Book Launch and Public Lecture

Presented by ANU College of Asia & the Pacific

Consuming Ocean Island: Stories of People and Phosphate from Banaba
Katerina Martina Teaiwa, ANU

To be launched by Edvard Hviding and Kirin Narayan

"Teaiwa deals with the great sense of betrayal, loss, and displacement indigenous Banabans suffered through as well as the harsh physical toll decades of excessive mining has taken on the land. With a justified sense of outrage, Teaiwa educates her audience without alienating it, laying bare the consequences of reaping such a natural bounty at the expense of others." —Publishers Weekly

Consuming Ocean Island tells the story of the land and people of Banaba, a small Pacific island, which, from 1900 to 1980, was heavily mined for phosphate, an essential ingredient in fertilizer. As mining stripped away the island's surface, the land was rendered uninhabitable, and the indigenous Banabans were relocated to Rabi Island in Fiji. Katerina Martina Teaiwa tells the story of this human and ecological calamity by weaving together memories, records, and images from displaced islanders, colonial administrators, and employees of the mining company. Her compelling narrative reminds us of what is at stake whenever the interests of industrial agriculture and indigenous minorities come into conflict. The Banaban experience offers insight into the plight of other island peoples facing forced migration as a result of human impact on the environment.

Living in the Ring of Fire: Glimpses of the Long Run of Environmental Experience in the Pacific Islands
Edvard Hviding, University of Bergen

Contrary to stereotypical popular views of island life in the tropical Pacific as characterized by environmental splendour and idyllic equilibrium, the actual foundations for everyday life in the islands include many elements of unpredictability and instability that may pose harsh challenges for long-term human settlement. Starting from the vantage point of the seismically active New Georgia Group in the Solomon Islands and its recent record of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and associated natural disasters such as tsunamis and the sudden rise and subsidence of coastlines, I examine how Pacific Islanders' long-term experience of living with such volatile environments is manifested in world views that allow for a certain interpretation of environmental instability. In New Georgia as elsewhere in the Pacific, moreover, islanders have also taken significant historical roles themselves in transforming the environments on which they rely; a pattern which accelerates in the present. I further discuss how prevailing approaches to unstable island environments are exemplified across Oceania by folk tales about origin, creation, movement, danger and malevolent agency. The argument is developed that the multitude of Pacific perspectives on environmental processes tend to be far from static, but instead retain a grasp of both sudden and long-term transformations of rich, diverse but vulnerable island environments exposed to the forces of seismology, weather and sustained human agency. Vernacular Pacific models of environmental change and catastrophe thus have implications for how contemporary challenges related to the effects of climate change are perceived and interpreted on the local level.

Edvard Hviding is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Bergen, Director of the Bergen Pacific Studies Research Group, and Coordinator of the European Consortium for Pacific Studies (ECOPAS), an EU-funded network of European and Pacific research institutions. In 2012-13 he was Chair of the Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania. Since 1986, Hviding has been engaged in long-term anthropological research in Solomon Islands. His research interests cover many interrelated topics in social, environmental and historical anthropology, including fishing, agroforestry and the customary tenure of sea and land; kinship and social organization; the cultural history and languages of New Georgia; colonial encounters; environmental knowledge and epistemology; customary law, leadership and dispossession; and the local manifestations and consequences of globalization. Most recently he has initiated a programme of comparative anthropological research on vernacular models of, and Pacific policies concerning, changes in environment, weather and climate. Among his publications are the monographs Guardians of Marovo Lagoon (1996), Islands of Rainforest (2000, with T. Bayliss-Smith), and Reef and Rainforest: An Environmental Encyclopedia of Marovo Lagoon (2005), and the edited volumes Made in Oceania (2011, with K.M. Rio), The Ethnographic Experiment (2014, with C. Berg), and Pacific Alternatives (2015, with G.M. White).