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Post Colonial Reading of Israelite and Selected Non-Israelite National Identities found
in the Hebrew Bible with Application to the Crisis of Identity for Pacific Island National
Identities brought on by Climate Change Related Sea Level Rise.

The Hebrew Bible contains fragments alluding to national identities of Israelite and
Non-Israelite nations of Palestine. Re-reading and interpreting these fragments using post-
colonial methodologies yields insight for re-reading and interpreting the past, present and
future of Pacific Island national identities under threat from climate change related sea level
rise.
Limitations:

Biblically: Israelite national identity in the Hebrew Bible
Edom national identity in the Hebrew Bible
Amorite national identity in the Hebrew Bible
Moabite national identity in the Hebrew Bible
Pacific: Tuvalu and Tuvaluan national identity
Kiribati and the I-Kiribati national identity
Methodology:

Post colonial reading methodologies as described by Fernando Segovia and R. S.
Sugirtharajah. These will call on the researcher to read descriptions of the identities presented
in the paper to identify the rulers and subalterns, and to discern the hand of the ruling classes
in the construction of the national identities in such a way to maintain the class divisions.
Outline and Table of Contents:

Introduction Page 2
Chapter 1 The Crisis Brought On By Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Page 5

Chapter 2 Post-colonial Hermeneutics and Post-colonial Biblical Interpretation Page 12

Chapter 3 Post-colonial Reading of National Identities in the Hebrew Bible Page 17

Chapter 4 Post-colonial Reading of Two Pacific Nations’ National Identities Page 31

Conclusion Page 57

Bibliography Page 58

INTRODUCTION

The end of the Soviet empire between the years 1989 and 1991 saw the independence of
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several nations (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Turkmenistan,

Kirgistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and others) previously ruled

directly from Moscow and the release of several East European nations (Poland, East

Germany, Bulgaria, Rumania, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary) previously

controlled from Moscow through the Warsaw Pact. Subsequently, East Germany joined West

Germany, but Yugoslavia came apart into 6 (or 7) separate entities, and Czechoslovakia

divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, things in Georgia and Azerbaijan are still not

sorted out.

Few people mourn the loss of certain national identities. The Russians, who dominated

the Soviet Union, regret the loss of Soviet identity. The Serbians, who dominated Yugoslavia,

struggle with the loss of that which united (Yugo) the Slavs. The Czechs and Slovaks seem to

have both given up the Czechoslovakian national identity with alacrity. The crisis (the

collapse of empire) brought change. Some constructed identities went into the ash can of

history, and the world moved on.

National identities are commonly classified into three categories: primordial;

instrumental and constructed. A primordialist perspective focuses on racial/cultural

interpretations of identity formation. Identity is seen as naturally born with a discoverable

authentic core of physical traits, language, religion and other cultural attributes that together

compose identity.1 An instrumental perspective on identity formation emphasizes structural

1
Shih, Cheng-feng. “Ethnic Identity and National Identity – Mainlanders and Taiwan-China Relations”
http://www.isanet.org/noarchive/shih.html
3
arrangements that have contributed to the creation and development of group identity. Such

arrangements may include unequal distribution of political power, economic resources and

social status between ethnic groups. The frustrated elites of the subordinated group embark

on ethnic mobilizations.2 A constructivist view of identity is backed and promoted by an

imagined official nationalism and seeks to foster an artificially constructed, imagined and

even created ethnic identity within the context of national identity. It requires a portion of

objective primordial characteristics or common experience, selectively chosen and

emphasized. It is formed by the elites of the society first as imagination, then as imposition.

The Soviet, Yugoslav and Czechoslovak national identities were all of the third type. Their

artificiality, always apparent, became obvious with their demise.

A colonial heritage in the Pacific has resulted in constructed nations with artificial

identities in Tuvalu and Kiribati (as well as in other places). These nations and their attendant

national identities are under threat from climate change related sea level rise. Action to save

the peoples of Tuvalu and Kiribati from inundation is necessary and seems to have been

assured. Action to save the political nationhood of peoples whose nations will sooner or later

consist of no land but only sovereign rights to portions of the ocean will have to be

undertaken. What is in question is whether or not the “national identity” of Tuvaluans and the

I-Kiribati of Kiribati is to be preserved in a different location or in diaspora.

The Hebrew Bible contains fragments alluding to national identities of both the Israelite

and Non-Israelite nations of Palestine. Re-reading and interpreting these fragments using

2
Shih, op. cit.
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post-colonial methodologies may yield insight for re-reading and interpreting the past, present

and future of Pacific Island national identities under threat from climate change related sea

level rise.

CHAPTER 1: THE CRISIS IN THE PACIFIC BROUGHT ON BY CLIMATE
CHANGE AND SEA LEVEL RISE
Introduction

In literature, a person seeking an island usually craves simplicity and glories in a world

that is still incomplete, and therefore full of possibilities. Anything can happen on an island –
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guilt can be expiated (Robinson Crusoe), the forces of good and evil can emerge in the breasts

of castaways (Lord of the Flies), love can be discovered (The Blue Lagoon), so can a great

fortune (Treasure Island) or a true paradise (Typee), or a kind of hell (Conrad’s Victory); it can

be the setting for a great departure (the Nantucket of Moby Dick) or for the oddest landfalls on

earth (Gulliver’s Travels).

“The common denominator is the fact that an island is a place surrounded by water—

which is the magic element. The water offers transformation to the islander. The water,

seemingly nothing, is everything. It is a moat, a barrier, a wilderness, the source of food and

hope, the way out. The ocean is not one place but many. The sea has specific moods and

locations as any landscape of hills and valleys does. It even has thoroughfares. Oceania is full

of ancient named waterways—the paths to other islands or archipelagoes.

No one really can take possession of an island. Being the monarch of all you survey is a

mainland conceit; on an island it is you who are possessed. Islands have a unique capacity to

take hold of their inhabitants, whether they be natives or castaways or potential colonizers,

and that is perhaps why islands are so rich in myths and legends.

Each island of Oceania seems to be a thing complete in itself, self contained and self-

sufficient, because of the surrounding water. There is something princely in the very situation

of someone who builds a house on an island and lives in it. But an island is much more than a

principate. It is the ultimate refuge—a magic and unsinkable world.”3

Climate change related global warming impacts the entire world. Residents of Pacific

3
Paul Theroux The Happy Isles of Oceania New York, Random House 1992 pp.529-530.
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Island nations suffer consequences of climate change immediately and dramatically through

sea level rise. The main industries driving local island economies -- fishing, agriculture and

tourism – are negatively impacted by flooding, drought, violent storms, destroyed coral reefs,

depleted fish populations, lack of fresh water and eroding coastlines. Low-lying areas are lost.

Subsistence crops are damaged by the salination of ground water, and storm surges, which

have grown in recent years, erode protective barriers, destroy bridges and roads and flood

croplands and homes.4

Pacific islands are small in area and low in elevation. In Tuvalu the highest elevation

rises only to 5 meters above sea level.5 It and other nations and territories could easily drown

as the sea level rises. Small island states have few natural resources as it is. Land, even poor

land, is vital. It provides “sovereign status” over seabed resources and fishing rights, some of

which are the only exploitable things a nation might possess.

Tuvalu

The nation of Tuvalu comprises nine tiny islands in the south-west Pacific stretching

1,000 km from north to south and with a total landmass of just 26 sq km. The capital Funafuti

is on a coral atoll approximately 7 km long and .4 km wide at its widest point. It is bordered

by a lagoon on one side and the open ocean on the other. Funafuti is home to 4,000 of the

country’s 11,000 people. They share space with pigs, vegetable plots, roads, the airport and

4
A mean sea-level rise in Tuvalu of just 20 to 40 cm in the next hundred years would significantly increase the
frequency and depth of saltwater flooding and accelerate coastal erosion. It would threaten the Tuvaluans’ food
and housing, poisoning the pits where they grow giant swamp taro plants and undermining buildings. It could
make the country simply uninhabitable. Samir S. Patel, “That Sinking Feeling” Nature, Vol. 440/6, April 2006,
p.734.
5
James Lewis, “Sea Level Rise: Some Implications for Tuvalu” The Environmentalist, vol. 9 No. 4, Dec. 1989 p.
269
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other infrastructure. Life is quiet. Children play unescorted, there is plenty of fish and fruit.

Medical, government and higher education services are concentrated in the capital city.6 The

original settlers came over 3,000 years ago.7 Modern settlement, by travelers from Tonga,

Samoa, Fiji and elsewhere, dates back approximately 300 years.8 From the days of the earliest

settlement a gap of some 250 years intervened before the advent of the white man by whom

the Ellice Islands were discovered, piecemeal, between 1781 and 1819. Although Mendana

may have sighted these atolls in 1567 nothing was known of them until Maurelle visited

Nanumea in 1781. Peyster called at Funafuti in 1819, and in later years Duperre,

Chiamtschenko and Wilkes explored the Group. There are tales of visits by whaling ships but

of these no accurate information has been obtained9 The culture is Polynesian; the religion is

Christian.

Economically, many Tuvaluans rely on remittances from seafarers or earnings from

seasonal work in New Zealand.10 Otherwise, fishing is a major source of income. Only 30%

of the people are engaged in paid labour, most of these in the government sector. The rest

survive at the subsistence level.11

As temperatures rise, though records date back only as far as 1977, a clear trend emerges

indicating an increase in both winter and summer temperatures. Rainfall records show a

6
Ibid.
7
Howe, Kerry (2003). The Quest for Origins. New Zealand: Penguin. pp. 68, 70
8
http://www.everyculture.com/Oceania/Tuvalu.html
9
R. G. Roberts, “Te Atu Tuvalu: a short history of the Ellice Islands” Journal of the Polynesia Society. Vol. 67,
No. 4 (1958) p. 395
10
Asian Development Bank, Fact Sheet: Tuvalu, 31 December 2009
11
Asian Development Bank, Country Assistance Plan: Tuvalu 2010
http://www.adb.org/Documents/CAPs/TUV/0101.asp
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decrease. The small landmass makes all nine islands vulnerable to any rise in sea level. Low

elevation combined with a lack of “inland” areas makes everything vulnerable to storm surges

and tsunamis. Some places have already been rendered uninhabitable as the ocean nibbles at

them from all sides. Being such a small country (only three are smaller), there’s hardly any

industry, there’s no military, few cars and just eight kilometers of paved roadway.

During high tides, waves crash from the lagoon on to stretches of the new tarmac,

spreading trash, coral rubble and other detritus across it. There was a time when the road

behind the government building was set back a few metres from the lagoon, but now it is right

on the sea. In itself this says nothing about sea level, because the islets are constantly

changing shape: a spit forming here, an island tip disappearing there.12

After one August flood increased soil salinity forced some families to grow their root

crops in metal buckets instead of in the ground. The higher the King Tides get, the harder it is

to keep things going here. A woman tells me that she is unable to grow any food crops

because the land has become too salty. The sea water is poisoning the soil and people are

nervous. The rising waters are slowly creeping into the heart of these islands and slowly but

effectively killing them off. Water bubbles up in tiny streams; and everywhere you look, it just

lies on the surface.13

Many climate change models say it's too late for Tuvalu and other low-lying nations.

Departure to higher ground may create an entire nation of environmental refugees But that

12
Patel, op. cit. p. 736.
13
David Shukman, “Tuvalu struggles to hold back tide” BBC News 22 January 2008
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brings another problem. Dr. Rainer Lagoni, Professor of Maritime Law at the University of

Hamburg, has noted that there is no legal definition for a country entirely without land. The

case of these “Atlantis countries” is so convoluted that Lagoni has students and postgraduates

studying it. Only one thing seems clear so far: without a physical territory, Tuvaluans become

stateless. There is no general right to a back-up nation or to citizenship of a neighboring

country. Those who are already emigrating are not considered refugees.14

Some experts now believe changes will have to be made to international law to deal with

the impact of climate change. Tuvalu is not alone -- other small island nations like Kiribati,

the Marshall Islands and the Maldives are also concerned about their future.15

Kiribati

Kiribati is no more than four metres above sea level at its highest point, and 100 percent

of the population lives within one kilometre of a seacoast coast. This nation is highly

vulnerable to the effects of climate change related sea level rise. Its future, including the

question of whether it even has a future, is uncertain.16 “The scientific research shows that by

2100 it’s almost certain that we’ll have more than a metre of sea level rise,” said Karen

Bernard, a United Nations Development Programme specialist in natural disaster reduction

14
Tuvalu Red Cross, Greenpeace, and Anwen Roberts,“What Will Become of Tuvalu's Climate Refugees?”
in Der Speigel
15
Alexander, ‘Baseline Delimitations and Maritime Boundaries’ 23 Virginia Journal of International Law 503
(1983) p 535
16
World Bank, "Cities, Seas & Storms: Managing Change in the Pacific Islands Economies; Volume IV:
Adapting to Climate Change; Chapter 4. Impact of Climate Change on Low Islands: Tarawa Atoll, Kiribati",
2000, pp. 19-
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and transition. “On a flat island like Kiribati that amount of sea level rise comes very far

inland.”17

In Kiribati, as in Tuvalu, rising sea levels cause many problems: more flooding happens

in homes, salt water gets into and contaminates groundwater used for drinking and farming

and, because the area of ocean that can be claimed for exclusive fishing rights is based on

land size, rising sea levels mean less legal fishing water. Kiribati’s number one export crop, in

the form of dried coconut, is also threatened. The tiny islands already experience powerful

typhoons that pummel buildings and uproot trees. Houses near the shore are washed away. In

addition to extreme tropical storms, the tiny islands are also hit by prolonged droughts during

which fresh water wells dry up, water becomes scarce, and crops die. Along with rising sea

level, wells even become salty and unsuitable for drinking.

Many residents leave, becoming climate change refugees. Those who remain are

dedicated both to their nation and to conservation efforts. Blithe confidence that if a crisis

should come, God would step in and save Kiribati’s land, led government officials in the past

to control everything and do nothing. But as environmental issues and overcrowding lead

people to ask cogent questions about the nation’s future, alternatives need to be considered.

Conclusion

The threat to the continued existence of these two nations is clear. If sea levels continue

to rise, the land will disappear. Even if it does not totally disappear, the land will become

uninhabitable. People will vacate what territory exists above sea level, and the question of
17
United Nations Development Program “Future Uncertain for Pacific Islands Like Kiribati” Newsroom: 10
December 2009
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whether a nation without territory above sea level can legally claim to exist will be thrown

into international law courts unequipped to deal with such matters.

But beyond the legal question there remains the “national identity” question for the

people of these lands. Will those from Kiribati who take refuge in New Zealand become

Kiwis, will they be “Kiribati-Kiwis” or something else?

And Tuvaluans? There seems to be less of a problem, because there is only one

Tuvaluan for every 8 Kiribatians. But can they remain Tuvaluans in another land? The

Biblical question, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”18 is cogent.

CHAPTER 2: POST COLONIAL HERMENEUTICS AND BIBLICAL
INTERPRETATION
Introduction

Post-colonial hermeneutics in general takes seriously the issue of imperialism, an

ideology of expansion that looks different and works differently in varied eras. Imperialism

imposes its languages (the Greek of the Macedonian empire), its trade (the mercantilism of

the Dutch and British empires), its religions (the Caliphate extending from India into Southern

France), its images (through TV), its economic systems (the WTO, COMECON, EU) its

18
Psalm 137:4
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electoral standards (UN Code of Common Standards19) and its political rule on foreign nations

and lands (the Pax Romana). The victims of imperialism become the colonized, that is, those

whose lands, minds, cultures, economies and political interests and political institutions have

been taken possession of and rearranged according to the interests and values of the

imperializing powers.20

The greatest single aim of postcolonial biblical criticism is to situate colonialism at the

center of the Bible and of biblical interpretation. In terms of the history of biblical

interpretation, this calls into question the impact of the Reformation, of the counter-

reformation, and of the effects of the Enlightenment, which defined and shaped biblical

interpretation by rationalistic thinking leading to historical criticism. Though post-colonial

hermeneutics has become common in literary criticism in other fields, there has been

remarkable unwillingness to mention imperialism as shaping the contours of biblical

scholarship. Post-colonial biblical criticism focuses on the issues of expansion, domination

and imperialism as central forces in creation of the biblical narratives and defining biblical

interpretation.21

Theory

The critical nature of postcolonial theory entails destabilizing the Western way of

thinking and opening space for marginalized groups to produce alternate interpretations and

19
UN Press Release HQ 645, 25 October 2005
20
V. Y. Mudimbe, The Invention of Africa: Gnosis, Philosophy and the Order of Knowledge (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1988, pp. 1-2) Qutoed in Musa W. Bube, Reading for Decolonization, in
RS.Suigirtharaja, Ed. Voices from the Magin, Maryknoll: Orbis,2006 p. 297)
21
RS Sugirtharajah, Postolonial Criticism and Biblical Interpretation , Oxford 2002, p. 25
13
articulations of perceived reality. The postcolonial framework introduces destabilization into

received Western interpretations as it challenges inherent assumptions and critiques various

colonial legacies in the areas of thinking, understanding and expressing ideas.22

The aim of post-colonialism is to expose and stand against the residual effects of

colonialism on cultures. The goal is to learn about and move beyond the colonial period to a

place where former colonized and former colonizer can arrive at mutual respect. The process

of exposure brings to light the extent that the logic of colonialism remains active long after

colonies have wrenched their independence from empires. Racist and imperialist assumptions

continue to persuade and coerce marginalized groups. The consequences are material, the

results include inequality on a global scale.

The written scriptures of the Hebrew people and of the Christian religion were set down

by literate people in imperial times. Though these were, by and large, Asian people of ancient

times, their contemporary imperialisms shaped the ends that the narratives were designed to

serve and the ways in which they were constructed. The canon was closed long ago. For

Judaism this was decided by "The Men of the Great Assembly" (also known as the Great

Synagogue),according to Jewish tradition, an assembly of 120 scribes, sages, and prophets, in

the period from the end of the Biblical prophets to the time of the development of Rabbinic

Judaism. They lived in a period of about two centuries ending around 70 CE.23 Full dogmatic

articulations of the Christian canon were not made until 1546 for Roman Catholicism, 1563

22
Dictionary of Human Geography. Blackwell Publishing(2007) p.561
23
Philip R. Davies in The Canon Debate, Peabody MA, Hendrickson, 2002. p. 50
14
for the Church of England, the of 1647 for British Calvinism, and 1672 for the Greek

Orthodox. Since that closing, interpretation of these same scriptures has, similarly, been

conducted in the context of various and varied imperialisms. Uncovering and bringing to light

the imperialist assumptions both in the narratives as they stand and then through the history of

their interpretation may liberate the voices of marginalized peoples whose histories are

germane to the narratives themselves and others who have been oppressed in contemporary

times through imperialist abuse of the same narratives to further colonial domination.

Examples

1) Imperialism In The Formation Of The Biblical Narrative

The collection of documents in the Hebrew Bible known as the Deuteronomistic history

includes the books from Deuteronomy through 2nd Kings. It’s themes include: 1) Davidic rule;

2) Jerusalem – the city of David- as the center of political and religious life 3) maintenance of

the temple and its cultus as vital to national continuance, and 4) that national disaster is the

result of apostasy on the part of king or people.

The themes are woven into the narratives, sermons, commandments and prophecies that

make up most of the corpus. The Deuteronomistic history is not a true recording of facts but

an interpretation set down so that contemporary generations would stay in line and future

generations could have a clear idea of their forebears’ journey.

2) Contemporary Imperialism Abusing Biblical Interpretation

Today in Israel-Palestine the Bible is quoted to give primary claim over the land to

people of Jewish heritage. In the minds of many religious Jews and of some fundamentalist
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Christians, the solution to conflict in the region lies in Palestinian recognition that God has

given the Jews the land of Palestine forever 24 Palestinians are told to accept this as truth

because any settlement based on any other standard would be contrary to the promises and

covenant of God with the Jewish people. Because this abuse of the Bible and of religion is a

religious argument, Palestinian Christians must tackle the issue of land from a biblical

perspective, driven there by religious and political abuse of biblical interpretation.

3) Historical Imperialism Abusing Biblical Interpretation

In North America before the abolition of slavery, slave religion secretly maintained

features of African religions within the expressions of Christianity held by, and sporadically

promoted to the slaves by their owners. The Christianity of the slaveholders was a twisted

interpretation of the Bible wherein the black slave was taught that blackness was a curse and

that everything black, including the black person himself or herself, should be hated, while

everything white should be admired, respected and loved. The white man’s Christian religion

taught black people to turn the other cheek, to grin, and scrape and bow and be humble, to

look for his pie in the sky and for his heaven in the hereafter.25

Chapter Conclusion

When imperialism is seen as a “force” in both the composition and interpretation of a

text, it’s basic assumptions can be exposed. This is as true of the literature of the Bible and the

history of its interpretation as it is in something like the novels of Jane Austen or George

Eliot, steeped in 19th Century British domestic class division.

24
William W Baker, Theft of a Nation, West Monrow, Louisiana, Jireh Publications, 1982, pp.l 784-86.
25
John Butler, Grant Wacker, Randall Herbert Balmer Religion in American Life, Oxford: OUP, 2007. p. 377.
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CHAPTER 3 READING NATIONAL IDENTITIES IN THE HEBREW BIBLE
Introduction

Post-colonial reading of a history requires identification of the actors, both imperialist

and sub-altern. Histories are, by and large, written by the victors, the imperialists. They mix

together pieces of historically objective material, contemporary interpretations and outright

fabrications to serve the agendas of their producers. As Macionism is known principally

through extant materials in which it is condemned, so, often, the stories of subaltern

populations are only known through negative comments about them found in the histories left

by the chroniclers of the empires.

Any official nationalism must foster an artificially constructed, imagined and even

created national identity. It requires a portion of objective primordial characteristics or

common experience, selectively chosen and emphasized. It is formed by the elites of the

society first as imagination, then as imposition. In BCE Judea these were selected and

imposed through the creation of “new” scriptures, some of which purported to have been
17
written in antiquity and kept secret until that very time.26 The common experience composed

for the Judeans was set in a time centuries before the birth of any of them and at a place

distant from where they currently lived.

Israelite Identity (the Yehud)

The Hebrew Bible is “home” to three separate narrative documents (or collections of

documents) produced in times later than the history they purport to narrate, laying claim by

the “documenters” to rule over, control, or tax the persons, groups or nation to which the

documents were presented as ippisima verbum dei. The three documents (or collections of

documents) are known as 1) the Torah, 2) the Deuteronomistic History and 3) the Chronicler.

The Torah

The contents of the Torah are legendary in form, and arguments that they narrate actual

events are the purview of the Orthodox among the Jews and the Fundamentalists (and

conservative Evangelicals and Pentecostals) among Protestant Christians. Though the term

“Torah” as used today includes the book of Deuteronomy, it most properly fits with the

second set of documents. For the purpose of discussion here, the Torah includes only the first

FOUR books of the Hebrew Bible. The lack of historicity in these documents in no way

hinders their use by God in communicating the grace of salvation to people of all races, places

and times, but it does prevent anyone from standing on any particular point and proclaiming,

“thus it is written, so thus it happened.”

26
Daniel 12:9
18
Deuteronomistic History

The second collection of documents, known as Deuteronomistic History, is presented to

us today in much the form as it was presented to a group or “nation” of people some centuries

B.C.E. It comprises the biblical books from Deuteronomy through 2nd Kings, and attendant

portions of the prophetic literature. Martin Noth dated it in the time known as the exile and

located the writer among those Judeans who had been taken to Babylon. He posited that the

entire corpus was the work of one hand.27 Later scholars have discerned different hands at

work and different revisions of the corpus of Deuteronomistic history, some more optimistic

and others less so, depending on the supposed time of composition and condition of the

nation/people from whom the corpus emerged.28

The themes of Deuteronomistic history include 1) the right of the royal family founded

by David to continue to rule, 2) the centrality of Jerusalem in national life 3) the importance

of the temple and its cultus, and 4) national disaster as a natural consequence of the king and/

or the people straying from faith in Yahweh.

By these contents, the people who originally received the history were told to obey the

king or ruler who could claim Davidic ancestry, build up the city of Jerusalem, obey the laws

of God interpreted to them through the royally endorsed priesthood, and pay their tithes for

the maintenance of the temple and those who served in its staff and operations. Much of the

Deuteronomistic history “fits” this system, more as an interpretation set down so that future

27
Martin Noth, The Deuteronomistic History. JSOT Sup 15. 2nd ed. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1981/1991 pp14-15.
28
Antony F. Campbell and Mark A. O’Brien, Unfolding the Deuteronomistic History Minneapolis, Fortress,
2000, p.2-3.
19
generations might have a clear idea of their forebears’ journey than as a true recording of

facts.

A post colonial view of things offers a different historical possibility, of an imperially

sponsored “colonization company” in the Persian empire commissioned to go west to settle a

land. In this way it is similar to companies from Britain and the Netherlands that settled much

of the empires of those two European powers from the 16th through 19th centuries. This

“Persian Western Frontier Colonization Corporation” needed something beyond a royal

charter to be able to govern a population of immigrants and take control of lands and local

populations only nominally under imperial control. Making use of fragments of legend and

history from the region (the Torah, Assyrian History, Babylonian History and Caananite

folklore), a “history” was created. David, a “Robin Hood” style bandit, was provided with a

background, a foreground, and an enduring legacy. Alternate claims of right to rule were

dealt with through the creation of the Saul/Jonathan Saga and the Northern Kingdom

Narratives. A monotheistic religion was molded and shaped to give divine approval to the

immigrant group. The contrived history was spun to include previous immigrations and

seasons of residence under a divine land-grant system so that the immigrant group could

claim to be the descendants of those earlier immigrants. The reason for this group’s absence

from the land was provided so that the “Persian Western Frontier Colonization Corporation’s”

arrival, announced as “We’re back,” would hold water. Much like the later Aztec prophecy of

a white god coming from the east, or Captain Cook’s assumption of the myth of Lono arriving
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in Hawai’I on a floating island, the promise and prophecy of return from Babylon was part of

the religion. The claim was reinforced by the notion that these who had returned were not

only the offspring of those who had gone away, but that they were the “purified” offspring,

ready to do it right this time.

The function of Deuteronomistic History was to construct an identity for the colonizers

who would take over a land and rule its people. The “history” worked its magic on both the

colonizers and on the colonized. But eventually its deficiencies began to show. It needed a

revision to be applicable to a settled population which, having taken control of lands and

peoples, now faced the problems of governing themselves. The stage was set for a new set of

“ancient” documents to roll off the presses (or off of the pens of the scribes).

The Chronicler

Chronicles does not function in the genre of a history book, but as a scrapbook with

some aspects of the genre of a yearbook. Chronicles was written to give encouragement to the

leadership and population of the immigrants who traced their ancestry to Babylon. In

glorifying Judaism and the Jews through the centuries, the Chronicler rewrote the history

from David to Cyrus, omitting inconvenient material from the sources, adding new things or

modifying old in order to make points glorifying the Davidic royal family and the temple.29

Beyond the Deuteronomistic history books of Samuel and Kings, often quoted verbatim

though never mentioned by name, the author or authors (and editor or editors) of Chronicles

29
R. H. Pfeiffer, “Chronicles” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, New York: Abingdon, 1962, vol 1, p.
577.
21
used parts of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua and Ruth.30

Beginning in 1832, biblical scholars held that the two books of Chronicles plus Ezra and

Nehemiah were the work of a single author or group of authors. More modern study

challenges the idea of single authorship while maintaining the dating of their composition far

later than the events that the books purport to narrate.31 External evidence shows that

Chronicles had been written and circulated by the second century B.C.E. Internal evidence

enables the books to be dated sometime in the late fifth century B.C.E. Explicit reference to

the Persians in 2nd Chronicles makes it clear that these books date from the Persian period.

Quotes from Torah (likely brought into final form early in the Persian period) and from the

prophet Zechariah (in 2nd Chronicles 16:9 and Zechariah 4:10) point to composition in the

Persian or Hellenistic timeframe.32

The scope of Davidic genealogy, the use of the Persian word daric in reference to

finance and other factors indicate a mid-fourth century to early-third century composition in

Jerusalem.33 Some scholars date them as late as 250 BC, but the lack of material indicating

Greek influence on the corpus leads others to adopt an intermediate compositional date of

350-300 B.C.E.34

30
"Introduction to Chronicles," in Herbert G. May and Bruce M. Metzger, editors. The New Oxford Annotated
Bible With the Apocrypha. New York. Oxford University Press. 1977 p. 495
31
Stephen S. Tuell, First and Second Chronicles Louisville: John Knox Press, 2001 p. 8
32
Ibid. p. 10.
33
John W. Wright, “Those doing the work for the service in the Hours of the Lord: 1 Chronicles 23:6 and the
Socio-historical Context of the Temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem in the Later Persian/Early Hellenistic Period” in
Oded Lipschits, Gary N. Knoppers and Rainer Albertz, eds. Judah and the Judeans in the Fourth Century B.C.E.
Winona Lake, Indiana, Eisenbrauns: 2007 p. 379. See also Williamson 1 and 2 Chronicles NCB Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans 1982 pp15-17 and Knoppers1 Chronicles 1-9: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary:
Anchor Bible 12, New York: Doubleday, 2004 pp 101-117
34
Herbert G. May and Bruce M. Metzger, editors. The New Oxford Annotated Bible With the Apocrypha. New
York: Oxford University Press. 1977 p. 495
22
Internal evidence reveals a concern to link up with the Babylonian exile as a decisive

turning point in the religious history of the people.35 The sojourn in Babylon was seen as a

situation of purification for those who appeared in the newly colonized lands claiming to be

returned former residents. Not only had they been purified during their absence from the

polluted land, but the land itself was purified while they were gone. With their return and

under their rule pure would meet pure. This was all presented as according to the will of God

as prophesied and promised in the work of the ancient ones, whose written works (the

Deuteronomistic History with attendant prophetic documents) the colonizers conveniently

carried with them.

The purified people in the newly purified land needed a worship center so that their

purified leaders could perpetuate purification on and for both the “returned” immigrant

colonizers and those persons resident in the colony before their arrival. A temple was built.

Though it was the first temple to Yahweh on the site, it was called the “second” in order to

maintain the fiction of the “We’re Back!”

The Deuteronomistic History corpus got the immigrant group organized in Persia and

carried them through the initial stages of colonization of the western frontier. It installed them

as masters over the local peoples whose land they occupied and whose lives they ruled. It

provided the needed background for the building of a temple for the new community on the

foundations of what, according to the history, was the foundations of a splendid ancient

35
Joseph Blenkinsopp, “The Development of Jewish Sectarianism from Nehemiah to the Hasidim” pp 389. in
Oded Lipschits, Gary N. Knoppers and Rainer Albertz, eds. Judah and the Judeans in the Fourth Century
B.C.E. Winona Lake, Indiana, Eisenbrauns: 2007
23
temple dedicated to Yahweh. But as the newly settled colony matured a revised history with

different emphases was required for the sake of governing a settled society. When the urban

elite of that that society needed public works beyond a temple (whether city walls, country

roads, water supply lines or sewerage drains, things that benefit the city but did little for those

who lived on farms) authority for taxation was necessary.

Having proved themselves adept at producing “ancient” documents including

prophecies, royal geneaologies and priestly prerogatives in the past, the ruling class rolled out

another book, and attributed it to a dead prophet whom they named Haggai.

Like much in the Bible, “it’s not about what the words say.” When we insist on literal

understanding and interpretation of the words on the page we make a mistake akin to that

attributed to Nicodemus who, when Jesus told him that he must be born again, countered with

words about re-entering his mother’s womb. In that conversation Jesus was not talking about

wombs but about something else.

The message of Haggai, which the words set in the year 520 BCE, is NOT about people

who had returned from an exile and built fine houses while neglecting the temple of the Lord.

The message is about an entire nation, dominated by an immigrant regime from the east, the

leading class of which held the right by means of royal fiat from a Persian emperor. This

immigrant group constructed an identity based on the claim to be the ancient inhabitants and

rulers of this land by a grant from the very God whom they introduced to the local scene upon

arrival. Any assessment of the internal affairs of the colony, its political and religious parties
24
and its social stresses must take into account the endemic states of 1) warfare, of 2) passing

armies living off the land, with 3) attendant social and economic disruption. These conditions

are compatible with complaints of inequality, poverty, and social abuses of different kinds in

late biblical sources.36

The immigrant leadership, during a time of national economic hazard, sought to divert

the attention of the people from their economic plight by diagnosing the reason for the

malaise, prescribing a treatment, and carrying out public works projects which would give

people something to do. Early in the colonizing enterprise a Temple had been built as the

center for the religion that the immigrant leaders had carried from Babylon and imposed upon

their subjects. The house of Yahweh at Jerusalem was like the house of the city gods at the

center of a late Babylonian city. It provided a patronage hub for kinship groups of Yehudian

ancestry—the ethnos. By the time of the early Hellenistic period, The Temple of Yahweh in

Jerusalem had 1) taxation authority, 2) a personnel structure, and 3) an economic distribution

system that established the social and economic matrix for the central historical struggles of

early Judaism during the following centuries. Control of the temple meant control of the

economy of the ethnos. Power was given to temple personnel to mediate between the small

province and the larger imperial forces during the centuries to come.37

Temple tithes and offerings collected from the families of Yehud were the sole source of

supply for the centralized gathering and redistribution of goods. Without a temple

36
Ibid. p. 387
37
Wright, op. cit. p. 381.
25
endowment, the temple and its god in Jerusalem had to achieve the primary place of

allegiance for its Yehud constituency in order to sustain the cultural and economic life of

Yehud. Temple personnel regulated the economic flow of goods and resulting status by means

of their offices in the temple and their allotments.38

The particular crisis (whether real or perceived) that precipitated the production of the

book of Haggai is not known. Economic times were hard, crop yields were disappointing,

wine was in short supply and other economic indicators were down. A public works project to

absorb idle labor and stimulate economic activity was needed. But it had to be paid for. Since

responsibility to pay taxes was part of the religious contract that the people had with their

God, the route to recovery was through the temple organization. The book of Haggai was

drafted and “discovered” to serve as a reminder to the people that the way through troubled

times had been discovered in the past. “Look not to your own, but to the community’s need

and get to work under the direction of the priests and the Levites.”

38
Ibid. p. 381.
26
Non Israelite Identities: Edomite, Ammonite, Moabite

Edomite

Among the residents of the Western Persian lands whom the new immigrants came to

rule were a people of like speech who lived in the southern regions. They had come there

from even further south, an area from which they had been driven by the Nabateans.

Narratives in Genesis and allusions elsewhere emphasize the close racial relationship

between Israel and Edom. The Jacob saga identifies the Edomites as descendants of Esau

who dwelt in Seir since the time of the Patriarchs. The Edomites of the 13th century BC

arrived in the country and were established in the country under a king by the time at

which the Exodus is recorded as having taken place. The “conquest of Canaan” came off

without reference to the Edomites, but later Deuteronomistic history reports that Saul

defeated them (I Samuel 14:47 and David “won a name for himself” by subduing the

country (II Samuel 8:13-14 and I Kings 11:15-17). Though independent of Judah at

times, Edom was generally a vassal state of either Judah or one of the empires to either

side (Egypt or Babylonia).

Traditional histories posit a move of Edomites into vacated Judean territory during the

Babylonian exile, when they became integrated into the area later known as Idumea. These

people struggled with and were defeated by the post-exilic Judeans, forcibly converted to the

Yahwhistic religion, and assimilated into the larger whole. Eventually an Idumean, Philip,

became king of the entire country, and from this line the Herodian kings of the New
27
Testament were descended.39

Nearly all Judean prophets are hostile toward the Edomites. Amos denounces them for

employment of slaves and ferocity in war. Obadiah predicts the doom of Edom, and similar

condemnations are found in Psalm 137, Isaiah 1, Jeremiah 49, Ezekiel 35 and Malachi 1.

Post-colonial reading of these texts requires that interpreters refuse to take the dominant

reading as an uncomplicated representation of the past. It introduces an alternative reading

which allows silenced people to find their voices.40

Reading “Edom” with this in mind, the dominant culture in the relationship (that of the

Yehud) dealt with these inconvenient residents of the land they had colonized by attributing to

them a related yet inferior provenance (twin brother of lesser intelligence and animalistic

drives), a conquered and vassal history (controlled by the larger state of the Yehud kings of

the golden age) and an assigned condition of undesirability due to sins of the past (found in

the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Obadiah and Malachi.)

Ammonite

The Ammonites were a Semitic people who flourished as an autonomous political state

on the fringes of the Syrian Desert in central Trans-jordan from about 1300-1500 BCE.

References to ammonites in more recent Hebrew Bible narratives are to an entirely different

ethnic group which occupied the same geographical area.41. Like the Moabites (see below),

the Ammonites were of basically Semitic stock and spoke a language closely related to

Hebrew. The origins of the tribe are presented in an artificial and satiric legend found in

39
Simon Cohen “Edom” in Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible, New York: Abingdon, 1962 Vol 2 p24-5.
40
R. S. Sugirtharajah, The Bible and Empire Cambridge: University Press, 2005, p. 3.
41
G. M. Landes, “Ammon”, The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Nashville: Abingdon, 1962. vol. 1 p. 108
28
Genesis 19:30-38 that portrays their eponymous ancestor, Ben-ammi, as the offspring of the

drunken incestuous union of Lot and his daughter.42 By the time of the Persian empire, only

the name of the Kingdom of Ammon, attached to no organized political state, remained.43

Tobiah, an “evil” character in the Biblical book of Nehemiah, is strongly connected with

Ammonite power resisting the establishment of the Yehud state.44

Reading canonical references to“Ammon” through post colonial filters, one discerns an

agenda tilted in the direction of defaming those who compete with the colonizers for the land

to be colonized. They are descendants of a shameful heritage, they were among the nations

which battled against, though didn’t defeat, the ancestral kingdom of the house of David, and

their presence in the land can only be attributed to having moved in after the removal of the

Yehud to Babylonia for a season of purification. With the return of the Yehud, these ancient

enemies continue in the way of their perfidious ancestors, and must be opposed. It is right to

call down the curses of God upon them.45

Moabite

According to the biblical narrative, the Moabite nation was more closely affiliated with

Israel than any of her other neighbors. The great king David had a Moabite ancestress, Ruth,

and the spoken and written languages of Moab were closely related to those of the Hebrews.

The story of the shameful origin of the Ammonites through incest is paralleled to the

shameful origin of the Moabites, from the same father, through a different daughter, in a

42
Wayne T. Pitard, “Ammon” The Oxford Companion to the Bible New York: OUP, 1993 p. 23
43
Ibid. p. 24
44
Landes, op. cit. p. 113.
45
Nehemiah 4:4-5 and 6:14
29
different drunk on a different night.46

As the Deuteronomist wrote history, Moab was an enemy of Israel as the latter sought to

enter Canaan and continued to be so throughout the monarchial period beginning with Saul.

David subjugated Moab, vassalage was to the northern kingdom of Israel under the Omrid

dynasty, but eventually the yoke was thrown off. In one interesting story of Moabite savagery,

the Deuteronomist mentions that when a coalition of Israel, Judah and Edom, bent on re-

subjugation of the state, was about to prevail, the king of Moab engaged in human sacrifice of

his eldest son, which ended the battle and kept his kingdom in his own hand.47 Moab

effectively disappeared during the Babylonian empire. Mention in Ezra and Nehemiah

indicates, though, that even without a state, the people of Moab were considered inferior to

and enemies of the Yehud.48

Conclusion

A post-colonial reading of these identities from the Hebrew Bible identifies the Yehud as

the colonial power and the peoples of the land colonized by the Yehud, the Edomites,

Ammonites, Moabites and others, as sub-alterns. This calls into question the veracity of

claims to a chosen race, a promised land, a covenant with Abraham (or even the existence of

an Abraham) and the entire narrative of the Exodus found in the Torah and the Israelite nation

and nations narrated in the Deuteronomistic history. That a religion emerged out of the

Yehudite nation, and that Jesus Christ was born into and grew up in that religion, is not

46
Edward F. Campbell “Moab” The Oxford Companion to the Bible New York: OUP, 1993 p. 522.
47
R.J. Williams, “Moab”, The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Nashville: Abingdon, 1962. vol. 3 p. 420
48
Campbell, Ibid.
30
questioned here. Only the claims that the members of the Yehudite nation were descendants of

an Abraham, that there had been a “house of David”, and that the nations surrounding the

territory which the Yehud came to occupy in the late centuries BCE were in any way inferior

to the Yehud in ancestry, religion, or military history. The national identities of the Edomites,

Ammonites and Moabites vanished, and nobody mourns them today. Should modern nations

similarly disappear as distinct identities, is it any greater catastrophe?

Chapter 4 Post-colonial Reading of Two Pacific Nations’ Histories and National
Identities

Introduction
The histories of Tuvalu and Kiribati come through the records and writings of colonial

powers and missionary societies. In part this is because there was no written culture in either

of these two modern nations before the coming of the imperialists, and the peoples of these

two nations cared little for writing anyway until several decades had passed. As the histories

are presented and read, this chapter will seek to identify the colonizers and the colonized, the

powerful and subaltern in traditional and modern societies.

Tuvalu
Pre-history

Two competing hypotheses for the origins of Polynesians are the ‘express-train’ model,
31
which supposes a recent and rapid expansion of Polynesian ancestors from Asia/Taiwan via

coastal and island Melanesia, and the ‘entangled-bank’ model, which supposes a long history

of cultural and genetic interactions among Southeast Asians, Melanesians and Polynesians.

Most genetic data, especially analyses of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variation, support the

express-train model, as does linguistic and archaeological evidence. But analysis of eight

single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and seven short tandem repeat (STR) loci on the Y

chromosome in 28 Cook Islanders from Polynesia and 583 males from 17 Melanesian, Asian

and Australian populations discovered that all Polynesians belong to just three Y-chromosome

haplotypes, as defined by unique event polymorphisms. The major Y haplotype in

Polynesians (82% frequency) was restricted to Melanesia and eastern Indonesia and most

probably arose in Melanesia. Coalescence analysis of associated Y-STR haplotypes showed

evidence of a population expansion in Polynesians, beginning about 2,200 years ago. The

other two Polynesian Y haplotypes were widespread in Asia but were also found in Melanesia.

All Polynesian Y chromosomes can be traced back to Melanesia, although some of these Y-

chromosome types originated in Asia. In 2000, a group of researchers proposed a new model

of Polynesian origins that called the ‘slow-boat’ model: Polynesian ancestors did originate

from Asia/Taiwan but did not move rapidly through Melanesia. They interacted with and

mixed extensively with Melanesians, leaving behind their genes and incorporating many

Melanesian genes before colonizing the Pacific.49

49
Manfred Kayser, Silke Brauer, Gunter Weiss, PeterA.Underhill, Lutz Roewer, ,Wulf Chiefenhövel & Mark
Stoneking, “Melanesian origin of Polynesian Y chromosomes”, Current Biology, Volume 10, Issue 20, 1237-
1246, 14 October 2000
32
The Lapita culture may have arisen from the ensuing cultural mixing, and been sustained

by an extensive trading ring in the south-western Pacific. Well over 3,500 years ago,

Melanesians had crossed a very large oceanic gap to settle Fiji, taking the Lapita culture with

them. Western Polynesia was settled some centuries later. The origin of the Polynesians is still

subject to debate, but by this time, marine technology was presumably more sophisticated and

much longer oceanic voyages may have been common.50

Despite a romantic view of Polynesians as the descendants of "high Asians", free of

Melanesian blood, the more likely explanation is that they derive from a mixing between later,

long-distance emigrants from South-East Asia and Lapita Melanesians. Their settlement of the

Cook Islands, the Marquesas and, finally, Hawaii and New Zealand, occurred relatively late in

the long history of human colonization of the Pacific. The impact of the new theory of

colonization of the Pacific advanced by Gibbons and Clunie cannot be predicated, but their

pointed observations about the likely impact of weld-documented changes in sea levels upon

Pacific prehistory will demand a reappraisal of some cherished ideas.51

Linguists can trace the movements of the Polynesian people by showing the relationships

between their languages. Linguistic research supports the findings of the archaeologists by

relating the Polynesian languages to the vast family of Austronesian languages spoken in

Melanesia.52

50
J. Allen, “In search of the Lapita homeland”. Journal of Pacific History 19:186-201.
51
“The Fire Caves of Nanumaga”, The Age (Australia), Monday 13 April 1987. AND Gibbons and Clunie,
“Sea Level Changes and Pacific Prehistory” Journal of Pacific History, 21 (1986) pp.l 58-82.
52
Kathryn A. Klar and erry L. Jones, “Linguistic Evidence for a Prehistoric Polynesia” Anthropological
Linguistics 47 (2005) p.369 ff.
33
Pre-Christian Religion in Tuvalu

Prior to Christianity, though early Tuvaluan religion possessed a basic consciousness of

one paramount God, the people on the islands were basically animists. Each island had its

own principal and lesser deities. Deities dwelt in a supernatural world overshadowed by a

mighty and powerful being whose domain was the whole universe. The objects of worship

included ancestors, idols and etus. An ancestor was credited with having created the sun,

moon and stars in order to give light to the primordial darkness. Local islands and sub-

districts on larger ones worshipped gods in the form of idols. The etu was a species of bird,

fish or reptile in which a spirit was believed to reside. Beyond these objects there was a vague

idea of a Supreme Being, Tangaloa, who had created all things and was the author of

mercies.53

Idol worship was common throughout the group. In Nanumea every family possessed an

idol which , according to the old men of Nanumea, represented the god Tuafale, the principal

god of the island. A similar sort of family worship was found in Niutao by Moresby. Although

they had Kulu, their principal god, whom they worshipped as a whole group, each family had

a hut where a spirit was believed to dwell. They did not formally worship this spirit, but they

used it to kill other people or to protect themselves from other spirits.54

On the island of Nukufetau, the story of pre-Christian worship as remembered by

the old men says that before Christianity was introduced there was a temple where

53
R.D. Craig, Dictionary of Polynesian Mythology (Greenwood Press: New York, 1989), 100.
54
John Williams, A Narrative of Missionary Enterprises in the South Sea Islands, London, John Snow, 1840.
34
worship took place. The objects of worship were foreign objects found on the island,

such things as bottles, timbers and other items likely to have been thrown overboard

from ships. Any rare things discovered on the island were reported to the vaka-atua or

priest and then prayers would be offered.55

The vaka-atua had tremendous authority and when he chose to give an order, even the

king would have to abide by it. He had little to do with the direct running of the welfare of the

people, but many times he would be asked for the advice on various matters. When he chose

to play politics, he would never fail to achieve what he wanted. The introduction of

Christianity put an end to pre-Christian worship and to vaka-atua. Yet even today there are

still people who claim to have control of spirits. Once they were known as vaka-atua, now

they are simply called tino faivailakau or magicians.56

Traditional Social Structure

The aliki or chiefs were the recognised leaders of traditional Tuvaluan society. By virtue

of their position, inherited from their ancestors the aliki were entitled to make demands on

their people.57 They possessed the power to rule by divine right from Tangaloa. Opposition of

the aliki by a common man or woman was regarded as disobedience of Tangaloa.58

The aliki was expected to protect the culture inherited from the ancestors. Tradition

indicates that if the behaviour of any person was too far removed from normal standards, then

55
S.J. Whitmee, A missionary cruise in the South Pacific : being the report of a voyage amongst the Tokelau,
Ellice and Gilbert Islands in the missionary barque "John Williams" during 1870: Sydney : Joseph Cook & Co.,
Printers, 1871.
56
Gordon MacGregor Ethnology of Tokelau Islands, Wellington, NZ, Bernice P. Bishop Museum, 1937, p 64.
57
Gerd Koch The Material Culture of Tuvalu Berlin: Museum fur Volkerkunde, 1961. p. 100.
58
Neiel Gunson “Great Families of Polynesia: Inter-island links and Marriage Patterns” The Journal of Pacific
History Vol. 32 No. 2.(1997) pp. 139-179.
35
that could bring great disgrace on the family. In order to ensure peaceful and trouble-free

lives, people were advised to respect customs and traditions.59

An aliki was advised and aided by tao aliki, or assistant chiefs, who acted as mediators

between the people and the aliki. They administered and supervised the people, organized

means of distributing land and food, arranged communal work and fishing expeditions.60

Common Tuvaluan women were usually led by women born into noble families. The

sisters and daughters of the aliki ensured that common women were usefully engaged in

making mats, baskets, thatch, string, fishing shoes, ointments and in other activities. Those of

higher birth had to ensure that they had more possessions than the ordinary people. The

highest position to which a woman of common birth could aspire was to become the servant

of the aliki.

In a manner similar to caste-based assignment of life work in India, Tuvalu’s society was

stratified occupationally. Every family had a particular task to perform for the community.

Each family was expected to excel in developing the skills and the knowledge of the task

assigned to it. Certain families were skilled carpenters who built of canoes or houses. Some

were responsible for fishing and farming, and others for warfare and for defense. The

usefulness of this system is shown by its survival. The various families' special tasks are still

known to most Tuvaluans. It is extremely difficult to impart the skills and knowledge of one

family to others. In fact, transfer of such skill and knowledge is regarded as tapu, because the

59
Koskinen, Aarne A.1960 Ariki the First-Born. An Analysis of a Polynesian Chieftain Title. Helsinki:
Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia. (Folklore Fellows Communications No. 181.)
60
Simati Faaniu and Hugh Laracy. Tuvalu: A History. 1983, page 84
36
knowledge is meant to be used for stated family’s contribution to general well-being. No

records were written. Knowledge was passed from father to son by word of mouth.61 Even

experts for the various skills did not record their knowledge for fear of having it stolen by

people whom they regarded as desiring to access the inherited knowledge of other families.

Land Tenure

Land has always been valued in Tuvalu. Even the ancient ancestors had formulas and

customs for determining the ownership of particular areas and the manner by which that

ownership could be transferred from generation to generation or from one family to another.62

Modernization has changed these customs. Monetarization of the economy has turned land

into a commodity.63

According to tradition, each family or clan lives and eats together within their inherited

land area. For example, if one landowner, Levolo, owns four acres of land and has four

children who eat from that land, this acreage will be divided into four single-acre plots upon

his demise. When the heirs individually register their ownership, there will be a notation that

these plots were originally “Levolo land." But as generation succeeds generation, the land is

further and further sub-divided. If and when a family has moved off-island for a period of

some years and lays claim to the lands it previously occupied, that ownership must be

61
Ibid.
62
Donald Gilbert Kennedy “Land tenure in the Ellice Islands” Journal of the Polynesian Society, Volume 62 No.
4 (1953) p 348 And United Nations CEDAW/C/TUV/2 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination against Women Distr.: General 3 September 2008 Page 10.
63
Kennedy (1953) p. 351.
37
honored, though on some islands the claim is invalidated if the family has been gone for more

than ten years.64

The concept of family applied to land affairs is highly flexible. It may refer to long gone

ancestors who originally held the lands, to a nuclear family, generally through the patrileneal

line. Because many inheritance arrangements were made orally, colonial records were often

based on evidence given by elderly men, whose interests may have been skewed in favor of

the power of a family patriarch than towards the benefit of succeeding generations with

mouths to feed. Old men of each island still preserve more or less complete genealogies of

certain families, the generations of which serve as pegs on which to hang the few traditions

which still have some interest for the present generation.65

It was not considered appropriate for lands to go to the female side of the family, because

once a girl marries she comes under her husband's care. Another reason is that if the woman

did not produce any children, such lands would eventually go to her husband's family when

the woman died..66 This precaution is similar to the constraints on land given to adopted

64
Baaro Namai & 15 others; ed. Ron Crocombe Land Tenure in the Atolls.. Customs, boundaries, courts,
taxation, law and practice in Cooks, Kiribati, Marshalls, Tokelau, and Tuvalu. 1987, 2d prtg 1995. AND 1974
Land Tenure in the Ellice Islands: A Changing Profile. In Henry P. Lundsgaarde (ed.), Land Tenure in Oceania.
Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii. (ASAO Monograph 5 No. 2.)

65
R. G. Roberts . “Te Atu Tuvalu: a short history of the Ellice Islands” Journal of the Polynesian Society,
Volume 67, No. 4 (1958) p. 394. See also D. G. Kennedy, “Land Tenure in the Ellice Islands” Journal of the
Polynesian Society vol. 62 No. 4 (1953) p. 351 as follows: The land was the possession of the family group, the
eldest male of which was usually the leader but, be it noted, never the sole owner. This point is important since
there has been confusion over the rights of primogeniture since the advent of European influence. Primogeniture
within the family group, and not necessarily within the uterine group of the last leader, determined the
succession to the leadership only. Hence the confusion often arising out of European recognition of a leader of a
land-owning group as the sole owner of the lands held by the group, followed by the inculcation of English
concepts of inheritance which have been partly influenced by the rights of primogeniture under the English
system of feudal tenure.
66
United Nations CEDAW/C/TUV/2 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
against Women Distr.: General 3 September 2008 Page 10.
38
children who are not blood-related as they may die and have no children, and the land would

then go to strangers.67

Modern History
Indigenous Settlement

Linguists suggest that the language of Tuvalu, indicating the settlement of the land, goes

back about 2,000 years. Traditional stories and genealogies, however, mostly go back only

about 300 years. It is generally believed that the earlier ancestors came mostly from Samoa,

possibly by way of Tokelau, while others came from Tonga and Uvea. These settlers were all

Polynesians with the exception of Nui where many people are descendants of Micronesians

from Kiribati.68

Western Colonization

Though Europeans saw and noted the existence of some of the islands of modern Tuvalu

as easy as 1568, Western colonization did not begin unitl the early 19th century. Whalers and

traders were among the first westerners to set foot on the islands. In 1819, Captain Arent de

Peyster, an American, was in command of the British brigantine Rebecca. He nearly ran the

ship aground on Funafuti, which de Peyster “ Ellice's Group” after the owner of the Rebecca's

cargo. The next morning de Peyster sighted Nukufetau, which he called de Peyster's Group.

Eventually, the name Ellice was applied to all nine islands by the English hydrographer A. G.

Findlay.69

67
Donald Gilbert Kennedy, "Land Tenure in the Ellice Islands” p. 358.

68
Donald G. Kennedy, "Field Notes on the Culture of Vaitupu, Ellice Islands", Journal of the Polynesian Society,
vol.38, 1929, pp.2-5.
69
U.S. Department of State, Background Note: Tuvalu http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/16479.htm accessed 9th
April, 2010.
39
This and subsequent sightings established the location of the atolls on the map of the

Pacific. Though the islands had previously been only tenuously related to each other, Western

cartographers incorporated them into a single entity. Western visits brought diseases, though.

(Cook’s crew infected the Hawaiian Islands of Ni’ihau and Lanai with venereal diseases in

1887.)70 By the middle of the nineteenth century Tuvaluans had become sufficiently familiar

with the unfortunate medical impact of Europeans. In 1853 when Captain Pease of the

Planter visited Nanumea he was washed before he was allowed to step ashore.71

Before European contact in the early 19th century each Tuvalu island had developed a

political and social system well suited to the ecological and territorial limitations of the small

atolls. Each was governed by a hereditary chief, or chiefs, elected by a consensus of elders.

There seems to have been little inter-island warfare, and the largest political unit was

normally a single island.72

Tuvalu came under British jurisdiction in 1877. In 1890 the British High Commissioner

for the Western Pacific based in Fiji recommended the acquisition of the Gilberts by Britain to

forestall possible action by Germany or the USA and to control the recruitment of labour, the

sale of guns and liquor and to end the growing turbulence within the group. In 1892 the

British Government, ordered the Commander-in-Chief, H.M.Ships, Australia, to send a

warship to the Gilberts to declare a Protectorate. Captain Davis had been ordered to visit the

70
Theroux, op. cit. p. 534
71
Maritime Heritage Project, Ports of the World: Tuvalu http://www.maritimeheritage.org/ports/tuvalu.html
accessed 9 April 2010.
72
Doug Munro, The 'mystery' of Gran Cocal: European discovery and mis-discovery in Tuvalu, Journal of the
Polynesian Society, Volume 89, No. 2 (1980) p 167-198
40
Ellice Islands but not to declare a Protectorate there. But he reported that the 'Kings' of each

island had asked for a Protectorate to be declared and Captain Gibson R.N. of H.M.S.

Curacao was thereupon ordered to the Ellice Islands in 1892. Between 9 and 16 October of

that year he declared a Protectorate on each island in the group.73 Tuvalu was incorporated

into the British Protectorate of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. On 10 November 1915, the

group became the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony.74

In the 1970’s, as the British colonial regime prepared the colony for independence, the

Tuvaluans expressed an unwillingness to be ruled by the Gilbertese. As a result, the British

arranged separate independence for the two island groups, the Gilberts (with the Phoenix

Islands, the Line Islands, the Guano Islands, Kirimati Atoll and Banaba added in) as one

republic, and the Ellice Islands as another. Tuvalu became an Independent Constitutional

monarchy and the 38th (special) member of the Commonwealth on the October 1,1978. In

2000, Tuvalu became a full member of the Commonwealth and the 189th member of the

United Nations.75 The name Tuvalu, a neologism pretending to be traditional, literally

meaning “eight islands standing together”, was adopted during independence.76

The Coming of Christianity

From the 1820's, when Europeans began to visit Tuvalu with manufactured products,

centers of trade were established and the economy was monetarized. The aliki to become keen

73
R. G. Roberts, “Te Atu Tuvalu: a short history of the Ellice Islands” Journal of the Polynesian Society, Volume
67, No. 4 (1958) p. 395
74
Barrie Macdonald, Cinderellas of the Empire: towards a history of Kiribati and Tuvalu, Suva, Fiji: Institute of
Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific, 2001.
75
Paeniu, Isakala “Implications of Separation Between the Gilbert and Ellice Islands”. South Pacific Bulletin
Vol 25 No.3(1975)pp. 38-40.
76
Chambers, K. & Chambers, A. (2001) Unity of Hearts: Wavel and Press Inc. Prospect Heights, Illinois (2001)
41
supporters of commercial activities frequently hosted at the trading centre. When aliki

became drunk and misbehaved they were thought to have been robbed of their wisdom, and

respect for them declined. Traders were influential, but missionaries were moreso.

Christianity was introduced in 1861 when some adherents of the London Missionary Society

from Manihiki in the Cook Islands accidentally drifted to Nukulaelae in a canoe.77 In May

1865 the Reverend A. W. Murray of the LMS visited Tuvalu from Samoa and installed

Samoan pastors on the various islands. These Samoans converted Tuvaluans to Christianity.78

Tuvaluans had religious beliefs prior to the arrival of the Samoan missionaries. They

were fully aware of spiritual power, which they called mana. But traditional religions were

displaced. The Samoan pastors placed their authority above that of the Tuvaluan aliki, eroded

the traditional social institutions, and ascribed to themselves the position of Christ’s vicars on

earth. As Samoan lifeways and laws replaced Tuvaluan ones, the latter were replaced. The

traditions that had been the social machinery of ancestral lives were eclipsed. The religion

taught by the Samoans required that offerings be made to God’s messengers, the pastors

77
Elekana , 1863 Translation of a Letter from a Deacon of the Church in Manihiki who Drifted to a
Group of Heathen Islands and Reached Afterwards the Samoas. Malua, Samoa, January
5, 1863. (London Missionary Society---SSL 29/3/C.) and Michael Goldsmith, 2002 The Accidental Missionary:
Tales of Elekana. Christchurch: Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies, University of Canterbury.
78
Gill, Rev. William Wyatt, 1872 Diary of a Tour of the Gilbert, Ellice, Union and Loyalty Islands in the John
Williams, and Continuation of Journey through Curtis Strait to Albany, on the Way to Papua, May 21-Oct 11,
1872.
42
themselves. Tuvaluans who had become Christians made the Samoan pastors their masters for

almost a century.79

Post colonial reading of the identity

Before reading the Tuvaluan identity from a post-colonial point of view, the very

existence of Tuvalu as a nation must be taken into consideration. Prior to their colonization

by Europeans, the eight islands did not stand together. Though somewhat similar in religion,

language and culture, each was governed independently by its own aliki. When Captain Davis

brought them into British Protectorate status in 1892, he was forced to visit each island in turn

and declare each a separate protectorate. And not all islands fell under British status, some

were claimed by the United States. The consolidation the islands was a product of British

colonial rule. Modern Tuvalu is an imperial creation under which a ruling elite exercises

power over 8 islands, though they represent, at best, a handful of locations.

Postcolonial reading of the Tuvalu identity requires discernment of the relations between

elites and subalterns. Advantages accruing to past and present colonizers must be exposed to

bring to light the extent that the logic of colonialism remains active even after independence

from the empire. The material consequences of inequality must be discerned if they are to be

assuaged.

The following 5 aspects are notable

79
Griffen, V., Gender Relations in the Pacific Cultures and their Impact on the Growth and
Development of Children: Paper prepared for a seminar on “Children’s Rights and Culture in thePacific”, Suva
International Conference on Population and Development Report on Progress in the Pacific ICPD +10 (2006)
AND Doug Munro, Samoan Pastors in Tuvalu, 1865-1899. In Doug Munro and Andrew Thornley
(eds), The Covenant Makers: Islander Missionaries in the Pacific. Suva: Pacific
Theological College and The Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific. 1996.
43
1. Power

Note that the island chiefs are known by the same term, aliki, as was used to designate

the minor gods in the pre-Christian religion. Originally this may have been a convenient tool

by which the law of a chief could be clothed in the divine to forestall opposition. How curious

it is that, after the religious dethroning of the divine aliki with the coming of Christianity, the

temporal rulers of each island continue to use the term for themselves.

2. Land

The organization of society around the ownership of land, and the continual division

thereof and consequent prevalence of disputes over ownership which lie at the heart of social

discord, is reminiscent of the arguments over legitimacy, succession and rank in the court of

Louis XIV in 17th Century France. This view of land tenure is pervasive in the Pacific.

Theroux noted it in 1991 in Fiji, Samoa, and the Cook Islands.80 This product of Western

colonialism it symptomatic of an internal colonial mindset among Polynesians.

3. Caste and Class

Tuvaluans continue to be restrained by rigid class and caste systems wherein the

hereditary nobility and the church pastors rule over the common people.

4. Knowledge

A monopoly on knowledge is jealously held by families with specific skill sets,

whether these pertain to agriculture, fishing, building, ceremonial protocol or the provision of

particular services, enslaves as many people generation by generation as it protects. It stands

80
Theroux, op. cit. p. 231, 364, 431.
44
against social mobility and carries within it the seeds of its own destruction when a skill

meant to be passed along from a father to a son (not to a daughter) in a coming year is lost to

an accidental death in a current year.

5. Women

That women are not considered worthy to inherit land, because they will take it out

of the family, limits the potential for women to accumulate a resource base from which to

prosper. Women are kept dependent on men, in a permanent subaltern relational framework.

Adhering to traditional and imported Samoan models, women are not ordained to the gospel

ministry in the Tuvaluan Christian Church.

Kiribati
Description of the Identity
Kiribati was named Gilbert Islands in 1820 by a Russian admiral, Adam von

Krusenstern, and French Captain Louis Duperrey after the British Captain Thomas Gilbert,

who sighted the islands in 1788.81 The current name, Kiribati, is an adaptation of "Gilberts",

from the former European name the "Gilbert Islands". Although the indigenous name for the

Gilbert Islands proper is Tungaru, the new state chose the name "Kiribati", an indigenous

language rendition of "Gilberts", as an equivalent of the former colony to acknowledge the

inclusion of, Banaba, the Line Islands, and the Phoenix Islands, which were never considered

part of the Gilberts chain.82

81
"BBC Timeline:Kiribati". BBC. 15 May 2008. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-
pacific/country_profiles/2944816.stm
82
Reilly Ridgell. Pacific Nations and Territories: The Islands of Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia. 3rd
Edition. Honolulu: Bess Press, 1995. p. 95 The United States gave up its claims to 14 islands of the Line and
Phoenix chains (previously asserted under the Guano Islands Act) in the 1979 Treaty of Tarawa.
45
Under British rule, the colonial territories of the Gilbert Islands and the Ellis Islands

were administered as a single entity by the Western Pacific High Commission based in Fiji.83

Under the colonization and de-colonization processes, Kirimati (Christmas Island), Banaba

(Ocean Island), the Line Islands and the Phoenix Islands were added to the groups, and the

Ellis Islands were split off to become the independent nation of Tuvalu. The modern nation of

Kiribati is wider than the original Tungaru, and could be described as a mid-Pacific Empire of

it’s own. Granted, the Gilberts (as the Tungaru) have an historical unity of language and

ethnicity. Tungaru makes sense as a nation in and of itself. But Tungaru suzerainity over

Banaba, The Phoenix Islands, the Line Islands and Kirimati Atoll, is a creation of Western

Imperialism, aped by the authorities based in Tarawa.

The Gilberts have been inhabited by Micronesians speaking the same Oceanic language

since sometime between 3000 BC84 and AD 1300. Invaders from Tonga, Samoa, and Fiji later

introduced Polynesian and Melanesian cultural aspects, respectively. Intermarriage tended to

blur cultural differences and resulted in a significant degree of cultural homogenisation.

The Tungaru language, known as Te taetae ni Kiribai, has been made official in a way

similar to the granting of national status to Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan. It is in daily use by

most of its 105,000 speakers. Linguistically it belongs to the Austronesian family, part of the

Oceanian branch and of the Nuclear Micronesian sub-branch. Structurally it is a verb object

subject language.85 There are two main dialects: Northern and Southern, differentiated by

83
"BBC Timeline:Kiribati". BBC. 15 May 2008.
84
"Cinderellas of the Empire", Barrie Macdonald, IPS, University of the South Pacific, 2001, p. 1
85
Alan S. C. Ross Comparative philology and Polynesian studies, Journal of the Polynesian Society, Volume 63,
No. 1 (1954) p. 63
46
pronunciation of some words. The islands of Butaritari and Makin use a dialect that differs

from the standard in vocabulary and pronunciation.86

Residents of Kiribati’s outer islands live in villages of 50 and 3,000 residents. Houses are

made of local natural materials. Livelihood, at a subsistence level, is gained from the sea.

Such cash economy as there is comes from copra plantations. But outer islands have

depopulated as people have moved to Tarawa. Life expectancy of the population as a whole is

60 (57 for males and 63 for females)87. Infant mortality is 54 per 1000 live births. From 1990

to 2007 there were 23 physicians per 100,000 residents.88

Although Kiribati sprawls across a vast area of ocean and three chains of islands, about

92 per cent of the population is concentrated in the Gilberts chain to the west, with 41 per cent

on Tarawa. The high degree of concentration South Tarawa has brought urban-style

congestion problems to a population that is still partially dependent on traditional methods of

subsistence. It has also increased national awareness of the impact of sustained population

growth on economic progress.89 South Tarawa, home to 41 per cent of the nation’s population,

now has more than 22 times as many people as it had in 1947. People move to South Tarawa

to obtain education and wage employment, but schools are becoming overcrowded and the

demand for wage employment far exceeds the supply.90

86
J.C. Marck , “Micronesian dialects and the overnight voyage” Journal of the Polynesian society Volume 95,
No. 2 (1986) p. 255.
87
United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Reports, 2009 Kiribati
http://hdrstats.undp.org/en/countries/data_sheets/cty_ds_KIR.html accessed 5 February 2010
88
World Resources Institute, Earthtrends, Environmental Information http://earthtrends.wri.org/text/population-
health/variable-1297.html accessed 5 February 2010
89
Rennie, Sandra Joy. 1981. Tarawa growth brings problems. The New Pacific Magazine (Nov).
90
Connell, John. “Migration, employment and development in the South Pacific, country report.” South Pacific
Commission, Noumea, New Caledonia,1987
47
Kiritimati Island to the east, reputedly the world’s largest atoll, has around 85 per cent of

the total land area but less than 5 per cent of the population.91 It was originally developed in

the 1960s as a site for the British nuclear tests rather than for settlement. It is also so remote

that it can be reached from the Gilberts only by a three-week ocean voyage or by very

expensive and irregular air connections through Honolulu.92

There has been considerable economic and social development since 1947, with some

housing built of modern materials, some access to electricity, improved water supply and

sanitation, and more schools and health services. Even so, capacity to provide high quality

services for all citizens has been continually undermined by steadily increasing population

numbers.93

Not everyone in Kiribati has felt the effects of this steady increase in numbers, because

there has been much migration from outer islands to South Tarawa. Most islands have twice

as many people as in 1947, while some, such as Tamana94 and Arorae, have not increased at

all because they have effective family planning as well as out-migration.

Population density in the tiny island of Betio, a settlement of around 12,500 people,

exceeds 8,000 per square kilometre. Overall, about 2,000 people are added to the population

of South Tarawa each year. If the current growth rate were to continue, South Tarawa’s

91
Kiribati Statistics Office, Ministry of Finance. 1985-. Population census. Ministry of Finance, P.O. Box 67,
Bairiki, Tarawa
92
Bailey, Eric E. 1977. The Christmas Island Story. Stacey International, London.
93
Green, N.A. 1974. Education and culture in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. Overseas challenge 27 (1973-4), 28-
31
94
Lawrence, Roger James. Tamana Island Report: Economic and social response in the Gilbert and Ellice
Islands. Victoria University of Wellington rural socio-economic survey of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. 1977
Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development with the authority of the Government of the Gilbert
Islands, Bairiki
48
population would double in less than 14 years. That is, by 2019 it would have almost 80,000

people, of whom about 25,000 would live in Betio.95

The Tungaru culture has been adopted as “official” for all peoples and renamed, “I-

Kiribati.” It is complex and diverse, with similarities that pertain throughout the Gilbert

group. At its center are the traditions of Maneaba and Unimane. The maneaba, at the center

of a village, is a rectangular building, the ends of which differ somewhat. The structure is well

adapted to the island climate and to its function. Its roof is supported on shoulder-high stone

pillars and even a chief has to stoop to enter. The wind blows in easily under low-hanging

thatch, but if it becomes irritating mats can be put up to keep it out. Feasting, dancing and

sleeping (sometimes all three at the same time) take place in the maneaba.96

The sanctity of the maneaba and the authority of the unimane (old men) pervade and

dominate the Kiribati village community. The intervention of outside agents and agencies has

made an impact on the traditional social organizations, but effectiveness as agents as social

control depends on a reciprocal relationship with the older men of the village or the island.

Ecclesiastical or political matters cannot be separated from the traditional fabric of the

society. Commercial bodies like public co-operatives and private co-operative enterprises and

new social institutions depend on local unimane to ensure usefulness in the community.97

95
Chris McMurray, “Culture, Catholics and Condoms: Population Planning in Kiribati” A Paper presented at
the ISLANDS of the WORLD VIII International Conference “Changing Islands – Changing Worlds”1-7
November 2004, Kinmen Island (Quemoy), Taiwan
96
Rene L.A. Catala, Report on the Gilbert Islands: Some Aspects of Human Ecology, Atoll Research Bulletin
No. 59, Washington DC, National Academy of Science, 1957. p. 18.
97
P. B. Laxton, “Nikumaroro” Journal of the Polynesian Society, Volume 60, No. 2 (1951) p. 139. AND
H. E. Maude, The coconut Oil Trade in the Gilbert Islands, Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol 74, No. 4,
(1965) p. 414.
49
Though systems of local autonomy were abolished under British colonial rule, the unimane

and great landowners continue to have strong influence in local politics.98

Although unimane associations do not have formal recognition in the constitutional

framework of the state, their traditional role in village life has given them respectability and

status. They indirectly administer justice on the island. Usually the unimane constitute the

membership of lands court and the magistrate’s court. The lands court adjudicates land

disputes which often involve issues of traditional knowledge and social structure, areas in

which the unimane are considered well qualified make decisions. Ignorance of the formal law

seems to be of secondary importance in their role as island magistrates where their judgment

is more than often based on moral rather than legal consideration. Before Western contact,

settlements were dispersed, although they were usually close to the lagoon. The basic

residential unit (and main social group) was the hamlet (kainga) composed of clustered

households (mwenga) occupied by members of related extended families. Each kainga in the

central and southern Gilberts owned land and designated marine areas extending in narrow

strips from the ocean reef to the lagoon shore or from one ocean reef to the next on raised

limestone islands and engaged in economic production and in social exchanges. In the wetter,

more productive northern Gilberts, chiefs held the title for an entire island or most of an

island but everyone was entitled to live on the land. Swamp taro pits were divided among

several kainga community headmen. Fishponds belonged to all those who participated in

98
R. G. Roberts “The dynasty of Abemama” Journal of the Polynesia Society Volume 62, No. 3 (1953) pp. 267-
268.
50
stocking and cleaning them. Fish traps were the property of individual builders and kinsmen

who cooperated. Leaders of descent groups had the right to distribute flotsam, stranded

porpoises, large fish, and possibly turtles, and to prohibit access to the reef . The British

colonial administration, established at the end of the nineteenth century, later abolished this

type of control in line with the Western concept of public rights in the sea and its resources.99

The unimane association is the most powerful traditional political unit in the islands.

Its source of strength is derived from its own authenticity. But this power strength has been

undermined by modern forms of political and social organizations. The destiny of unimane

associations and their influence in villages will depend entirely on how the village people

respond to modernization.

Land Tenure
In 1957, Catala reported that almost land in the Gilbert Islands belonged to local people

and was unavailable for sale to outsiders. A land registry had been established in 1939 and a

land commissioner appointed. After the war a native land court was set up to assist the

commissioner to clear up the confused situation that had come to exist because of

fragmentation of holdings. By 1957, the registry had been completed on 7 islands.100

Because many disputes over land were based on claims related to invasion, war and

plunder, the modern government decided not to meddle in these, but to give land tenure to

those occupying the land at the time.101 Throughout the Gilberts land ownership was and

99
Frank R. Thomas, Kiribati: Some Aspects of Human Ecology, Forty Years Later. Atoll Research Bulletin
No. 501. Washington D.C.: National Museum Of Natural History, August 2003, p. 20.
100
Catala, op. cit. p. 19.
101
See Laws, etc. Native laws of the Gilbert Islands (British Protectorate), 1894. 1960., Suva, Fiji. And Smith,
Basil Gerard. 1973. The Laws of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, containing the Ordinances and Subsidiary
Legislation the reunder in force on the 1st day of July, 1973. 3 vols, revised edition, 1901pp. London.
51
remains pervasive. The person who has no babai pit or a few coconut trees is rare.

Usually the head of the family, the father, shares out his land before his death. Here he

enjoys a great freedom of choice. Male primogeniture is the rule, but all sons and daughters

receive a share. When a man dies childless a brother, a sister or nephew will inherit the land.

Custom and law insure that a man leaves some land to an illegitimate child. In former

times, rape, murder, adultery and theft were compensated for by the handing over of some

land or a canoe. But giving land as a gift to friends was a delicate matter because a family

would oppose such an idea. Nonetheless, anyone who took care of an old person or of

someone who was sick could be rewarded by a gift of land.

Women

Within the family, the woman is regarded as the man's companion rather than his slave.

The woman was not expected to do hard manual labor but to attend to household tasks and

those jobs she could do without over-exhausting herself. Women were not engaged in certain

types of fishing, house construction or preparation of babai pits. Each woman comes to her

husband with her inheritance, though her share of familial wealth was lower than that of her

brother. Only daughters were much sought after as brides because such a woman would bring

with her all of her father’s wealth and knowledge, but occasionally his office as well.102

Women without husbands were beneath consideration, referred to as the waste of their

generation. Polygamy was rare. Even a chief was allowed only a single “wife”, though

concubinage was tolerated. Most frequently these extra women were the sisters of the Chief's

Manaima, Ronite Bontio. 1988. Reflection on the Role of Women in the Kiribati Context in Relation to
102

Culture. Suva: Pacific Theological College 1993
52
wife. A married man had authority over his brothers’ widows and other unattached women

related to him.103

An aversion to divorce pressured unhappy couples to make arrangements of mutual

consent and tact in order to maintain the façade of great respect for spouses. In the modern

nation-state divorce is permitted by law. Adultery, bad treatment or a three-year separation are

considered sufficient grounds for termination of a marriage.104 This is a cause of disagreement

between the Government and the Catholic mission.

Analysis of the I-Kiribati Identity

Referring to the classification set forth by Shih (see above), all three aspects are present the

I-Kiribati identity.

A primordialist perspective focuses on racial/cultural interpretations of identity

formation. The Tungaru identity of the native peoples of the Gilbert islands chain is such a

primordial identity, but it is, in itself, a blend of an original Micronesian culture with

influences brought to this by invaders from Tonga, Samoa, and Fiji who introduced

Polynesian and Melanesian cultural mores.

An instrumental perspective on identity formation emphasizes structural arrangements

that have contributed to the creation and development of group identity. Such arrangements

may include unequal distribution of political power, economic resources and social status

between ethnic groups. The frustrated elites of the subordinated group embark on ethnic

103
Karaiti, Bureieta. 1975. Marriage in the Gilberts. A study of the decline of arranged marriage and its problem.
D.Th. thesis, 66pp, bibl. Pacific Theological College, Suva
104
Eyley, Claudia Pond. 1995. Domestic Drama in Kiribati. in: Broadsheet. (New Zealand feminist magazine.)
27/00/1995 n.208, p.17
53
mobilizations.105 Mainstream culture in the modern nation-state of Kiribati can be said to

stand on a Tungaru foundation, but the arrangements by which islands and peoples from other

locations (the Line Islands, the Phoenix Islands, Kirimati and Banaba) came into the nation

state must also be taken into account, as well as the legacy of British colonial rule and aspects

of Western missionary evangelization that brought about connections between islands and

people not originally part of the Tungaru.. The I-Kiribati is not congruent with Tungaru

identity. It is a product of the action of outside instrumental forces upon that basic ingredient.

A constructivist view of identity is backed and promoted by an imagined official

nationalism and seeks to foster an artificially constructed, imagined and even created ethnic

identity within the context of national identity. It is formed by the elites of the society first as

imagination, then as imposition. In Kiribati the common experience is that of invasion and

assimilation by outsiders, first by Polynesian and Melanesian peoples, then by Western

imperialists.

Reading the I-Kiribati Post-colonially

A post-colonial reading of the identity requires that the relations between elites and

subalterns be discerned, and that the advantages accruing to past and present colonizers be

exposed to bring to light the extent that the logic of colonialism remains active even after

independence from the empire. The material consequences of inequality must be discerned if

they are to be assuaged.

The following 4 aspects are notable.

105
Shih, op. cit.
54
1) The constructed official identity under Kiribati’s current ruling elites seeks to

mold all who hold Kiribati nationality into something particularly Tungaru.

Working from a colonized mindset, the elites chose a local vernacular version

“Kiribati” of a foreign imposed name “Gilberts” and imposed that on a people of

diverse local cultures. Further, the institution of the “I-Kiribati” as a defined

cultural identity or aspiration of ALL the people of the nation is a repetition of

the conquered and imperialised history of the Gilberts chain upon the peoples of

lands not originally part of the Tungaru.

2) Within the maneaba, authority continues to be concentrated in the hands of the

unimane (old men) who dominate the Kiribati village community life. Any

outside agency that seeks to exert an influence on social life needs to comply in

some way with the rule of these old men. Church and politics are inseparable

from their control. Cooperative arrangements for the good of farmers or artisans

must all meet with unimame approval. In practice, the determination of an

outside agency’s place in the community is the prerogative of the unimane.

3) Though a woman in a family is regarded as a man's companion rather than his

slave, her sphere of influence is narrower than that of a man, and in the

distribution of inheritances, daughters receive less than sons. Further, a woman

who does not marry is regarded as a waste.

4) The traditions regarding land ownership and tenure work against cooperative
55
tilling of agricultural plots and community cohesiveness.

The I-Kiribati is a constructed identity. It is the product of an original primordial core,

the historical working of outside agencies, and a modern political decision. Whether it

continues to exist or not is a question of possibilities and probabilities. Whether it SHOULD

continue to exist is an ethical question.

Within postcolonial literary studies the slipperiness of “nation” involves both the

common elements of language and culture, as well as the power elements just discussed. In

terms of defining “nation” along axes of shared language and culture, much literature from

post-colonized places points toward the difficulty of finding that common ground, since the

geographic boundaries drawn by the formerly colonizing powers bind groups “nationally”

who would otherwise define themselves differently, even oppositionally. As for the power

issues that coincide with defining “nation,” many formerly colonized places that became

“nations” in the twentieth century lacked fundamental infrastructural elements, such as a

firmly established legislative system or functioning economic base, that severely inhibited and

continues to inhibit these “nations’” abilities to occupy a place in world organizations in a

self-determining fashion.106

THESIS CONCLUSION
The peoples of Tuvalu and Kiribati must be saved from the ravages of climate change

related sea level rise. The communities (aggregations of individual people into village or

106
Deborah L. Madsen, ed. Beyond the Borders American Literature and Post-colonial Theory, London, Pluto
2003 p. 40
56
island corporate bodies) might be worthy of saving because they are the networks of

relationships wherein the peoples find mutual support. BUT, the cultural identities of these

two “nations”, artificial constructs of European imperialism in the 19th century in service of

the imperialist elites of the states themselves in the 21st century, need not be saved. Yes,

people feel more comfortable in the identities into which they were socialized, whether those

be of race, class, caste or occupation, but identities are fungible. Resources are limited. Lives

are in danger. Let the cultures and identities go.

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