Colonialism, Maasina Rule, and the Origins of Malaitan Kastom
552pp. September 2013
Colonialism, Maasina Rule, and the Origins of Malaitan Kastom
Author: Akin, David W.;
This book is a political history of the island of Malaita in the British Solomon Islands Protectorate from 1927, when the last violent resistance to colonial rule was crushed, to 1953 and the inauguration of the island’s first representative political body, the Malaita Council. At the book’s heart is a political movement known as Maasina Rule, which dominated political affairs in the southeastern Solomons for many years after World War II. The movement’s ideology, kastom, was grounded in the determination that only Malaitans themselves could properly chart their future through application of Malaitan sensibilities and methods, free from British interference. Kastom promoted a radical transformation of Malaitan lives by sweeping social engineering projects and alternative governing and legal structures. When the government tried to suppress Maasina Rule through force, its followers brought colonial administration on the island to a halt for several years through a labor strike and massive civil resistance actions that overflowed government prison camps.

David Akin draws on extensive archival and field research to present a practice-based analysis of colonial officers’ interactions with Malaitans in the years leading up to and during Maasina Rule. A primary focus is the place of knowledge in the colonial administration. Many scholars have explored how various regimes deployed “colonial knowledge” of subject populations in Asia and Africa to reorder and rule them. The British imported to the Solomons models for “native administration” based on such an approach, particularly schemes of indirect rule developed in Africa. The concept of “custom” was basic to these schemes and to European understandings of Melanesians, and it was made the lynchpin of government policies that granted limited political roles to local ideas and practices. Officers knew very little about Malaitan cultures, however, and Malaitans seized the opportunity to transform custom into kastom, as the foundation for a new society. The book’s overarching topic is the dangerous road that colonial ignorance paved for policy makers, from young cadets in the field to high officials in distant Fiji and London. Today kastom remains a powerful concept on Malaita, but continued confusion regarding its origins, history, and meanings hampers understandings of contemporary Malaitan politics and of Malaitan people’s ongoing, problematic relations with the state.

21 illus., 3 maps

Pacific Islands Monograph Series No. 26
Author: Akin, David W.;
David W. Akin is an anthropologist and independent scholar living in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is the managing editor of the journal Comparative Studies in Society and History and teaches at the University of Michigan.
Read the Introduction (PDF).
Notes on Spellings and Translation 
Regarding the Endnotes 


1 The Half Century Before 
The Labor Trade 
Life Abroad 
Christian Missions and the Labor Scene 
Return from the White Man’s Land 
The Imposition of Pax Britannica 

2 Early Native Administration: Coping with Custom 
The Idea of Indirect Rule 
Antecedents and Beginnings of Native Administration 
The Moorhouse Report and Malaita Policy after Bell 
District Officers, Law, and Custom Knowledge 
Malaitans Consider Government Law 
Custom as a Basis for Colonial Law 

3 Colonial Experiments and Mounting Resentments 
Limping through the Great Depression 
The Fallowes Movement 
La‘aka Speaks 
The Project to Counter ‘Are‘are Depopulation 
Further Experiments: Councils and Courts 

4 The Wartime Opening 
The Malaitan War Experience 
We Must Be Willing to Die for the Red Cross 
The War Years on Malaita: Government Control Slips Away 
The Promotion and Refusal of Postwar Native Administration 
Government Social Services: Education and Medicine 
Councils and Courts Revisited 

5 The Rise of Maasina Rule 
Genesis and Spread 
Movement Structure and Unity 
New Leaders 
Christian Leadership and the Missions 
Better Homes and Gardens: Maasina Rule Social Engineering 
Towns and Farms 
The Social Life of Kastom 
Kastom Loa and Kastom Kouti 
Making Kastom Fit 
Kastom in Maasina Rule 

6 Maasina Rule and the Government 
The Government Becomes Aware 
Early Altercations 
Provisional Cooperation 
The Path to Conflict 
Rejecting Indentured Labor 
Alaha‘ou‘ou and the North-South Split 
Roy Davies Takes Charge 

7 Suppression and Resistance 
Operation Delouse 
Colonial Justice: Rex v Bobongi and Others 
The Peaceful Wars of Savages 
Fences, Operation Jericho, and Civil Resistance 
The Census and the Tax, 1949 
Rumors, Hopes, and Fears 

8 Attrition and Compromise 
Gregory-Smith and the Release of the Head Chiefs 
The Federal Council 

9 Gains and Losses 

Index 515