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Mankind, June 1973, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 47-48

Disconcerting Issue: Meaning and struggle in a resettled Pacific community. By Maxtin G. Silverman. The University of Chicago Press, 1971. Pp. xviii + 362, 10 figures, 1 map. $US13.00 (cloth)

 

Social Consequences of Resettlement The impact of the Kariba resettlement upon the Gwembe Tonga. By Elizabeth Colson. Kariba Studies 4. Manchester University Press, 1971. Pp. xi + 277, 16 tables, 6 plates. $Stg4.20 (cloth), fStgl.80 (paperbound) Immigration and Social Change: Agricultural settlement of new immigrants in Israel. By Dov Weintraub and associates. Manchester University Press, 1971. Pp. xi+278, 9 maps, 6 figures, 10 charts, 88 tables. (cloth)

 

When phosphate mining began in 1900 on Ocean Island in the Gilbert and Ellice Island Colony, the local Banabans were precipitated into a vortex of events which culminated in their resettlement in 1945 on Rambi Island, Fiji, 1,600 miles away. Silverman's analysis stretches from a reconstruction of -pre-colonial Banaba history to the unsuccessful petitioning at the United Nations in 1968 for the independence of Ocean Island by resettled Banabans on Rambi.

Although the framework for this study in resettlement and directed change is therefore fairly clear-cut in time and space, the issues are not and the title is no misnomer. In his introduction Silverman identifies no less than six general themes underlying his analysis (two-island theme, land and blood, external models, double dialectic and testing out process, concept of differentiation as a meeting point between anthropology and history, the value of maximizing options), and outlines several conceptual frameworks for handling them. The second chapter takes the theoretical scheme further in an elaborate description of traditional Banaba society in terms of a number of related systems. An extended market and railway metaphor complete with tracks, switches, junction, two-way traffic, ritual circuits and circulation of symbolic goods handles the complexities of Banaban descent, kinship, residence and power systems. The analysis is thought-provoking but remains to extend the metaphor-a hoot on a dead-end track. With characteristic honesty, Silverman admits that this theoretical framework was rethought after the book as a whole had been completed, without restructuring the balance of the work. This admission does not allay the frustration and disappointment of the reader already laden with a substantial theoretical and analytical load for his exploratory journey into Banaban resettlement.

A state of suspended frustration, moreover, accompanied the reviewer throughout the first reading of the book. Silverman's major themes are clear enough: the all-important link between land, descent and Banaban identity-mud and blood as he puts it; the changing world view of Banabans under the impact of westernizing influences; their increasingly more sophisticated self-awareness through the internalization of external models; their adaptability to change expressed in keeping their options open and maximizing them. Silverman's handling of these and other themes (notably the manipulation of Christianity and the role of kinship in the changing situation) is both fascinating and disconcerting. Discussion and analysis are repeatedly arrested; chronological pauses in narration abound and considerable mental gymnastics are needed to keep track of the various themes launched and temporarily suspended while the author explores yet another facet of his material. This tendency is mercifully counteracted by an excellent introductory preview of chapters and by periodic clear summaries of argument.

At the second reading, Silverman's issues become less disconcerting-and more tantalizing. Certain lacunae remain, as in the superficial treatment of Gilbertese- Banaban relations, especially after resettlement. Life on Rambi emerges, to the reviewer at least, as a theoretical construct rather than 'the real doings of real people' as Silverman himself would prefer it. Perhaps one cannot both be station master and passenger.

By contrast, Elizabeth Colson's study of the resettled Gwembe Tonga of Central Africa, following the construction of the Kariba Damn in 1957 pulsates with people and their dilemma in the face of imposed change. The Banabans and Gwembe Tonga have much in common: both literally lost their land and had no option but to resettle. But where Silverman seeks to understand the psychological and structural mechanisms of adaptation to change, Colson immerses herself in the very real problems of the settlers, and does little theorizing. Where Silverman sees systems and models, Colson speaks of the social costs of technological advance; her subjects become victims of forced change and her book carries a message against the folly of allowing technology to determine policy. Weintraub 's study of immigrant absorption in smallholders' co-operative villages (moshavim) in Israel is more strictly sociological than the two preceding studies, though like them it tackles problems of adaptation in a situation of induced social change. The conceptual framework of the study is included as an appendix but discussion throughout the book focuses on the relationship between tradition and modernization in the new setting.

OLGA GOSTIN Flinders University of South Australia

 

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