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Dossier : Jean Guiart : l’ethnographie comme marathon d’une vie

Jean Guiart: ethnography as a life marathon

Jean Guiart : L’ethnographie comme marathon d’une vie
Marc Tabani et Lamont Lindstrom
p. 7-14

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The Grandeur and Misery of Jean Guiart

  • 1 Not all the presentations given during these two asao sessions are published here. They included co (...)

1Jean Guiart passed away aged 94 on 4 August 2019, at his home in Puna’auia, near Papeete in Tahiti. He lies not far from there, in Pointe des Pêcheurs cemetery beside his wife Joséphine Pawé Wahnyamala Sootr, from the island of Lifou, who died before him in 2012. Following in the steps of his mentor Maurice Leenhardt, the first president of the Société des Océanistes from 1946 to 1952, in 1955 Guiart was elected a board member of this learned society of the Paris Musée de l’Homme. He was president of it in his turn from 1972 to 1982, vice-president from 1961 to 1971 and from 1982 to 1995, before definitively withdrawing from it on the conflictual terms which had become one of his trademarks (see Coiffier’s article on Guiart and the Société des Océanistes, this issue). Two obituaries in the Journal de la Société des Océanistes bear witness to “his full and intense life” (Saussol, 2019: 306) and his exceptional career path (Coiffier, 2019). Devoting a thematic issue of the Journal de la Société des Océanistes to this ambiguous character is a new opportunity for the Société des Océanistes to remember him. However, this collection of articles on Jean Guiart has not been designed as an In Memoriam volume nor as a Festschrift. It is the result of two sessions on Guiart, organized by the authors of this introduction, held at the Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania conference (in Hilo, 24 January 2020, continued on 5 February 2021 by a video conference symposium due to the pandemic)1. These events had been initially scheduled while he was still alive in the hope that he would take part in a critical assessment of his anthropological works and their posterity. It was only when news arrived of his death that the Société des Océanistes suggested publishing the acts of this symposium supplemented by a call for other articles. We then had to define the approach we wanted to use to speak of Guiart, so difficult is it in his case to separate the man from the anthropologist and the scholar from the politician.

  • 2 This period also saw the beginning in the Pacific of the ethnographic research of anthropologists w (...)

2Jean Guiart was one of the last living representatives of a generation of Western anthropologists who had begun their research on the Pacific immediately after the war2. Since he was also trained in “the French ethnology pioneers’ school of thought” (Coiffier, 2019: 307, cf this issue, pp. 181-192), that of Marcel Griaule, Maurice Leenhardt, Marcel Mauss, André Leroi-Gourhan or Paul Rivet for example, his death also closes an extremely lively page in the history of anthropology and Oceanist research in France. Long a key university player in the academic development of these fields and areas of study, in retirement Professor Guiart remained an ever-watchful observer of them. In the end, his skills were tarnished by deep-rooted, obsessive critical bitterness. Age only increased his persecutory reflexes, obstinately leading him to endless ad hominem critiques of Oceanist writers and colleagues whom, for the most part, he disliked. He devoted much of his retirement to producing critical recensions concerning them, in which he did his upmost to stick “thousands of needles into them like voodoo dolls” (Tcherkézoff, this volume, pp. 155-166). Guiart paid the price of so obstinately and meticulously creating such a bad reputation, a deliberately extreme “Jean Guiart style” (Graille, this volume, pp. 105-122) and a “Guiart method” which became his characteristic style of writing:

“reaction to a publication which annoyed him, criticism of this publication, more general considerations based on his original experience and ideas, more or less terse conclusion, often out of context.” (Angleviel, 2003: 334)

3Giving an account of Guiart’s cavils can prove complicated, due to his propensity for passing

“from facts to their interpretation and from rumours to their application without taking any care in his choice of words or presenting any proof whatsoever.” (ibid.: 330)

4However, it would perhaps be going too far to assert that “Jean Guiart seems today to have everyone against him” (Trépied and Wittersheim, 2019: 282).

  • 3 A few days spent in the field with Jean Guiart in the Shepherd Islands in 1958, on Emao then Nguna, (...)

5It is not easy, in these conditions, for contemporary researchers to profess any anthropological debt towards him and, even less so, to claim they belong to his school of thought. Even if they may “work like Guiart without knowing it” (Leblic, this volume) or particularly wanting to do so. Nonetheless, several of the texts in this volume express in their own way a kind of indulgence, a form of gratitude even on an ethnographic level. Whatever the case, all of them make mention of a unique professional and scientific career. Criticizing Guiart’s uncalled-for or ill-intentioned behaviour, or on the contrary defending it, seems to us less of a priority than undertaking a critical assessment of his work. It was undoubtedly during the 1970s, with his political stands concerning demands for autonomy and independence in the Pacific territories under French control, that Guiart made the most enemies. Particularly in Noumea which he had to leave for security reasons during the Events of the 1980s to settle in Papeete where he did not refrain from sowing unrest either. The texts in this issue by Graille, Leblic, Saura and Tcherkézoff evoke the man’s political aspects and their repercussion on the credibility of his research. The fact that the other contributions refer to a much earlier period in his career, to Guiart at the time of the New Hebrides (today’s Vanuatu), leads them to emphasize his qualities as a Homo Anthropologicus and his hermeneutic attempts to understand the Melanesians (Adams, 1987; Allen, 20203). It would take too long to explore here Guiart the polemicist, often scientifically and politically clumsy and nearly always disrespectful. On this subject, we refer readers to the replies given to historians, anthropologists, sociologists or linguists concerning certain controversies initiated by Guiart (Douglas, 1970; Bensa and Rivière, 1984; Bensa and Bourdieu, 1985; Pillon, 1993; Angleviel, 2003; Leblic, this volume, pp. 123-142).

6During long years of scientific exchanges and collaboration, and several decades of parallel research undertaken in the same field, Tanna Island, the two authors of this introduction have constantly discussed, commented on and complemented time and again the ethnographic data collected by Guiart in the early 1950s on Tannese society and culture. For us, as social science researchers, the importance of this material is obvious; just as it is for the descendants of the groups among whom he carried out his investigations (see Ballard, Tabani, this volume). More generally, it was our fascination with Guiart’s ethnographic practice, in the conditions of his times in New Caledonia and even more so in the former New Hebrides, that was expressed during our exchanges. Going straight from one field trip to another to collect massive amounts of data, he treated this discipline as an endurance sport, as a marathon runner’s performance – which explains the title of this introduction. It is above all this ethnographic legacy which merits our attention. At the heart of the debates pursued by the authors contributing to this issue of the jso was the desire to take part in a critical assessment of the abundance of material Guiart has left us and to evoke his memory in order to measure the importance of his accounts. Guiart’s works are essential reading, particularly for those carrying out research on the societies and cultures of New Caledonia, Vanuatu and French Polynesia or on the world of material forms in the Pacific. This said, the main question we make a first attempt to answer here is how should they be read today?

  • 4 We refer several times in the following paragraphs to Jacques Chancel’s interview of Jean Guiart fo (...)

7Without going into the details of Guiart’s biography or his exceptional curriculum, certain stages of his life may also enlighten us regarding a sentiment regularly expressed in his works, his irrepressible sense of superiority. Born in 1925 to a cosmopolitan, Protestant family of Lyon, he descended from a line of doctors and medical researchers. Presenting himself in this respect as the black sheep of the family, he claimed to have been the first of this ancestry to have broken with the tradition since 1640. (Guiart, in Chancel, 1977)4. An English and German speaker, thanks to his cosmopolitan family background, he did not conceal his privileged childhood “shaped by his social position” (ibid.). As an adolescent, the defeat of 1940 and the armistice left a strong impression on him:

“What I saw at fifteen, on the roads in the Lyon region, left a deep impression on me, I lost respect for certain institutions and things, in so far as they were not always what people claimed or wished they were. [Since then] I have tended to respect people only for what they do and not for what they are meant to be.” (ibid.)

8In the following years, working at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, he aided the Resistance (Guiart, 2017: 192). Influenced by his mother, he began studies at the Protestant Theology Faculty seminary in Paris before rapidly turning to ethnology. He registered at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Études and the École des langues orientales where he attended the lectures of the missionary Maurice Leenhardt, whom he had already met at a Protestant youth camp at the age of 14 and whom he would continue to admire unfailingly throughout his life.

“He had lived in New Caledonia for 25 years in extremely difficult conditions […], he was an absolutely remarkable man, with kind, dazzlingly clear eyes. […] It was he who chose me for New Caledonia, who sent me there.” (ibid.)

9After the war, the Institut français d’Océanie (ifo) was created with Leenhardt as its director. In 1948, Leenhardt recruited Guiart, who was working at the Musée de l’Homme, as the head of the Institute’s ethnology laboratory, just created and based in New Caledonia (Leenhardt, 1949: 10):

“I spent ten years in the Pacific without coming back to France. I was doing research on a number of societies in the Melanesian region, in the New Hebrides and New Caledonia. In fact, if it had been possible, I would have stayed there. [It was not possible] because life did not permit me to, I was too close to the Melanesians politically and many people criticized me for this. I felt too good there, in harmony with too many things and I would have liked to have continued.” Guiart, in Chancel, 1977)

10During his first decade as a young researcher in Noumea, Guiart established useful relations with the colonial authorities, other academics and island elites, notably the Protestant pastors and Church leaders of New Caledonia. Contributing advice, he took part in the efforts aimed at restructuring New Caledonia’s colonial administration, supporting in particular the extension of citizenship and the vote to the indigenous population. In the New Hebrides, the French resident commissioner Pierre Anthonioz, first a supporter and later a friend of Guiart, asked him to investigate the village conflicts on Malekula in 1950-1951, the John Frum movement on Tanna in 1951-1952 and the economic potential of coffee plantations in the Espiritu Santo highlands in 1954.

  • 5 On the other hand, it must be acknowledged that Guiart had expert knowledge of colonial systems in (...)
  • 6 His knowledge of the field was indeed placed at the service of colonial reform, but always in the s (...)

11Patrick O’Reilly in Hébridais, one of his famous “bio-bibliographical” indexes, praised this applied anthropological work done by Guiart in the archipelago: “Guiart oriented his research so as not to concentrate on pure theory but to make it useful to the administration by providing the latter with precise data on local affairs and the indigenous population’s needs, and a better understanding of their interests and mentality. He was totally successful” (O’Reilly, 1957: 88). However, to reduce his scientific investment in the New Hebrides in the 1950s and 60s to his status as a government anthropologist and see in this “colonization expertise” appears unfair (ibid.: 280)5. Our perception of the man today makes it impossible to separate him from a dark legend of anthropology, inherent to the practice of this discipline in a colonial context6. Back in France, in 1968 Guiart accepted the post of professor at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, 5th section, (a chair previously occupied by Marcel Mauss, Maurice Leenhardt, and Claude Lévi-Strauss) where he taught the religions of Oceania until 1973 (Coiffier, 2019: 308). In 1973, he was appointed Professor of Ethnology at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle and director of the Ethnology Laboratory at the Musée de l’Homme, before retiring in 1988 (ibid.: 309), first in Noumea and then Tahiti.

  • 7 The name of a rock formation at the western end of Ansa Vata beach in Noumea (photo p. 22).

12It is difficult to choose, among Guiart’s many publications, those which most deserve attention. The annotated bibliographies available on his website ( list more than 43 books (many, since 1997, published by Le-Rocher-à-la-Voile7, then by Te pito o te Fenua, two publishing houses created successively by Guiart in Noumea, then Papeete) and more than 150 articles and shorter publications (see Leblic and Hannoun, this volume). Guiart defined an ethnographer’s work as being to respectfully observe and listen. He preferred data gathering to theoretical argument, claiming that he was one of the few French postwar anthropologists who did not identify with either structuralism or Marxism, even if he appreciated their methodological uses (Guiart in Chancel, 1977).

Reading Guiart

13As spectators to Guiart’s marathon career, what can we derive from reading his ethnography? How should this author be read today? How should we understand his lengthy experience and the abundant writing he produced? The contributors to this issue look at different stages of his long anthropological adventure including his “incomparable” method, to examine to what contemporary work his voluminous collections of social and cultural data can inform and to assess his intellectual heritage and his influence in the field of Pacific anthropology.

Guiart and Tanna

14Taking different perspectives, three of us concentrate on the first of Guiart’s major monographs, Un siècle et demi de contact culturel à Tanna, Nouvelles-Hébrides. This threefold approach offers a detailed assessment of Guiart’s ethnographic practice and an assessment of the influence this work had on new anthropological concerns related to postwar social movements in Melanesia. Un siècle et demi was one of the very first monographs to describe in situ a Melanesian “cargo cult”, even if Guiart only used the term sparingly, mainly in his preface. In the years between 1956 and 1964, this work was followed by half a dozen other classic ethnographies on cargo cults, including that of Margaret Mead on the Paliau movement in the Admiralty Islands, Peter Worsley’s endeavour to synthesize cargo cults in Melanesia, Kenelm Burridge’s study of the Mambu movement in Madang district (in Australian png), Robert Maher’s work on the “new men” of Purari (png) and that of Peter Lawrence on the Yali movement (png).

15French resident commissioner Pierre Anthonioz sent Guiart to investigate the unrest surrounding the John Frum movement which was actively continuing in the late 1940s. Like many postwar anthropologists, Guiart rejected structural functionalist descriptions of static insular societies in favour of studies of the changes the latter had undergone following the Pacific War. Guiart’s aim – of analysing social change – meant rehabilitating history and this is what he did by providing information on the one hundred and fifty years of cultural contact preceding the birth of this movement on Tanna.

16Marc Tabani (pp. 47-62) looks at contemporary reactions to Guiart’s ethnography, on Tanna and beyond. He reminds us that the anthropologists who succeeded Guiart on this island made abundant use of his work, even though Guiart responded by caustically criticizing them. The people of Tanna are the first to appreciate his monograph and to rekindle the memory of his past visits. For a long while, there were only a few copies of the book on the island. Today the English translation of his famous Appendice, the “social inventory” (see Adams, this issue), can even be accessed on the internet. When Tabani distributed a Bislama translation of Guiart’s report to villagers of Green Point, they confirmed its accuracy as did Tanna’s Island Council of Chiefs (Tabani, 2014). (Green Point villagers avow to be John Frum’s first island contacts and they have pursued this claim in local courts.) On the other hand, the model of an island interconnected by a network of “paths” described in detail by Guiart arouses less interest today than his stories about John Frum. The changes observed from 1952-1953 on have increased and the islanders, under the influence of current legislation on land ownership in Vanuatu, are now more in favour of the idea of cutting Tanna up into a mosaic of lands with strictly defined borders.

17Lamont Lindstrom’s reading of Un siècle et demi (pp. 63-76) emphasizes the innovative aspect of this account of a postwar social movement/cargo cult. Guiart had few models on which to draw and the rare quotations in his monograph and articles do not make it possible to identify potential sources of inspiration for his analysis. Guiart invented, if not constructed, a means of presenting the data he collected (data he presupposed to be facts) in the form of a social inventory, at the same time a database and a geographically organized demographic census including chiefly titles and other privileges, accompanied by various pieces of information, sometimes mythological, sometimes historical. This socio-geographic inventory reflects Jean Guiart’s method of walking from one place to another, asking people questions during his peregrinations around the island. Lindstrom echoes Guiart’s medical heritage by identifying in his approach the formulation of a diagnosis concerning the origins of the John Frum movement, a suggestion for a form of therapy to cure it and a prognosis on its future evolution.

18The historian Ron Adams (pp. 77-92) had also read Un siècle et demi before undertaking his own fieldwork research on Tanna in 1975 and was led to translate this text into English. He met Jean Guiart in Noumea in 1996, with the intention of publishing this translation. It never happened as Guiart continued to put the finishing touches to his own translations and published numerous versions of them at his own expense, including six adaptations of his sociological inventory, accompanied by a long introduction containing a great deal of quibbling and criticismof some of his ethnographic successors’ results on Tanna. Adams offers a stimulating bibliographic history, notingvariations in Guiart’s publications and comparing the many versions of the inventory by taking as an example the Port Resolution community of Samoan origin in the south-east of the island. Adams, like Tabani and Lindstrom, underlines the ambulatory aspect of Guiart’s data gathered for his inventory and notes his positivist presumption that perspicacious anthropologists had the ability to glean ethnographic facts simply by passing through a locality. Guiart was certainly ingenious, a fact which leads Adams to compare him to a beachcomber, one of the ill-famed figures of the first contact period, both “inside and outside indigenous society”, who at times helped his island hosts and at others exploited them. A failing still to be found today among many field anthropologists.

Guiart and other islands in Vanuatu

19At the beginning of his career, in addition to his investigations on the island of Tanna, Guiart conducted research into and published on other New Hebrides communities during the colonial era, such as those of Efate and the Shepherd Islands, Malekula, Ambrym, Aniwa, the Banks and Torres Islands and Espiritu Santo (Guiart, 1958). Chris Ballard (pp. 93-104) suggests that Guiart’s research on Efate and the Shepherd Islands is at the base of the ethnographic research carried out later in this region, and that we need to continue to pay attention to them. Guiart encouraged the archeologist José Granger to excavate the burial site of the cultural hero and chief King Mata on Eretoka (Hat Island), the first site in Vanuatu to become part of the unesco world heritage list. In 1958, Guiart travelled among the communities of Efate and the Shepherd Islands and, as he had done before on Tanna, then published for this region an inventory of chiefs’ titles and their hierarchical relations, adding a great many ethnographic notes (Espirat et al., 1973). After assessing Guiart’s itinerant gathering of data (which to a certain extent became “an end in itself”), Ballard concentrates on Guiart’s brief visit to Lelepa Island and on how the inhabitants of this island remember it. As on Tanna, many islanders there today want to acquire copies of Guiart’s social inventory in order to use it as a potential weapon in ongoing conflicts concerning titles and land. Ballard interviewed Guiart in 2005 and, taking advantage of being his neighbour in Puna’auia (Tahiti) from 2016 to 2018, he was able to delve into certain ethnographic points in more depth, in particular the question of whether the system of chiefly titles in Vanuatu might be the consequence of Polynesian influence.

20Several have pointed out the limitations of the express ethnographic inventories that he carried out in both Vanuatu and New Caledonia. According to Guiart, an overall view of the scale of the whole region reveals cultural variations and uncovers rival accounts which reflect opposing claims to land and titles. This situation was a source of later conflicts and rivalries, in particular for Guiart, who nevertheless subsequently again adopted the same positions in New Caledonia, causing the same effects.

Guiart and New Caledonia

21Because of his years in New Caledonia as a young man, the family relations he built up and the fact he settled in Noumea on retirement, Guiart remained very attached to this country. Indeed, most of his academic sparring was notably aimed at researchers who succeeded him in this particular field. His repeated, often highly disrespectful, controversies tend to make some of his many works complicated, even hard, to read. Caroline Graille (pp. 105-122) cuts a path through these sterile quarrels in order to reinstate Guiart’s ethnographic contributions and to question contemporary interpretations of them. She traces the lasting influence of Maurice Leenhardt on Guiart’s work and research method. This also applies to his analyses of social organization, kinship, myths and the art of New Caledonia. Committed to translating the Bible, Leenhardt considered himself a linguist. It is to him that Guiart directly owes the idea that ethnographic questions should be formulated in indigenous terms, seeing himself as a “scribe” documenting indigenous knowledge while recognizing that conflicting political interests generated divergent accounts, intended to support rival claims concerning titles, land and other matters. His awareness of the interaction of contemporary issues that affect data collected confirmed him in his practice of questioning many different informants in order to clarify contradictory information. Graille also examines Guiart’s ambiguous views on the independence of New Caledonia and those who supported it. He attacked the Centre Culturel Tjibaou project, not hesitating to contest the work of Tjibaou himself, nor to tarnish his reputation. Despite all this, and notwithstanding serious flaws in this “bulimic ethnographic surveyor”, Guiart’s work remains essential reading.

22In her turn Isabelle Leblic (pp. 123-142), not without difficulty, finds a way to read Guiart by separating the author from his work. She begins with one of his texts published in May 1953, Une expérience personnelle de l’enquête sur le terrain, in which he commented on his research methods, and uses it to illustrate a shared ethnographic commitment. In conducting her own research among the Paicî at Ponerihouen, Leblic’s fieldwork practices have similarities with those of Guiart, despite the latter’s tendency to essentialize “the Kanak”. She summarizes three lessons proposed by Guiart in his Précis de la méthodologie en anthropologie social, published later in 2015: his view of academic argumentation, his stress on the fact that ethnographers should « live in the field with their subjects », and on the necessity of analysing and interpreting facts based on the data collected. Leblic finds some of Guiart’s recommendations too simplistic to account for the challenges encountered by researchers in the field, for example his mistrust of comparative terms such as “chief” and “tribe”, although he uses them himself. She compares her own genealogical results in Ponerihouen with those collected by Guiart in previous social inventories and notes significant differences.

“This shows us that nothing is ever definitively acquired in the field and that it is crucial to take into account the context of the period during which the investigation takes place.” (Leblic, this volume, p. 138)

23She also considers – something she has never done before - the contradictory opinions expressed by Guiart about his own work…

Guiart and French Polynesia

24Guiart’s fieldwork experience was mainly gained in the New Hebrides and New Caledonia, but he considered that his ethnographic expertise covered the whole of Oceania. Leaving his home in Noumea during his retirement to settle in Tahiti with his wife, he launched into the anthropological and political debates taking place in French Polynesia. Bruno Saura (pp. 143-154) assesses Guiart’s vague anti-establishment impulses concerning Polynesianist studies, underlining his declared aversion to Teuira Henry’s account of Tahiti ancien and his defence of Frank Stimson’s work on the Tuamotu and Austral archipelagoes. Guiart was particularly critical of historical accounts keen to present the Polynesians as savages, a tendency he attributed to the islanders’ reflex of telling Europeans what they wanted to hear. These accounts include notably Henry’s description of human sacrifices on Raiatea, popular tales of ari’oi murdering infants, and rumours of the omnipresence of cannibals in the islands. Similarly, if Guiart expresses his appreciation of Frank Stimson’s work in the Tuamotu and Australs, it is above all because the American anthropologist Kenneth Emery did not like them. Saura reviews Guiart’s replies to the Polynesian researchers who succeeded him and questions his convoluted support of the nationalist leader Pouvanaa Oopa (which echoed his attitude towards Tjibaou in New Caledonia), his ambiguous opinion of the Centre d’expérimentation atomique (cea) and his equivocal support of French Polynesia’s independence, as of that of New Caledonia in fact (see Leblic, this volume).

25Serge Tcherkézoff (pp. 155-166) in turn examines Guiart’s defence of Pouvanaa Oopa and his disagreements with Bengt and Marie-Thérèse Danielsson. Guiart turned a review of a book published in 1974, Moruroa mon amour, into a broader critique of projects for a museum of Tahiti and a Polynesian Centre for the Human Sciences in which the Danielssons were involved. Tcherkézoff reads Guiart’s critique in the context of the 1960s and 70s, with the creation of the Centre d’expérimentation du Pacifique and the rise of Polynesian nationalism and retraces Guiart’s intentions to establish himself on the local political scene. He deplores the generally bitter works the latter published in retirement, all likened to lost opportunities to propose new comparative theories, new methods, even to found his own school of thought. If Guiart remained faithful to Leenhardt, his mentor, few members of the next generation have followed Guiart in his excesses and the corners into which he was driven.

26We should also note Guiart’s original contribution to the anthropological study of the arts of Oceania, as defended by Charles Illouz (pp. 167-180), particularly insofar as he rejected for these objects and forms the term “art”, preferring like Marcel Mauss to consider them as “people”. Here again, as for his mentor Leenhardt, it was a question of “giving back their voice to the Melanesians” (Illouz, this volume: 168), regarding their own creations. The contextualization of Kanak arts, including those forms with no practical, religious or aesthetic vocation, is a prerequisite to their comparison. Guiart’s positions in this field led him to take a stand against the Musée du quai Branly project which he criticized for its aestheticizing ideology that prevented any possibility for representing “anthropological truth” (Illouz, this volume: 169).

27A Guiart supporter, Jean-Michel Chazine (pp. 15-20), completes our keys for reading Guiart. Addressing him in a letter, Chazine evokes their long acquaintance and sometimes difficult encounters, remembering how Guiart’s generosity could swiftly turn into hostility. Chazine regrets that “beyond the irritation and conflicts” caused by Guiart, the major contribution he made to Oceanist studies “does not receive the homage and recognition” that it might nonetheless deserve. Indeed, Guiart’s death recalls that of a tortured spirit and, as in the case of Pacific ancestral spirits, he could just as easily support as torment his anthropologist successors. The mythological figure that doubtless best suits him is that of the trickster, in its Oceanian version, a man capable of being omniscient and omnipresent but instinctively delighting in his role of deceiver. Whatever the case, he leaves in his wake a significant heritage of ethnography and exegesis – notably his social inventories – which the researchers and inhabitants of the Pacific should study with a critical mind. In this respect, our collection of assessments of how to read his work is intended as a helpful contribution and a place to begin.

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Adams Ron, 1987. Homo Anthropologicus and Man Tanna : Jean Guiart and the Anthropological Attempt to Understand the Tannese. Journal of Pacific History 22, pp. 3-14.

Allen Michael, 2020. A la poursuite du Professeur Jean Guiart… Connexions 13, pp. 226-229.

Angleviel Frédéric, 2003. La Nouvelle-Calédonie à travers le regard « testamentaire » de deux chercheurs engagés, l’anthropologue Jean Guiart et l’historien Bernard Brou, Journal de la Société des Océanistes 117, pp. 329-339 (

Bensa Alban et Jean-Claude Rivierre, 1984. Jean Guiart et l’ethnologie, L’Homme 24 (1), pp.101-105.

Bensa Alban et Pierre Bourdieu, 1985. Quand les Canaques prennent la parole... Entretien avec Alban Bensa, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 56, pp. 69-83.

Chancel Jacques, 1977 (03/03). Jean Guiart, émission Radioscopie, France Inter (, dernière consultation le 25/08/2021).

Coiffier Christian, 2019. In memoriam Jean Guiart (1925-2019), Journal de la Société des Océanistes 149, pp. 307-310 (

Douglas Bronwen, 1970. A contact history of the Balad people of New Caledonia 1774-1845, The Journal of the Polynesian Society 84 (3), pp. 180-200.

Espirat Jean-Jacques, Jean Guiart, Marie-Salomé Lagrange et Monique Renaud, 1973. Système des titres électifs ou héréditaires dans les Nouvelles-Hébrides centrales d’Éfate aux îles Shepherd, Paris, Institut d’ethnologie, musée de l’Homme.

Guiart Jean, 1951. En marge du Cargo Cult aux Nouvelles-Hébrides, le mouvement coopératif dit « Malekula Native Company », Journal de la Société des Océanistes 7, pp. 242-247 (

Guiart Jean, 1958. Espiritu Santo (Nouvelles Hébrides), Paris, Librarie Plon.

Guiart Jean, 2015a. Précis de la méthode en anthropologie sociale, Pape’ete, Te Pito o te Fenua, 278 p., biblio analytique.

Guiart Jean, 2015b. Le roman noir de l’île, Pape’ete, Te pito o te fenua, 94 p.

Guiart Jean, 2017. A first-class book: Sally Prince, Paris primitive, Jacques Chirac’s museum on the quay Branly. Connexions 8, pp. 180-198.

Leenhardt Maurice, 1949. L’Institut français d'Océanie, Journal de la Société des océanistes 5, pp. 5-14 (

O’Reilly Patrick, 1957. Hébridais : répertoire bio-bibliographique des Nouvelles-Hébrides, Paris, Société des Océanistes, coll. Publications de la Société des Océanistes 6.

Pillon Patrick, 1993. Kouaoua et la méthode de Jean Guiart en anthropologie, Journal de la Société des Océanistes 96, pp. 83-89 (

Saussol Alain, 2019. In Memoriam Jean Guiart (1925-2019), Journal de la Société des Océanistes 149, pp. 303-306 (

Tabani Marc, 2014. John Frum, histoires de Tanna –– sam stori blong Tanna, Port-Vila, Pacifique Dialogues/Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta Productions.

Tabani Marc, 2018. Archiving a Prophecy. An ethnographic history of the ‘John Frum files’ (Tanna, Vanuatu, 1941–1980), paideuma. Mitteilungen zur Kulturkunde 64, pp. 99-124.

Trépied Benoît et Éric Wittersheim, 2019. Une anthropologie au service de la réforme coloniale. Jean Guiart et l’Union française dans le Pacifique (1947-1957), in C. Laurière et A. Mary (éds), Ethnologues en situations coloniales, Paris, Bérose, pp. 259-289.

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1 Not all the presentations given during these two asao sessions are published here. They included contributions (in alphabetical order) from Ron Adams, Chris Ballard, Caroline Graille, Lamont Lindstrom, Nancy Lutkehaus, Jean-Louis Rallu, Bruno Saura, Serge Tcherkézoff, Marc Tabani, and Benoît Trépied. Other authors responded to the jso’s call for contributions, Christian Coiffier, Charles Illouz, and Isabelle Leblic.

2 This period also saw the beginning in the Pacific of the ethnographic research of anthropologists who left their mark on the times, such as Ian Hogbin, Cyril Belshaw, Raymond Firth, Margaret Mead, and Douglas Oliver.

3 A few days spent in the field with Jean Guiart in the Shepherd Islands in 1958, on Emao then Nguna, were sufficient for the anthropologist Michael Allen to declare himself "truly impressed by the relations he established so quickly with his informants. Although I may have had trouble understanding his questions, it was obvious that his informants didn’t. There was no doubt that they enjoyed talking to him and apparently he became a legend in their village” (Allen 2020: 229).

4 We refer several times in the following paragraphs to Jacques Chancel’s interview of Jean Guiart for the France Inter Radioscopie programme on 3 March 1977. At the time Guiart was at the peak of his fame as is suggested by the invitation he received to take part in one of the most prestigious radio programmes celebrating stars of the arts, sciences, politics and religion. One can nevertheless sense in this interview a certain modesty in Guiart’s remarks and a sincerity of tone to which we would not be accustomed later (, last consulted 25/08/2021).

5 On the other hand, it must be acknowledged that Guiart had expert knowledge of colonial systems in the Pacific: “I had unique opportunities to study the Dutch colonial system on the spot, just before it disappeared completely, in Western New Guinea […]. As well as, during long field trips not from an armchair, all the English, Australian and New Zealand forms of colonialism, in addition to the French ones. In Fiji, the Solomons and Papua New Guinea, as in the islands of Tonga and Samoa, in New Zealand, Australia, Tahiti, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. I also had the opportunity to come into contact with all the forms of Protestant and Catholic evangelization in the Pacific. I had close friends in all of these Churches and I gained good knowledge of them” (Guiart, 2015b: ii).

6 His knowledge of the field was indeed placed at the service of colonial reform, but always in the spirit of defending the Melanesians, beginning with those unjustly imprisoned during the New Hebrides period: “the best thing I once achieved, on an island where there had been a messianic movement [- John Frum on Tanna - ] for 20 years which had led to the imprisonment of its leaders every three or four years, I managed to obtain everyone’s liberation after a complex operation in which I provided a study and myself negotiated with the British and French authorities in the New Hebrides for the people who had no reason to remain in prison or in exile to be released. I found myself in the field after a repression. I had to get […] those whose leaders had been condemned to 10 years’ imprisonment to trust me however, to believe that I was not just someone else who was going to bring catastrophes upon them. It was not easy” (Guiart in Chancel, 1977). On the comments made about Guiart by the British and French administrators and found in their archives, see Tabani, 2018).

7 The name of a rock formation at the western end of Ansa Vata beach in Noumea (photo p. 22).

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Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Marc Tabani et Lamont Lindstrom, « Jean Guiart: ethnography as a life marathon »Journal de la Société des Océanistes, 154 | 2022, 7-14.

Référence électronique

Marc Tabani et Lamont Lindstrom, « Jean Guiart: ethnography as a life marathon »Journal de la Société des Océanistes [En ligne], 154 | 2022, mis en ligne le 13 juin 2022, consulté le 27 septembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Marc Tabani

Research fellow at the cnrs (Aix-Marseille Univ., credo umr7308), Marseille

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Lamont Lindstrom

Kendall Professor and Chair of Anthropology, University of Tulsa

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