something dead), which need not be. Gifts between kwaimani partners can be construed as competitive, because (even though it is expensive) ambitious men seek to acquire as many kwaimani partners as possible, and because (by making the gift) the donor coerces his friend into accepting the duty of reciprocation. But it is not fighting with property, since the purpose of the gift is to honor the donee, not to outclass or shame him. One gives to gain an ally, a man who will aid his friend when needed. Other things being equal, a man who has many kwaimani friends is a powerful man.
34Virtually all achieved prestige and upward mobility come not through open competition but through contributions to and organizing of maomamortuary feasts in honor of deceased priests and ancestors. These feasts are given by agnatic clans for their own greater glory and to assert their real property interests in tracts of land around sacred shrines in the forest where their ancestors are buried. Contributors to the feast are essentially a cognatic stock or stem kindred descended from the ancestors in question and for whom the priest being honored was ritual leader. They grow a special garden of sacred taro, donate sacrificial pigs (which they have raised as pets from infancy and which may have been dedicated to the ancestral ghosts from the beginning), erect a temporary thatched shrine, perform sacred woodcarvings, and hire the singers, panpipers and dancers needed for a good feast. For the actual feast itself, which takes place in a sacred forest grove where the shrine is and usually lasts about four days, the officiating priest must collect vast amounts of pigs, taro and puddings to feed the communicants, and shell valuables to pay the performers.
35 In contributing food or money to a feast, men activate their rights to membership in a cognatic descent group and assert their claims to shares in the group's land interests. Contributions prove a donor's commitment to the group's welfare and qualify him for leadership.
36Upward social mobility operates in the context of the mortuary feasts. Men first achieve public recognition by contributing to and receiving shares of food from feasts. Eventually some men move up in public reputation by becoming major contributors of pigs and money and major claimants of portions of food from the ovens. When a major contributor and claimant is recognized by the community as a Big Man, he will be looked up to as an organizer or sponsor of future feasts, as a source of help for the weak, and for his leadership.
37 Weddings are another traditional arena for competition and route for upward mobility. Among other events (Ross 1973 : 146-7), weddings feature the creation and discharge of prestations between two bilateral personal kindreds through exchange of food and an expensive bride price of shell valuables and other ornaments. The groom's father assembles the bridewealth and ceremonial foods from contributors who are members of the young man's kindred, and when the time comes, presents these formally to the bride's father for distribution to her kindred. Meanwhile, the bride's father has been soliciting contributions of food from her kinsmen for ceremonial counter-presentation to the groom's father (and kindred). Vegetables, fruits and fish are the usual wedding foods, since pork is among pagans reserved for sacrificial purposes. Christian weddings (where pork may be served), church feasts on religious holidays, and large-scale meals served to workers on community projects are more recent innovations that permit sponsors to display their generosity.
38Competition, such as it is, and the feasting cycle are constrained by certain economic facts of life. To begin with, no one has enough wealth to finance feasts and weddings by himself. Only by borrowing from relatives and friends can a man accumulate enough shell money to obtain a wife for his son or find enough pigs for a decent mortuary festival. One establishes credit by giving to others when they are in need. By generous contributions to others, a man spreads a net of obligations for repayment, which he can collect at appropriate times to enable him to sponsor feasts.
39Thus cooperation is an essential prerequisite for competitive success. The primary arena for competition is a public festival conducted by a social group for corporate and general public benefit. A potential leader must have the active support of kin and friends to enable him to sponsor a feast. He must, therefore, get his group to cooperate, to organize to support his project, and to contribute wealth in some form. In staging the feast and the displays that accompany it, his group competes with other clans, kindreds, shrine congregations, churches or communities. Each tries to conduct a better and more impressive ritual than the others, with the glory from success going to the group. Direct personal competition between rivals does not occur. A Baegu leader is like the captain of a sports team ; he may be an individual star, and he may receive the lion's share of his team's glory, but he achieves real success only if his team has a winning season. A Baegu leader succeeds in competition only if he first succeeds in cooperative endeavor.
40Putting together a large number of statements about leaders from Baegu informants reveals a composite guide to political strategy, or at least a descriptive explanation of how Big Men become big. There is a general consensus that favorable genealogical position and the connections this provides, inherited land rights, and inherited wealth are the primary factors that give entree to leadership. Certain other personal endowments, either inherited or developed from family and peer group experiences, enhance a man's potential for leadership : intelligence, cleverness, wit, humor, physical strength and grace, good looks, energy, ambition and will, pleasing personality traits, eloquence, social skills, and charismatic leadership qualities. With luck, a young man can gain other intangible assets as he matures : esoteric knowledge, magical skills, traditional technical skills, military prowess, western education, and further social and political abilities. A faabaita ceremony from a fond parent accelerates a potential leader's progress. In young manhood one begins to possess social capital in the form of reputation as a farmer and trader, respect as an artisan, sophistication from off-island plantation labor, influence form ritual or cargo cult participation, government or mission favor, and friendships. Hard work to accumulate wealth from gardening and other labor, a proper marriage to a hardworking and virtuous girl, and exploitation of genealogical ties to borrow financial capital are the all-important initial steps in a leadership career. To promote himself, a man begins contributing to weddings and religious feasts and using his knowledge and skills for constructive public purposes. As his reputation grows, he will continue to be a good citizen, make wise investments as loans to younger kinsmen, acquire allies through formal kwaimanifriendship gifts, and make speeches at public festivals. Older leaders may ask him to serve as a priest's helper, dance or chant leader, leader of a section of a communal work project or (in the old days) war party. Having begun his career as a protegee of older men, a man eventually begins to attract followers of his own. At some stage in his career, a successful aspirant to leadership becomes a full participant in feasting, with a portion from the oven to distribute to his own associates. Specialized leaders, such as priests and warriors, begin to go their separate ways. Other Big Men become sponsors of feasts and patrons of larger hamlets containing foster children, affiliated relatives, and miscellaneous clients. After public acceptance as Big Men, leaders continue to participate in feasting and community affairs, to be good citizens, to help their kin and neighbors, and to validate their status by continued evidence of luck and supernatural favor.
41The Baegu assume that heirs of Big Men will continue participation in community affairs at the same level as their fathers. Whether or not they do so is hard to tell from the short range perspective of an ethnographer, for all Baegu are active in pagan feasting or church activities, and upward or downward mobility are not readily apparent.
42In general, leaders are those who initiate action, take precedence in public, are listened to by others, and receive general respect. They enjoy certain perquisites of their status, such as the portion of food from festival ovens, widespread public recognition and visibility, the right to wear elaborate jewelry on formal occasions, the right to use fancier than usual betel chewing apparatus, the honor of drum rolls on slit gongs at death, and the opportunity to marry polygynously. They command a higher bride price for their daughters. On the other hand, they have obligations that common people do not. Big Men must satisfy more rigorous codes of morality and decorum, laws are more strictly applied to them, and penalties for transgressions are more severe. They must pay more bridewealth for wives for their sons, they are expected to launch their sons' careers with proper ceremonies, they are obliged to be eternally generous, and they support large establishments of foster children and clients. They cannot be stingy or too authoritarian, or they will lose the constituency of followers upon which their position rests.
43The Baegu people like their leaders. They respect and admire Big Men, rather than resent them. Big Men are valued as a community resource ; they are the ones to whom a person turns in times of need, the ones who can get things done. With the exception of the ramo warriors, who were feared, Big Men have both prestige and esteem. Any decent Baegu has the esteem of his family and friends but little prestige, and many specialists and westernized strivers have prestige but little esteem, but Big Men have both.
44Baegu Big Men perform a number of socially useful functions. They manage and expedite community activities like feasts, new gardening projects, housebuilding, trail clearance after storms, and public works. They accomplish desired tasks and keep morale high through their influence, oratorical skills, and personal example. They are powerful agents of social control ; they mobilize public opinion, lead in shaping consensus, articulate decisions, speak for and enforce the general will, control gossip, and control deviance through disapproval or military action against sorcerers and transgressors who refuse to make compensation. As agents of justice they mediate compensation payments in tort cases, execute and enforce judgments among their followers, serve as spokesmen for legislation growing out of litigation, act as repositories of tribal jurisprudence, hear appeals from their people, seek revenge for aggrieved associates who cannot collect compensation, and defend their followers against revenge from outsiders.
45In a setting of hamlet and neighborhood sovereignty with no superordinate political authority (before Bristish pacification), Baegu Pig Men conducted whatever "foreign relations" there were with more distant settlements. A resident injured, insulted or threatened by someone from elsewhere could not safely claim compensation or exact revenge directly. Instead, he could appeal to a Big Man in his own vicinity, who could (as he saw fit) protect his client's interests and person by demanding compensation, threatening the transgressor, sending a war party to attack him directly, or working through some other Big Man in the transgressor's district to reach some sort of justice.
46Big Men were and are financiers. They are a source of personal credit to whom common men can turn to get money for bridewealth, piglets to raise to enter the ceremonial feasting cycle, and loans for personal and family reasons (such as to pay taxes or to satisfy adverse judgments requiring compensation payments). They also provide the capital that makes weddings and mortuary festivals possible. Per capita annual income for Solomon Islanders is under US$100 per year. Yet bride prices usually exceed A $100, and food for wedding exchanges may cost hundreds of dollars. Mortuary festivals sacrifice dozens of swine costing as much as A$40 apiece and require standard A$10 payments to each of several score singers, panpipers and dancers. No one individual can afford such expenditures, but by sponsoring activities and mobilizing contributors, Big Men can accumulate the wealth that makes ceremonial life possible. They are in a real sense the bankers who support Baegu cultural life.
47This underwriting of community cultural activities and rituals is no mean contribution to their people. Communal work groups (now often called "unions") have been active in producing water supplies, sanitation facilities, "custom" cult houses, new churches, and schools. Big Men organize and feed them. Formal weddings (with all the traditional negotiations, bridewealth payments, feasts, and exchanges of food) are something the Baegu take seriously as sources of family pride and bases for a married couple's self-respect. A bride's kindred enjoy a large bride price as proof of their social standing and the girl's virtue, while the groom's kindred point to their ability to raise a large bride price as a measure of their wealth and power. Besides its real estate function, the mortuary feast is the prime context for fine arts performances in music and dance, which are offered along with sacrificial pigs to the ancestral ghosts. This is believed to placate them or make them harmless, which earns blessings of prosperity and good health for their descendants, prevents natural disasters and plagues, assures the fertility and productivity of the earth, and insures the continued proper harmony of the cosmos (Ross 1973 : 233-242).
48Perhaps most interesting for a social scientist is the direct effect Big Men's activities have on group vitality. The mortuary feast demonstrates the virtue and vigor of an agnatic clan or cognatic descent group. These are about the only occasion when the segmentary lineage system operates, and when members have any sense of community. Weddings enable a personal kindred to coalesce for a time and display their strength and commitment to kinship ideals. Communal work projects enhance the solidarity of neighborhood and factional alignments. By sponsoring, financing and organizing such activities, Big Men build morale and bring group success.
49The possibility that Baegu leaders are collectively a social class is a still open question. There is ambiguous evidence that wane baita (big man) is a salient cognitive category. Linguistically, it is regularly contrasted with wane oewania, "stupid man" or "rubbish man", but there is no corresponding taxon for the mass of the male population who are simply hardworking farmers and good husbands and fathers. All important men and their immediate families are respected. Because they share a high prestige and esteem based upon public consensus and because there are behavioral correlates to their status (privileges and obligations), they can be said to hold high rank.
50Public expectations are different for leaders. They have certain privileges such as optional polygyny, fancy dress, flamboyance, and extraversion ; but higher standards of performance are demanded of them. They are not permitted many of the human frailties.
51Leaders interact frequently with one another as equals, because of their common involvement in the cooperation and competition of feasting ; a leader's interaction with his followers is by definition one of inequality. Each leader is the focus of an activity group, and interaction among foci is qualitatively different from other kinds of interaction. With an equal one negotiates or discusses, rather than commands or cajoles. Particularly in the ritual and political sectors, leaders have more in common with one another than with their own lesser associates. Hence, sociometrically leaders form a stratum of interaction.
52The expensive bridewealth demanded for the marriage of Big Men's children tends to form an endogamous marriage class. No rational father would pass up a chance to ask and get a premium bride price for his nubile daughter, nor would he squander the high price he must pay for his son's bride on a dubious girl from an unimportant family. Hence there is a statistical tendency (supported by common sense norms) toward betrothal of leader's children to the children of other leaders.
53Yet, leaders do not under any definition form a corporate group or a caste. As a collectivity they have no legal personality. Declasse marriages are disapproved, but are not aabu (forbidden) and do not subject offenders to punitive action other than token compensation payments. Pretenders to the dress and mannerisms of Big Men are considered amusing ; they may be ridiculed, but they are not censured. Rank boundaries are indistinct and permeable, and they vary with context. It is impossible to distinguish little big men and big little men, and a would-be leader may be big in one situation but not in another. In some respects, bigness is merely a matter of degree, for all men take part to some extent in feasting and exchanges. Although children are supposed to receive their parents' rank, downward mobility is probably common. Sons of Big Men, who did not inherit a title and who have not been diligent at meeting social obligations, do not seem to enjoy any marked respect. And since according to the rules of the game natural heirs do not always succeed priests and warriors, and men can become bigger through gift-giving and feasting, upward mobility is also a possibility.
54Because there is so much agreement about what leaders are like and how they should behave, and because leadership does seem to run in families, one might speak of a Baegu nobility. In the dialect of the neighboring coastal and Lau Lagoon people, Big Men are arai, translated as nobleman, chief or elder by Ivens (1921 : 30). To the Baegu the Lau seem numerous, rich and sophisticated, so many coastal Baegu adopt Lau practices and hope to lose the stigma of being hill people. Some use the Lau terms arai ni foa (priest) and arai baita (important man). In normal Baegu usage, however, arai more often means husband, white man, patron or (in archaic idiom) master of captive slaves kept for cannibal feasting.
55Considering all this it is probably best to say that Baegu Big Men are a linguistic and cultural category, leaving resolution of the social class problem to comparative sociologists to whom stratification is more familiar.
56From this field data (acknowledging that the Baegu are a very small sample, indeed) and earlier ethnographic work, I would like to suggest several compensatory generalizations about the traditional Melanesian Big Man style of leadership. I would argue that (1) the idea of achieved status can easily be overemphasized ; (2) Cooperation may be at least as important as competition ; (3) Such leadership is not simply monotypic, but can be functionally divisible ; (4) Traditional Big Men were not necessarily selfish exploiters, but more likely responsible, useful, and wellliked members of their communities ; and (5) This style of leadership is not necessarily limited or inferior.
57Addressing first the contention that achieved status has been overemphasized in studies of Melanesian politics and leadership, note the Baegu insistence upon primogeniture and birth order seniority for succession to the office of titular landholder and head of lineage, their supposition that sons should and ought to succeed their fathers as priests and warriors, their assumptions about inheritance of desirable attributes, and their self-justifying concept of "good" families as the source of Big Men of other kinds. In his study of the Mekeo of the Central District of Papua New Guinea (about 70 miles northwest of Port Moresby), Hau'ofa (1971 : 153 and 167) stresses the importance of hereditary succession and privileges for Mekeo chieftainship. As long ago as his 1938-39 study of leadership in southern Bougainville, Oliver (1967 : 441) noted that kismen to support him, a highranking kinsman (real or classificatory) to sponsor him, and a powerful matrilineage are crucial elements needed by a man who aspires to become one of the traditional Big Men called mumi by the Siuai. To ignore inheritance and pedigree, portraying Melanesian leadership as an archetype of achieved status, is to distort reality.
58Turning second to the suggestion that cooperation may be as significant as competition, note that Baegu competition for leadership occurs almost solely in the context of mortuary feasting, where the goal is group success and cooperation is essential to that end. Competition is between groups, and success in competition comes only if people cooperate successfully. To the Baegu, a Big Man is one who gets people to work together, who makes groups successful. Their other lavish public displays, formal friendship presentations and weddings, are to create alliances or stimulate family (kindred) loyalties. Hogbin's description of attempts to outdo one another by ngwane-inoto or "centre men", who are Big Men among the To'abaita of northern Malaita, makes it appear that they compete by being generous, by giving more to worthy causes and by contributing more for public purposes than their rivals (Hogbin 1939 : 72). Siuai mumi candidates must exhibit generosity, cooperativeness, and a genuine liking for working with others (Oliver 1967 : 397). This sort of "competition" hardly accords with the aura of social darwinism and vulgar conspicuous consumption evoked by the more extreme renderings of our anthropolgical stereotype of the competitive Melanesian.
59Considering third the proposition that there are varieties of Melanesian leadership, note how the Baegu recognize several types of Big Men. Various leaders have different functions and reasons for being. The wane initoo is symbolic head of his clan or lineage segment, personifies land rights, and is a focal point for kinship and descent ideology. Pagan priests give absolution, purify or sanctify celebrants, help people expiate sins, conduct sacrifices and funerals, and serve as ritual leaders. Specialized war leaders exercise military command, use police powers, and lead in matters of defense and revenge. Other Big Men of more general role organize feasts and weddings, manage action groups, protect markets, finance community projects, and play leading roles in mobilizations to exploit natural resources. Furthermore, there is hierarchical structure to Baegu leadership. Some wane initoo head whole clans, lesser ones head lineage segments. Priests have helpers who assist them in ceremonies, and the chief priests could sacrifice at several shrines of lesser priests. A very Big Man can have other Big Men among his associates. Mekeo chiefs have specified areas over which they have the right to exercise public power (Hau'ofa 1971 : 166). The To'abaita ngwane-inoto initiated feasts only for his own descent group (Hogbin 1939 : 105), and the To'abaita, too, had ramo who led raiding parties and executed revenge for a price (Hogbin 1939 : 91). It would a appear that Melanesian societies have not just general purpose leaders, but diverse ones who have specialized functions, and that Melanesian leadership can be hierarchically organized and internally complex.
60It is easy to support the fourth contention that Melanesian Big Men are responsible leaders rather than selfish exploiters. The often cited observation that Big Man leadership is limited, because people will desert a leader who is too greedy or authoritarian, can be interpreted as proof that the role of Big Man is one the public values. A candidate or an incumbent has to convince a perpetually skeptical electorate that he is useful, responsible, and worthy. Baegu leaders perform valuable and essential services as bankers, judges, entrepreneurs, agents of charity, scholars, and public executives for a semi-literate, subsistence level society. Hogbin reports that To'abaita ngwane-inoto organized enterprises that concerned all (1939 : 74), maintained public order and harmony (1939 : 77), were mediators and peace-makers (1939 : 79), and dealt with the government District Officers imposed as magistrates over the people of Malaita (1939 : 146). Both To'abaita and Baegu use the banyan tree allegory to dramatize the Big Man's support of his circle of associates. According to Oliver, the Siuai mumi intensified and vitalized social relations in their neighborhoods (1967 : 441), functioned as important instruments of social control (1967 : 442), stimulated economic activity in both production and distribution (1967 : 446), promoted territorial organization (1967 : 420), managed community relations with outsider (1967 : 407-8), and organized warfare beyond the level of inter-personal violence (1967 : 413).
61The whole community, or at least a significant faction, benefited from Big Men's activities. A whole To'abaita district would be exalted by a local ngwane-inoto's success (Hogbin 1939 : 73). Siuai neighborhoods having active high-ranking mumi possessed more esprit de corps and better morale than most others (Oliver 1967 : 445).
62For all this they assumed real burdens of leadership, accrued few exceptional legal rights, and realized little material gain. Baegu leaders have decided obligations, are subject to unusually strict legal interpretations, and must conform to high public expectations. Siuai mumisuffer deprivation in the course of accumulating capital, restrictions on personal freedom of public figures that hampers their sex-adventuring, constant political pressures, public demands that their conduct be beyond reproach, and magical or actual physical danger from rivals (Oliver 1967 : 409-10). For the Siuai public, "Becoming a leader is difficult ; remaining one is dangerous" (Oliver 1967 : 408). The mumi produced their food and traded for other goods just as ordinary people did ; their standard of living was not significantly higher than other men's, nor did they possess such rights as eminent domain or sexual access (Oliver 1967 : 420). Although they gave the feasts, To'abaita ngwane-inoto did not receive shares of food from the ovens "The giver of the feast has honour, not meat" (Hogbin 1939 : 66).
63To become Big Men, Melanesian leaders had to be respected and admired. Baegu parents point to Big Men as exemplars for children. To'abaita ngwane-inoto work harder than other men (Hogbin 1939 : 73). The Siuai believe that high-ranking leaders possess to a marked degree the attributes of ambition, skill, industriousness, and goodness, which includes generosity, cooperativeness, geniality and decency (Oliver 1967 : 396-7). Objectively, Oliver says that a would-be mumi must have intelligence, industriousness, charisma, executive ability, mastery in the use of non-physical coercion, and diplomacy (Oliver 1967 : 441).
64And above all, the people themselves like their leaders. Baegu Big Men enjoy both prestige and esteem. One explanation of postwar cults in Malaita such as Marching Rule among the southern 'Are'are and the Doliasi Custom Movement among the Baelelea in the north, has been that they were nativistic attempts to coerce outside authority into recognizing the legitimate status of traditional Big Men (Cochrane 1970 : 144).
65These descriptions are scarcely the portrait of an unpopular tyrant, exploiter, or capitalist drone. They suggest instead that Melanesian leaders did have a genuine interest in the welfare of their followers, and that the people appreciated their interest and sense of responsibility.
66The final argument, that traditional Melanesian leadership is not necessarily inferior or limiting, cannot be supported so directly or so surely. One can argue that characterizations of Melanesians as underdeveloped and invidious comparisons of them with other peoples spring from a widespread, longstanding, and perhaps ultimately racist practice of denigrating Melanesians while romanticizing other Pacific Islanders (Hau'ofa 1975 : 285-6). This of course begs the question.
67One can maintain that only in the kingdoms of Hawaii and Tonga did Polynesians create political organizations undeniably more impressive than anything found in Melanesia, while such examples of a Melanesian genius for a real integration as the kula of the Massim Region (Malinowski 1922) and the kinship and marketing organization of the Admiralty Island (Schwartz 1963) are as impressive as any found in Oceania.
68One can suggest that if in fact control by one over an activity, good or domain that another values gives one man power over or influence upon the other (Burns, Cooper and Wild 1972 : 104), then perhaps Melanesian political develoment has been "limited" by other factors than leadership style. Perhaps the availability and distribution of natural resources in Melanesia inhibited growth of power relationships ; perhaps poor communications prevented Melanesian leaders from exploiting the power or influence they had ; or perhaps the Melanesian ideology of free competition encouraged challengers, while elaboration of the mana concept gave Polynesian chiefs a power monopoly. A leader can claim to have access to or control over all the "power" (as sovereigns and states do by definition), but no one can hope to corner all the shell valuables in the Solomon Islands.
69One can speculate that Big Men may not, in fact, be all that limited. It is not too farfetched to say that the popular image of the Sicilian-American "Don" portrayed in literature (Puzo 1969) has many of the traits we ascribe to the Melanesian Big Man, yet not even the most optimistic reformer would call the power of organized crime in America "limited".
70One can simply assert that there were and are good things about Melanesian leadership.
71The cycle of feasting a Siuai man goes through to acquire renown and achieve mumi status involves manipulation of large numbers of people and vast amounts of wealth (relative to context) ; it is an excellent way to prove a candidate's executive ability and to assure that leadership roles are filled by men with managerial talent (Oliver 1967 : 422-439). There are far worse qualificiations and selective processes. The structural flexibility of the Baegu system of leadership permits society to realign itself as needed around leaders of proven ability ; its functional specializations enable society to reward various types of useful activity or personality by inclusion in a loose category of directors ; the whole system is resilient, because it does not depend upon having the right man in the right position ; and social climbing, when it is done in socially approved means for approved ends, can be a powerful motivating force for recruiting leaders and accomplishing public purposes.
72Finally, one can ask rhetorical questions about the quality and purpose of government.
73Is power always preferable to influence ? Is efficiency at maintaining and extending itself, capacity to provide for the public welfare, or effectiveness as guarantor of personal liberty a better index of governmental quality ? Are theocracy or the princely tyranny of dynastic government preferable to the popular oligarchy of Melanesian politics ?
74What is needed is a balanced perspective on traditional Melanesian leadership, not a new flattering stereotype, and certainly not the old Big Man stereotype. The caricature of Melanesian leadership as achievement besotted, altogether competitive, simple, exploitive, and limited if not thoroughly inferior, is unreal. It is useful neither to the people of emerging Melanesian nations nor to anthropology. Yet a naive view of Melanesian leaders as exemplars of an ideal government for the "noble savages" of Rousseau would be just as unserviceable. Melanesian Big Men, like leaders anywhere, can be despotic, self-serving or incompetent ; and occasionally, I am sure, some of them realize all the worst qualities of our conventional image. Although it would be less "thinkable" than our stereotype, which can so easily come to represent a class of leadership and be opposed to other types, we ought to try to picture traditional Melanesian leaders as human beings operating in normal social and cultural contexts. Such a portrait, drawn from ethnographic classics like Oliver's (1955) study of leadership in Bougainville and other contributions to Melanesian ethnology, would (I believe) show that Big Men gain office by demonstrated achievement as well as genealogical position, that they become masters of group cooperation in order to compete with rivals, that they may perform one or more of several possible leadership functions, that they rarely exploit their associates for whom they assume responsibility, that they are well-liked and useful community leaders, and that they do a more than adequate job of helping govern their communities.
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1 Research for this essay was supported by the University of Illinois Center for International Comparative Studies (Professor Joseph B. Casagrande, Director) in 1972 and by U.S. Public Health Service predoctoral fellowship MH-30017 and Notional Institute for Mental Health grant MH-12647 during 1966-68. The 1966-68 work was part of the Harvard University Peabody Museum project, supported by National Institute of General Medical Sciences grant GM-13482, which was part of the Human Adaptability section of the International Biological Program. The work was conducted with the permission of the Administration of British Solomon Islands Protectorate, whose kind assistance was invaluable.