An Unsettling Seascape: Kastom and Shifting Identity among the Lau in North Malaita, Solomon Islands

  • Satomi Ryuju
    Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Tokyo, Japan.

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This study discusses the contemporary dynamics of the notion of kastom among Lau speakers in North Malaita, Solomon Islands. The Lau are known for dwelling on “artificial islands,” massive coral structures constructed in a shallow lagoon. Today, their attitudes toward these artificial islands and their identity as a maritime people are markedly ambivalent, and sometimes explicitly negative, due to concerns about the shortage of gardening land and their subordinate position in the local land tenure. The notion of kastom plays a crucial role here, with its complex, apparently paradoxical relationship with the maritime homes and identities of the Lau. On one hand, under the current ideology of kastom and land, the artificial islands are typically referred to negatively as material evidence of the Lau’s detachment from their ancestral land and kastom. On the other hand, these islands are often seen as embodiments of kastom in its potentially dangerous aspect, particularly in that they house pre-Christian ritual spaces. These apparently contradictory views of the artificial islands combine to create a situation in which Lau identities and homes are continuously called into question in relation to kastom.



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