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Vanuatu : oscillation entre diversité et unité

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Michèle Boubay-Pagès

La diversité, fondement d'une identité

The archaeology of unity and diversity : First (Lapita) and later generations in the Vanuatu archipelago

Stuart Bedford

Zusammenfassung

Vanuatu was first colonised by people 3000 years ago. The archaeological record suggests a very homogenous culture at first, right across the archipelago which also had connections across the wider Pacific. Several generations after initial arrival there is evidence that cultural divergence begins to develop but inter-island connections remain strong. Both cultural and environmental factors have influenced these developments over millennia. This paper looks at aspects of the archaeological record of Vanuatu at different periods through its history to provide a deep-time perspective to the theme of unity and diversity across the archipelago.

Volltext

Introduction

1Vanuatu was first colonised 3000 years ago by Lapita peoples who had their origins in both Island Southeast Asia and New Guinea and the Solomons. Earlier populations settled New Guinea and the Solomons, across a region now known as Near Oceania, during the Pleistocene, more than 40,000 years ago (Summerhayes et al. 2010). However, further movement eastward out into a region, now known as Remote Oceania, with substantially larger water gaps, separating smaller islands, did not occur for more than 30,000 years (Figure 1).

2When this did occur it was a very rapid migratory episode which saw people colonise eastwards as far as Tonga and Samoa over a period of only two hundred years (Burley et al. 2012; Petchey et al. 2014; Summerhayes 2010). People moved into vast pristine landscapes, facing a whole series of challenges but also new opportunities. The expansion is associated with Austronesian language speakers who transported horticultural plants, domestic animals, a distinct suite of material culture and heterarchical or ranked social organisation (Green 2003). The archaeological record indicates that cultural divergence begins to develop even during this phase of initial Lapita colonization across the region, and across the Vanuatu archipelago, but becomes more pronounced 7-8 generations later. This is perhaps not surprising as the initial colonising migration transformed into a period where less mobile nucleated settlements were being established. Inter-regional connections are certainly weakened Post-Lapita, but some inter-island networks are developed and strengthened and over millennia there are different phases of apparently increased and decreased interconnection. Across Vanuatu, the islands of the south form a broadly coherent cultural grouping which has connections to the Loyalty Islands of New Caledonia, the central islands form another group, the northern islands another, and those of far north yet another group with connections to the islands of the south east Solomons (Bonnemaison 1996a:174-175). As is the case across much of the Melanesian region (Walter and Sheppard 2006), Vanuatu is an archipelago inhabited by a diverse population, both culturally and linguistically, who have a multitude of historical relationships and complex configurations of interaction that are ever-changing as they have been over three millennia. The archaeological record at provides some glimpses of this unity and diversity found in Vanuatu over this period.

Uber Unity

3The Lapita period was a short phase of extraordinary connections across a vast region of the Pacific that also encompassed Vanuatu. It can be labelled as a period of Uber Unity with levels of connection and unity that were unparalleled and are not seen again until the modern era. To highlight these connections across the region and Vanuatu we consider here one of the most distinctive features of the Lapita Cultural Complex, the highly decorated pottery. Fine comb-like tools were used to produce hundreds of different motifs on a range of different vessel forms. The earliest and most elaborate pottery is found in sites in Island New Guinea which might be only a generation or two earlier than those sites found in Vanuatu yet the pottery form and decoration is retained. Across Vanuatu, more than 20 Lapita sites have been found from the Banks Islands in the north to the southern-most inhabited island, Aneityum (Bedford and Spriggs 2014). Excavations at the very important Teouma Lapita cemetery and settlement site on Efate have revealed more than 400 different Lapita vessels, including a number of complete vessels (Figure 2) associated with mortuary practice (Bedford et al. 2010). The similarity of vessel form and the range of decorative motifs attest to the connections with Lapita found in the Bismarcks and the Solomons in the west but also to the rapidity with which it spreads across the region, as has been confirmed by radiocarbon dating (Sheppard 2010). Further emphasising these strong regional connections is the collection of exotic pottery found at the Teouma site. Of the 400 plus vessels found the vast majority were made from clays and sands from Efate, but a percentage have also be sourced to New Caledonia and one is likely to have come from northern Vanuatu or further afield (Dickinson et al. 2013). Regional connections can also be seen through the distribution of obsidian (a black volcanic glass that is a superb cutting tool and is only found in a few places across the entire Pacific). Obsidian from the Bismarcks is found at Lapita sites spread right across to Fiji and has been found in Vanuatu at Teouma on Efate and Makue on Aore (Galipaud et al. 2014). Two sources of obsidian are also found in the Banks Islands (Gaua and Vanua Lava) and pieces from these sources have been found in Lapita sites as far south as Efate. Some of the Banks Island obsidians are also found at later period sites in the south east Solomons (Spriggs et al. 2010).

Beginnings and increased diversity

4After several generations of initial settlement we can see that changes in the material culture, particularly the pottery and social behaviour suggest the beginnings of regional and island diversification. This can be seen even during the Lapita period itself where pottery vessel form and motif designs become simpler and island specific (Figure 3a) (Bedford 2015). However, despite this emerging diversification there are also clear indications of some diluted level of continuing interaction across the entire Lapita distribution at the very end of the dentate-stamped phase. Two examples of this are the use of a very distinctive decorative tool at the end of the Lapita Phase, that of shell to create impressed decorations and also the appearance of a very simple zigzag motif which in many areas represents the last effort at dentate-stamping (Figure 3).

5Diversification across Vanuatu becomes increasingly pronounced when we look at the immediately Post-Lapita pottery sequences (Bedford 2006, 2009). The best defined sequences are those from Efate and Erromango. From an identified Lapita base on both islands there is a sudden marked change in both vessel form and particularly in decoration. The Post-Lapita pottery sequence from Erromango is completely dominated by decorative motifs created by finger-nail impressions with a limited percentage of incised designs. It was an ever-changing sequence that lasted for 1000 years but which ends at around 2000 BP after which there are no further signs of pottery being made or imported to the island until the historic period. Although not yet confirmed it seems that the pottery sequence established for Erromango might well be broadly representative of all of southern Vanuatu. On Efate Island and northward across the Shepherd Islands the Post-Lapita sequence continues until around 1200 AD and witnesses broad synchronous change across this entire region over a 2000 year period. The pottery sequence from the Efate/Shepherds region is initially dominated completely by vessels decorated with incised motifs that later change in form and later again there is the addition of very decorative applied relief (Bedford 2006, 2009; Garanger 1972).

6The full pottery sequences from the north of Vanuatu are yet to be established, as much less research has been carried out in that region and the sequences cover a much longer period. Pottery was made up into European contact in many places, and in one village on the west coast of Santo, it is still being made (Nojima 2010). Some investigation of pottery sequences of the last 500 years has identified a very distinctive tubular vessel form that dominates across many of the islands of northern Vanuatu including Malakula, Malo, Ambae, Pentecost, Maewo and south east Santo (Bedford 2006; Galipaud 1996). The form and the range of decoration display remarkable homogeneity across this region indicating high levels of interaction. This period is also associated with the development of distinctive political systems of that region, most often associated with elaborate grade-taking ceremonies and ceremonial architecture (Bonnemaison 1996b). These tubular vessels find parallels in manufacturing technique, form, and motif design with the modern forms recorded by Specht (1972:130) from Buka, in the northern Solomons which again hints at wider regional connections during this later period. Pottery on Santo is generally quite different with a sequence that followed a largely independent trajectory for the last 2500 years, although with varying connections at different periods (Bedford and Spriggs 2008; Galipaud 1996; Nojima 2010).

7Much of what has been established archaeologically also has some reflection in the linguistic map of Vanuatu where chains of connections link islands across the archipelago. Language boundaries intersected across the north and central regions while the southern islands appear to have established a zone of their own which then again had connections with the Loyalty Islands further south (Tryon 1996:170-181).

The last 1000 Years : Connections and diversification

8The last 1000 years in Vanuatu is when we start to see the foundations of the distinctive cultural, political and economic diversification that characterised the archipelago when Europeans first arrived and has continued on into the present. While there is diversification in almost all aspects of people’s lives there is an overarching connection through chain-like linked networks that effectively connected the entire archipelago and regions beyond (Bonnemaison 1996a:174-175) (Figure 4).

9The large sea-going sailing canoes of the north connected a whole series of islands and were crucial to sustaining these links. Canoes of the south sustained connections between islands in the south but there is also clear evidence these connections were extended to New Caledonia and the Loyalties. Strong connections between the Loyalty Islands of New Caledonia and southern Vanuatu are well documented and include linguistic influences, origin stories, and trade items (Dubois 1996). One artifact form recorded as early as 1774 (Beaglehole 1969: 505) and subsequently noted throughout most of the southern islands was the jadeite pendant, the source of which is the Grand Terre of New Caledonia (Aubert de la Rüe 1938), but which seems likely to have arrived in southern Vanuatu via the Loyalty Islands (Figure 5).

10These items are still curated today and used and displayed during ceremonial activities on Tanna.

11There is empirical archaeological and linguistic evidence and a range of specialized cultural practices that indicate Vanuatu’s connections with both adjacent archipelagos and those further afield over the last millennium. As already noted there is evidence of connections with islands to the northwest with Banks Islands’ obsidian being found in the late archaeological record of Tikopia (Spriggs et al. 2010). The very distinctive cultural practices of head binding and the production of full-circle pig tusks found in northern Vanuatu are also recorded ethnographically further west in southern New Britain in the Bismarck Archipelago. The distinctive tusks are also recorded to the east in western Viti Levu, Fiji and there are also hints of possible head binding there as well (Bedford and Spriggs 2014).

12From 1000 BP there is greatly increased horticultural production using a range of methods that differed greatly across the archipelago. On a number of islands, but particularly on Aneityum and Maewo, irrigated taro cultivation was extensively practised. Very sophisticated and spectacular irrigation and water-diversion channels were constructed to supply the expanding terraced garden systems. On other islands yams were produced in over abundance. This more intensive horticultural production is associated with increasingly elaborate ceremonial activities and more stratified societies (Spriggs 1997). Spectacular ceremonial activity is well evidenced on Efate some 400 years ago in the form of the grand funerary rights accorded to the Chief Roy Mata. The excavations of the burial site on the small island of Retoka revealed more than 50 burials that were associated with a sacrificial performance related to the death of this revered chief (Garanger 1972). This ceremony would have taken months to prepare and involved people from all over Efate and the Shepherd Islands who were prepared to sacrifice a substantial number of high status individuals as part of the funerary ritual. One can only imagine the grand feasts and displays of largesse that would have been associated during the lengthy period of ceremony.

13There is evidence dating to this period of the widespread development of monumental stone ceremonial structures across much of the north (from Malakula to the Banks) which is again linked to increased socio-political complexity. Some of the most specular of these are spread across the islands of Malakula (Bedford 2014; Deacon 1934; Layard 1942) where massive standing stones, platforms and tables functioned as centres of communal life where a whole range of ceremonies took place on a regular basis that also involved communities both far and wide. Pigs were the currency of wealth and sometimes hundreds of pigs could be involved in single ceremonies, some of which could even be brought by participants from neighbouring islands (Rodman 1996: 158-168) (Figure 6).

14All evidence points to increasing socio-political complexity across the islands although they emerge in very different forms. The stone ceremonial structures in the north are associated with individuals hosting large ceremonies to increase their prestige amongst the community but there is limited evidence of any widespread hereditary or paramount-style chiefly systems. However, at the same time in the south, hereditary paramount chiefs do emerge, as is dramatically demonstrated 600 years ago in the case of Roy Mata burials. From the Shepherds and Efate to the south on Aneityum there is evidence for contact with Polynesians from this period and it seems quite clear that some aspects of Polynesian culture were adopted. Polynesian languages are found on the islands of Futuna and Aniwa in the south but also on Emae in the Shepherds and Mele-Ifira on Efate (Tryon 1996).

15One factor that must always be assessed when considering almost all aspects of Vanuatu society is the effects of early European contact, the most dramatic of which was massive depopulation right across the archipelago (Spriggs 2007). The best documented case is that from the island of Aneityum, which when missionaries made a first census in 1852, there was a population of 3500. Thirty years later there were fewer than 300 people on Aneityum, a loss of more than 90% of that island’s population (Spriggs 2007). The physical remains of villages, stone arrangements and gardening systems that are found across all islands, often in now forested areas suggests such a figure for many of the islands is not an over estimation. Such losses of course created massive social disruption with customs and traditional settlements often being exchanged for Christianity and mission villages which has subsequently, over 150 years, created a different form of unity, which has over time increasingly blended with customary practice.

16Finally I touch on one of the Vanuatu’s national and uniting symbols, the circular pig’s tusk which today is synonymous with everything Vanuatu from beer, to money, to chiefly title and national symbols (Figure 7).

17These tusks are known from at least 1600 AD, noted by the Spanish at Big Bay, Santo in 1606 but also found as far south as Efate from 1600 AD at the Roi Mata cemetery (Garanger 1972). This very distinctive object was once found only in the centre and north of Vanuatu and its use was restricted to individuals of chiefly status. In contemporary ceremonial occasions, its use is still generally restricted but there is also general acceptance of its appropriation in the cause of national symbolism and commercial ventures. It is a fine demonstration of how quickly cultural symbols that were once restricted to only certain areas and certain individuals and in some respects symbolic of diversity, can be appropriated in helping to define unity, in this case the newly independent Republic of Vanuatu.

Conclusion

18Vanuatu is an archipelago that combines and celebrates both unity and diversity, aspects of which have been and continue to be ever changing, adapting to varying social, cultural and environmental situations. Language difference and or distance between islands seemed rarely to have been a barrier. However, the crucial aspect of deep historical time and particularly the more recent impacts of massive depopulation in the nineteenth across all the islands of the archipelago are rarely considered by contemporary planners, advisors and or politicians whether local or foreign. Indigenous ni-Vanuatu customs and cultural practices that developed over millennia have managed to sustain 125 generations and supported a substantially larger population at the time of European contact than even that of today. Despite only 36 years of Independence it must not be forgotten that the remarkably resilient populations of Vanuatu, living in an archipelago that is host to a wide range of regular natural disasters, have a history that stretches back 3000 years, and only a very small percentage of that history has involved people from beyond the Pacific region.

Figure 1 : The southwest Pacific showing Lapita distribution.

Figure 1 : The southwest Pacific showing Lapita distribution.

2 : Lapita pottery recovered from the Teouma site, Efate, Vanuatu.

2 : Lapita pottery recovered from the Teouma site, Efate, Vanuatu.

3 : Later Lapita pottery

3 : Later Lapita pottery

Figure 4 : Traditional networks of exchange in Northern Vanuatu (adapted from Huffman 1996).

Figure 4 : Traditional networks of exchange in Northern Vanuatu (adapted from Huffman 1996).

Figure 5 : Jadeite ornament (Jennifer West collection, photo by Ty Mason)

Figure 5 : Jadeite ornament (Jennifer West collection, photo by Ty Mason)

Figure 6 : Sea going trading canoes returning to Malakula from pig business on Ambrym c. 1900 (Archives Research Centre, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa, Dunedin, New Zealand [P-S3-25]).

Figure 6 : Sea going trading canoes returning to Malakula from pig business on Ambrym c. 1900 (Archives Research Centre, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa, Dunedin, New Zealand [P-S3-25]).

Figure 7 : Concrete pig’s tusk, Pekoa airport, Santo

Figure 7 : Concrete pig’s tusk, Pekoa airport, Santo

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Abbildungsverzeichnis

Titel Figure 1 : The southwest Pacific showing Lapita distribution.
URL http://books.openedition.org/putc/docannexe/image/2918/img-1.png
Datei image/png, 39k
Titel 2 : Lapita pottery recovered from the Teouma site, Efate, Vanuatu.
URL http://books.openedition.org/putc/docannexe/image/2918/img-2.png
Datei image/png, 145k
Titel 3 : Later Lapita pottery
URL http://books.openedition.org/putc/docannexe/image/2918/img-3.png
Datei image/png, 218k
Titel Figure 4 : Traditional networks of exchange in Northern Vanuatu (adapted from Huffman 1996).
URL http://books.openedition.org/putc/docannexe/image/2918/img-4.png
Datei image/png, 78k
Titel Figure 5 : Jadeite ornament (Jennifer West collection, photo by Ty Mason)
URL http://books.openedition.org/putc/docannexe/image/2918/img-5.png
Datei image/png, 116k
Titel Figure 6 : Sea going trading canoes returning to Malakula from pig business on Ambrym c. 1900 (Archives Research Centre, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa, Dunedin, New Zealand [P-S3-25]).
URL http://books.openedition.org/putc/docannexe/image/2918/img-6.png
Datei image/png, 525k
Titel Figure 7 : Concrete pig’s tusk, Pekoa airport, Santo
URL http://books.openedition.org/putc/docannexe/image/2918/img-7.png
Datei image/png, 368k

Autor

ARC Future Fellow in the School of Culture, History and Language at the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific

© Presses de l’Université Toulouse 1 Capitole, 2018

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