Dreaming of Dependency: Simbo Conceptualization of Global Relationships

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On Simbo, Western SI, many people aspire to participation in an idealized global culture of development, which is typically envisaged as entailing material plenty and reciprocal exchanges with Europeans. Simultaneously, however, they express a sense of racial inferiority to those Europeans, implying that underdevelopment is somehow inherent in being very dark skinned. The resulting contradictory positions of openness to and shamed withdrawal from global engagement draw upon colonial discourses of racial ranking and Christian fellowship between equal souls as well as state discourses of economic journeys towards development. They also reflect the disappointments of a vexed nationhood, which is seen as less desirable than dreamed connections with former colonizing societies. Entangled in these various accounts are themes of abandonment by, and nostalgia for, former colonizers. In this paper, I consider the dialectic between dreams of reincorporation, with their implications of betrayal, on the one hand, and self-damning claims of inferiority and unworthiness, on the other. I draw upon a growing literature on “last places” in neighbouring Papua New Guinea—remote societies whose members describe themselves as last to receive any benefits of state economic policies. But understanding the experiences of underdevelopment that underlies these discourses requires looking beyond issues of nationhood and state socioeconomic management. I suggest that we also need to conceptualize Simbo understandings in terms of experiences and memories of the colonial Solomons (1896-1978) and, vitally, of local cultural models of sociality: this is a sociality characterized by patron-client relationships of reciprocal, unequal, generosity and loyalty. Crucially, Tinoni Simbo aspire to positions of clientage, rather than equality, in their idealized global community.

Keywords: Colonial Experience, Colonial Nostalgia, Development Aspirations, Melanesia, Nationhood, Racism and Auto-racism, Self-denigration
Stream: Anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Studies, Humanities
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Dr. Christine Dureau

Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology, The Department of Anthropology, The University of Auckland
Auckland, New Zealand

Christine Dureau is Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Auckland. She has done extensive archival research on the Western Solomon Islands and undertaken about two years field research with Simbo communities in the Solomon Islands. Her publications cover gender, Christianity, worldviews, nationhood, memory, kinship, family planning and maternity. Other research interests include race and colonial cultures. She is currently finalizing a historical ethnography of Simbo Christianity and working on an ethnographic history of the New Zealand Methodist Mission to the Solomon Islands (1902-1968).

Ref: I08P0233