The Island of Anuta is one of the remotest places on Earth – part of the Soloman Islands, it is a 5-6 day sail from the Capital, with its nearest inhabited neighbouring island being over 50 KM away.
Boats may visit the island as infrequently as three times a year, so the islanders cannot rely on them for resources, they have to make use of what is available to them on the island and in the ocean surrounding.
Anuta is a very small island, with an area of only 0.4 square Kilometres, but with a population of around 300 it has one of the highest population densities on planet earth, similar to that of Bangladesh.
This island community should be of interest to any student studying the global development option for A-level sociology, as this case study illustrates many of the key themes of this module.
In terms of ‘economic development the inhabitants of Anuta are very undeveloped, they are money poor, but they seem to have a very high quality of life, almost idyllic.
At the very least this case study will make you question the advantages of western models of development, and the idea that advanced industrial economies are necessarily the most progressive.
Research studies on Anuta
The anthropologist Richard Feinberg has spent some time researching life on Anuta – he spent a year there in the early 1970s and returned more recently to make the film below, which is available on YouTube:
Bruce Parry also visited Anuta for several weeks as part of his Tribe documentary series, and if you can get hold of that from the BBC, it’s well worth a watch, although at time of writing this is more than a decade old already!
A summary of the video
The documentary starts on board the boat with the film makers and anthropologist talking through expectations.
When the boat first arrives at the island, one of the islanders comes aboard who Richard Feinberg knew from his previous visit (about a decade earlier) and they hug for about five minutes (quite unusual in itself by Western standards.
We first see the welcoming scene in which about three dozen people come out to meet – greeting by touching foreheads, quite a slow affair (again by Western standards)
We learn that population is becoming an issue – it has doubled in ten years, since the year 2000. People were even then starting to worry about their privacy, not so much the resources.
We now see the formal greetings with the chiefs – there is a hierarchical structure – based on ascribed status – if you can’t trace your lineage back to chief, you are not going to be a chief!
Anuta: emphasises compassion and equality
A core value in Anutan society is that of Aropa – which emphasises compassion for others and collaborative working and sharing.
One very tangible way this value manifests itself is through the equal sharing of finite resources – food for example is shared equally among all the islands inhabitants
There is a strong support structure on Anuta, the idea of someone being alone and unsupported is almost unheard of, something which is all too common in the west.
The entire crew of the ship is invited onto the island for a welcome feast – they get a full on welcome ceremony with dancing etc.
When you ask Anutans why they do something – there are two stock answers –
- Because it’s tradition
- Because it makes us happy
It’s worth nothing how different this is to the Western idea of doing something for the money, which often makes us miserable (Weber’s Instrumental logic!)
All of the islanders come out for the feast, and all 300 great the ship’s crew with a nose kiss, which ‘breaks down the individual personal bubble’.
Lots of the ship’s crew comment on how the way of being greeted was very emotional, with a total breaking down of barriers, and a real sense of unity being created between everyone.
Some historical context
They now go and visit with the Chief and he reflects on the past – he talks of previous famines, one in which people were forced to eat dirt to survive – he quips that since the arrival of the Christian Church there has been no famine as bad – so ‘our new God protects us better than the old gods.’
Feinberg also notes that the Christian teaching of ‘love thy neighbour’ fits in well with the Anuta value of Aropa – in that sense they were Christians before the Church got there!
Population and Environment
The Anutans seem to live a very sustainable life, recognising that everything the need comes from nature.
Despite their growing population they are not worried, at least that’s what the chief says.
The Anutans are self-sufficient for the most part – Fishing is the main activity, but they also hunt seabirds and grow food on the Island, the staple crop being Manioc
They are not entirely cut off in that they do use industrial technology to hunt and farm – steel fishing spears for example.
Some of the islanders also attend school off-island, and there is a monetary fund to pay for that, but not much detail is provided on this aspect of island life!
Interestingly, they have zoned out regions of the sea around the island which have extensive coral reefs, and they manage them sustainably, with bans on fishing in some of them for periods, to be harvested when the fish are bigger – kind of a natural sustainable management system!
Canoes are treated as part of the family – trees on Anuta are scares, so when one is felled to make a canoe, it is a big deal.
We get to see one canoe which is over 100 years old and still used for fishing.
They are so important that if a canoe is damaged, a funeral is held, as if it were a dead relative.
There is an extensive leaving ceremony – in which they have a final tour of the island, and there is a group lamentation in which everyone weeps (a lot) as the guests leave.
We’re reminded that the Anutans, while very aware of the wider world, have made a choice to maintain their traditional culture as much as they can.
Anuta: Relevance to A-Level sociology
This case study can be used as a criticism of Modernisation Theory and Western Ideals of development more generally. Clearly the Anutans have a very traditional way of life, as expressed in their value of Aropa.
Aropa is quite like the collectivism mentioned in Rostow’s modernisation theory, but it is difficult to argue that this is ‘holding their culture’ back in anyway.
Of course there are challenges this community faces going forwards, and of course they benefit from modernisation in some ways (fish hooks) but it’s difficult to see how their becoming a fully fledged part of the modern capitalist industrial economy would benefit these islanders.
Anuta – wikipedia entry.