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Dossier Urbanisation en Mélanésie

Urban Melanesia

L’urbanisation en Mélanésie
Lamont Lindstrom et Christine Jourdan
p. 5-22
Traduction(s) :
L’urbanisation en Mélanésie

Notes de la rédaction

The jso has published, more than 20 years ago (1994 & 1996), several papers about Urban Melanesia. See Journal de la Société des Océanistes 99 ( and 103 : Le phénomène urbain en Mélanésie (http:// About this matter, Christine Jourdan specifies that: « The 1996 Melanesian issue contains two papers (Feinberg et Zimmer Tamakoshi) which were planned for the 1994-2 (99) issue that Philibert and I had prepared, further to an asao session, with Philibert’s and Jourdan’s contribution (Urbi et Orbi) ; Philibert’s one (Nouvelles-Hébrides); Jourdan’s one (créolisation); Keesing’one (Foraging in the urban jungle) and Josephides’ paper (Gendered violence). »

Texte intégral

Several of these articles were first presented at an Urban Melanesia session that Jourdan and Lindstrom chaired at the 2015 10th European Society for Oceanists conference (esfo) that convened in Brussels (Jourdan, Kraemer, Lindstrom, McDougal, Rio). We thank Jenny Bryant-Tokalau, Willem Church, Annelin Eriksen, Tate LeFevre, Timothy Sharp, and Chelsea Wentworth who also participated in that session. Other contributors joined following the journal’s invitation to augment coverage of the region, and we thank them. We thank journal editors and staff for assistance and attentive efforts in making possible this substantial special issue. We also thank the journal reviewers for suggested enhancements of this introduction as well as of the individual articles.

1In the 1970s, ethnographers Hal and Marlene Levine

“rarely heard Papua New Guineans say a kind word about their towns. They complained of how expensive it was to live in the towns, and of the violence there, and of the danger and difficulties involved in living amid so many strangers” (Levine and Levine, 1979: 1).

2A decade earlier, a Port Moresby resident likewise described his town as “a rubbish place, there’s always trouble and too much drinking and fighting” (Rew, 1974: v). Now fifty years later, Melanesians continue to complain about urban living even though, during these years, Melanesian cities have transformed from colonial towns into national centers. Urban grievances from Vanuatu are typical. Soarum, who has lived many years in Port Vila since leaving Tanna, his home island, characteristically disparages life in town:

“Vila, if you don’t work you don’t eat. If you don’t eat, and live with nothing, this isn’t good. You have no energy, no power... When people leave their homes, and come to town, they adopt an urban lifestyle, a mixed culture. This causes big changes, and problems grow: They smoke marijuana, they steal, they are corrupted by movies. All this makes big trouble. They lose their own culture.”

3Soarum’s urban worries about money, crime, marijuana (and wayward youth), and loss of culture are shared by many. These have been enduring concerns ever since Melanesians began moving into towns. Cities, though, afford new sorts of entertainments and novel experiences, as the Levines also noted. Migrants grumble about urban life but they also can recall

“how boring and uncomfortable village life can be. One’s home was in the village, but there was a new life in the towns” (Levine and Levine, 1979: 1).

4Given the comforts (and excitement) afforded by cities, and despite the emotional and cultural challenges they may cause for some, more and more Melanesians are abandoning their villages to surge into cities and towns. Many remain there for years despite urban complaints and longings to escape back to original homes that have, for some, become nostalgic places of happiness, beauty and peace (Frazer, 1981; Jourdan, 1994; Zimmer-Tamakoshi, 1996; Rousseau, this issue). Others who have made the city their home certainly do not want to go back to the rural villages that they ran away from or, for an ever-increasing number of those born in town, to a way of life they have never known.

Photo 1. – Aerial view of Honiara, February 2008

Photo 1. – Aerial view of Honiara, February 2008

(© Christine Jourdan)

5Contributors to this special issue address urbanism in Melanesia, its cares and cautions but also its pleasures and amusements. We ask how Southwest Pacific cities have been “Melanesianized.” The articles in this collection suggest that Melanesians share a particular appreciation of urbanity. This reflects the newness and metropolitan fundamentals of these cities, continued robust connections between town and village where people are doubly placed and doubly identified, and notable features of substrate Melanesian cultures including values of reciprocity and kinship. Town organization and generic urban arrangement are European imports, with deep colonial roots. These roots, however, are embedded within local sociocultural systems that shape Melanesian urbanity (Connell and Lea, 1994). Christine Hamelin (2000) has described the “dual belonging” of townsmen; others have framed emerging urban formations specifically in terms of “hybridity” (Philibert, 1994, writing on Port-Vila), or “creolization” (Jourdan 1994, writing on Honiara).

6In years since the Levines reported on urban life in Papua New Guinea, town populations have exploded and urban functions have transformed. Growing percentages of Melanesians reside in urban areas as cities have evolved from colonial centers, to national capitals in the 1970s, to today’s global entrepots. Port Moresby, Honiara, Port Vila, and Suva are capital cities of independent countries, with majority indigenous populations. Only Nouméa maintains a significant colonial character. Port Moresby’s population has surged to over 400,000; around 85,000 people live in Honiara; 50,000 in Port Vila; 180,000 in Nouméa; and 175,000 in Suva. Previously small, regional centers like Goroka, Lae, Madang, Wewak, Gizo, Luganville, Lautoka, Labasa, and others have likewise expanded into sizeable towns. Urban expansion has followed increasing numbers of children born in town and also significant rural-urban flows as migrants continue to leave home villages and move into towns. Founded as colonial settlements, the main urban centers began as port towns when maritime networks sustained colonial administration and control. Functioning today as administrative and economic hubs, Melanesian cities have become nodes within global trade systems, now served by airfields mostly cleared during the Pacific War. These entrepots have become regional

“world cities [that are] increasingly oblivious to national boundaries” (Friedmann, 1986: 69; see also Smith, 1996).

Photo 2. – Houses and gardens, Honiara, 2007

Photo 2. – Houses and gardens, Honiara, 2007

(© Christine Jourdan)

Urban Anthropology in Melanesia

7Social scientists and historians took up urban studies in the 1920s and 1930s (see Mumford, 1961; Fox, 1977). Ethnographers, who then liked mostly to head into the bush, were later to follow. Some in the us had tackled urban life beginning in the 1920s (e.g., Lynd and Lynd, 1929, followed by Horace Miner (1953) in Timbuktu). Urban anthropology, however, developed mostly in the 1960s and 1970s (Hannerz, 1980) and in these years, too, anthropologists in Oceania began fieldwork in Melanesian towns. Although the editors of a recent collection of essays about Pacific cities (Dussy and Wittersheim, 2013) suggest that “la ville est […] longtemps demeurée un objet invisible pour l’anthropologie, et l’anthropologie océaniste en particulier” (2013: 13) growing numbers of ethnographers now work in Pacific cities and towns. There is a sizeable literature on Melanesian urbanism to which many ethnographers, geographers, and others have contributed. We can not provide a comprehensive review of this, but note important studies that have influenced our own analyses of migrants finding a place in urban social worlds where old meaning systems are challenged and sometimes redefined.

8Historically, we can identify three periods in urban research. The first, beginning in the 1960s, focused mainly on post-war transformations of colonial towns into regional urban centers – a symposium on Pacific port towns at Tenth Pacific Science Congress in 1961 (Spoehr, 1963), included contributions that addressed Pape’ete, Suva, and Nouméa. A few years later, Brown (1970) and Bedford (1973) described Port Vila as an ethnic mosaic, comprised of diverse urban migrants. In Papua New Guinea, Oram (1975) analyzed Port-Moresby as a place where Melanesians were still mainly transient workers. Bellam (1970) similarly described Honiara as a colonial town where Solomon Islanders continued to occupy only marginal spaces.

9Ethnographers next began following villagers into towns, focusing on mobility and paying attention to the push-pull dynamics villages and towns, influenced partly by the work of geographers such as Chapman and Prothero (1985), Bonnemaison (1986), and Connell and Lea (1994). They focused ethnographic research in urban neighborhoods and communities, working mainly with people belonging to the ethnic groups they originally had studied back in home villages. Early community analyses from Papua New Guinea include Rew (1974) who, in 1966-1967, worked with residents of a Port Moresby labor compound; M. Strathern (1975) who analyzed Hagen migrants’ expectations of life in town and of wage employment; the Levines (1979) who reported on “ambivalent townsmen” in Moresby; Morauta and Ryan (1982) who followed the transformation of Malalaua migrants into permanent urban residents; and Zimmer-Tamakoshi (1992) who described Gende migrants who moved to Goroka to be able to pay their children’s school fees. In Solomon Islands, Frazer (1981) described the unhappiness of To’abaita migrants in Honiara who struggled to find work. Others who worked with Honiara migrant communities include Keesing (1994), Feinberg (1996), and Kwai’ioloa and Burt (1997). (See also Brown (1970), Bedford (1973), and Haberkorn (1989) for Port Vila, and Naepels (2000) for Nouméa). At the same time, and following Hannerz’s (1980) approach in other contexts, other anthropologists such as Dussy (1996) in New Caledonia; Philibert (1986, 1994) et Mitchell (2000, 2004) au Vanuatu; Jourdan (1985, 1994), Gooberman-Hill (1999), Berg (2000) and Stritecky (2001) in Honiara; Gewertz and Errington (1999) and Goddard (2005) in Papua New Guinea, focused on the town itself, rather than on how migrants adapted to towns.

Photo 3. – Honiara Chinatown seen from Mataniko river, 2007

Photo 3. – Honiara Chinatown seen from Mataniko river, 2007

(© Christine Jourdan)

10Recent fieldwork constitutes a third moment in urban ethnography. Focus has shifted to the lived urban experience, the creation of new city ways of being, and people’s experiences of urban ways of life (see Zimmer-Tamakoshi, 1998). This collection extends this third moment in Melanesian urban research. We are concerned with emergent styles of Melanesian urbanity. Although we do not touch on them all, significant aspects of contemporary life in town include tighter arrangements of time and space, transformations of family and kindred, modifications of marriage custom, expanding social networks, wage employment and other economic challenges, inventive petty economics, incipient rentier and class development, new forms of political organization (e.g., “town chiefs”), closer dealings with police and other state authorities, religious innovation, sorcery panics, neighborhood discord, language losses and gains, better access to global culture via education, mobile phones, television and the Internet, innovative entertainments and diversions, new youth cultures with fresh musical, linguistic, and sartorial styles, growing intergenerational conflict, and urban rephrasings of kastom (or tradition) for a variety of audiences including state authorities, children, and tourists. A number of these themes cut through essays in this collection. We have arranged these essays topically, as the concerns of one essay inform the next, rather than grouping them geographically.

Village and Town

11From the 1960s, ethnographers have questioned whether Melanesia’s cities are, in fact, ordinary cities that might be comprehended as integrated urban systems, or whether they are hodgepodges of neighborhoods, the residents of which remain more tightly connected to source villages than they are to some integrated urban system. Back in the 1970s when colonial towns had just begun to transform into national cities, the Levines noted that

“traditional culture and social organization are very much alive and are even having a significant impact on the towns themselves” (1979: 2).

12Two generations later, Moore (2015: 436) concluded that Honiara remains a hybridized rural/urban entity:

“What makes Honiara function is an extension of pre-urban societies adapted to urban ways” (see also Goddard [2010] for Port Moresby).

13A recent Asian Development Bank report described Melanesian cities, structured by translocal rural-urban connections, as “Village Cities.” These are characterized by underlying village sociospatial systems, village sociocultural orders, and a fusion of traditional and formal regimes of governance (Jones, 2016: xiv).

14Although the rural/urban “circular migration” that once characterized colonial towns (Chapman and Prothero 1985) has broken down, transformed into longer-term relocations, few migrants are detaching entirely from their home places as case studies in this collection confirm. Many Honiara long-term residents, even third-generation urbanites, still identify with their fathers’ family places of origin. Rousseau (this issue) notes that, for many Port Vila residents, “island of origin offers the key continuous source of identity that is still most commonly used in town.” Brison (this issue) concludes for Fiji that

“it is misleading to distinguish between rural and urban kinship since most kin groups include people living in cities as well as in villages.”

15Increasing numbers of children are born urbanites, but their families retain various connections to home villages, and they cultivate these with regular flows of gifts and goods and with home place visits, especially during end-of-year holidays. Most recent urbanites remain “translocal” (situated in both town and village), doubly identified with some particular urban quarter and with a home territory. Economic necessity accounts for some of this translocalism. Faced with uncertain employment and accommodation in town, many see value in keeping options open to return to where they (or their parents) originated. And, as Rousseau (this issue) suggests, important urban functions like settlement of disputes by Port Vila’s “town chiefs” (who represent the various migrant communities) depend on the continuing cultivation and significance of home places within the city.

Photo 4. – Fulisango, residential suburban of Honiara in the South, 2016

Photo 4. – Fulisango, residential suburban of Honiara in the South, 2016

(© Christine Jourdan)

16Even though rural ties and identities have been notably durable, these may eventually fade as third and fourth generations of urbanites are born in town, many the children of mothers and fathers who come from different communities and language groups. As more and more urban marriages are exolinguistic, lingua francas such as the Melanesian pidgins have become the linguistic cement of towns and cities in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu. Over the years, they became the vernaculars of new generations of urban children who did not learn ancestral languages (see Jourdann, 2008 for Honiara; Smith, 2002 for Lae; Barnèche, 2005 for Nouméa; and Vandeputte-Tavon, 2014 for Port-Vila). Many children, moreover, are increasingly disconnected from their parents’ ancestral traditions, although remnant cultural elements and scripts still serve in narratives of identity more than they do as aspects of lived experience.

17McDougall (this issue) notes that increasing numbers of urban Solomon Islanders are “disconnected with their village homes.” Some joke that they have now “lost their passports” and thus cannot return home. Young urbanites in Port Vila use the same nervous metaphor to describe their estrangement from original places (Kraemer, this issue). Kraemer records that many youth living in Freswota, a Port Vila neighborhood, experience diminished kin relations and, increasingly detached from their parents’ communities, congregate instead in urban “squads” (see Mitchell, 2013). Even so, they do not happily identify with the city, either. One youth lamented:

“We don’t know anything about our traditions because our parents settled in town… But here we are and we see that there is nothing for us here at all, and we aren’t part of island life either because we are schooled with the ways of town.”

18Coiffier (1996) similarly found that young people born in Papua New Guinea’s peri-urban areas do not consider themselves connected with ancestral villages, or with the town either, lamenting their ambiguous status. Petrou and Connell (this issue) find increasing numbers of Paama Island migrants living in Port Vila who, despite what they say about intended returns home, live out their lives in town. Native urbanites one day may indeed disconnect from original places, and also escape the firm grasp of family and kin, and thus come to resemble modern urbanites elsewhere. In so doing, they define themselves no longer in terms of their family’s place of origin but rather in terms of personal life-style, values, social networks, and an urban ethos.

19To date, boundaries between village and city remain blurred for many urbanites who continue to situate themselves in both. Peoples’ connections to towns and villages, however, vary with time spent in town, with degrees of affluence, and with diversity of social networks no longer linked solely to kinship or wantoks. Many 2nd and 3rd generation urbanites have developed a distinctly citified outlook and – unlike those that the Levines recorded in the 1970s – are no longer ambivalent townsmen.

Urban Subsistence

20Urban residence requires access to shelter and money. Whereas middle-class urban families may live in established, fully-serviced neighborhoods (i.e., in houses that have running water and electricity most of the time), many – especially newer migrants to town – squeeze into recognized or unplanned settlements, wherever land is available. Land tenure arrangements, as Maggio (2016) argues, have been subjected to new forces, among which a major role is played by population pressure, urbanization, and an ever-growing demand for money. To accommodate housing demand, surrounding landowners rent or sell to land-hungry migrants. Conversion of rural land into commodity transforms traditional concepts of identity, place, and possession.

21Some migrants build their own housing, and at times establish their own food gardens, although given land tenure concerns many do not invest much in their houses, figuring they may one day be evicted (Chung and Hill, 2002: 14). Others rent rooms or shacks from earlier settlers. Most cities have burst their seams, and municipal authorities find themselves unable to provide housing for ever-increasing numbers of migrants. As migrants move to town, urban settlements have spilled into once rural areas, creating volatile conflicts with customary land-owners (Bryant-Tokalau, 2014). Fraenkel (2014), for example, argued that urban squatters in Honiara sparked tensions that led to the 2000 coup. Maebuta and Maebuta (2009) report that by 2006 Honiara’s squatter settlements were growing by 26%; Chung and Hill (2002: 10) also noted that squatter settlements were Vila’s areas of fastest urban growth.

22Within developing urban settlements, migrants and long-term residents find ways to become comfortable in town and they develop neighborhood relationships, building on kin, wantok, or co-resident networks. Over time, informal settlements morph into suburbs with complex social life (with names that often indicate the ethnic origin of most inhabitants). In Nouméa, for instance, the squats analyzed by Dussy (1996) offered precarious housing but also opportunities for collective life and social activities, including churches, pétanque and bingo gaming, and local markets. Maggio (this issue) analyses similar sorts of social networks developed around church activities in Gilbert Camp, a Honiara settlement.

Photo 5. – Garden above the Pierre Lenquête buildings, peripheral popular district of Nouméa, 1985

Photo 5. – Garden above the Pierre Lenquête buildings, peripheral popular district of Nouméa, 1985

All the hills overhanging these low-rent housing are occupied by Kanak or Oceanian inhabitants to make gardens to improve their everyday life

(© I. Leblic)

23Urban families, often poorly housed, also deal with a range of other economic hardships. Most come from rural homes where they have assured access to land and sea. Although some migrants establish urban gardens where possible, life in town requires money and thus wage employment. Urbanites typically grumble that life in town is difficult because one has to eat with money (kaekae long selen, in Honiara), and without a garden of substantial size they become vulnerable to any rise in food prices. Many cannot entertain pressing requests for housing, food, or financial help coming from visiting kin. Consistent food insecurity transforms food into a commodity and this affects ordinary relations among urban kin, as new demands for exchange balance erode expectations of sharing (Jourdan, 1995; Wentworth, 2016; Maggio, this issue). Kraemer (this issue) reports from Port Vila that some parents refuse to share food with their unemployed older children, especially sons, who fail to contribute money or labor to the household. This transforms urban kin duties and expectations as youth then instead choose to share resources with neighborhood peers (see also Stern, this issue). This signals the development of non-kin based solidarities that are increasingly important urban social relationships.

Photo 6. – Port-Villa Market, 2006

Photo 6. – Port-Villa Market, 2006

(© Lamont Lindstrom)

24Food and other insecurities also diminish customary sharing among neighbors. Urban settlements and neighbourhoods are rife with all sorts of petty economic schemes including loansharking, micro-credit circles, bingo games and other forms of gambling, room-renting, and household enterprises including cooking, tailoring, driving transport trucks or mini buses, selling betel nuts or kava at cross-roads, or establishing small canteens and stores (see Sharp et al., 2015). For those without a secondary education, and even for many with degrees, urban employment can be irregular and poorly compensated. Vibrant informal economic schemes offer alternatives to steady employment and often develop in plain sight of government authorities.

25Many urban migrants move to the city in search of paid employment to meet expenses (especially school fees), but also to improve educational options for their children, and to be close to government services such as hospitals. Failure to secure adequate employment, however, leaves many short of money and – as in the colonial period – urban subsistence continues to depend to a significant extent on rural inputs of resources and labor, and this too sustains the hybrid character of Melanesian cities. Only those with steady employment are able to remit regular funds home to village kin, and many do so in order to sustain claims to home places.

26Rio (this issue) notes the ubiquity of fences that separate house plots in Port Vila settlements, and also the city’s many tiny family stores which provide “a means for regulating demands about sharing in a situation of scarcity.” Instead of seeking neighborhood customers, many of whom would be unable to pay, only close kin have access to these secluded larders of food. In some cases, island kin even send money to relatives in town – this a form of “reverse remittance.” As Rio notes, urbanites rely on rural relatives for garden produce when they cannot afford to buy food in town. Such baskets of taro, manioc, banana, or yam typically are sent to urban kin in exchange for payment of school fees or other such expenses that rural family members have no money to cover.

Urban Relations

27Anthropologists of Melanesia have for many years pondered class and kinship in urban settings, as did the Levines:

“The crucial question for Papua New Guinea is whether this class consciousness has occurred, or is occurring, or whether the fragmentation and competition of the objective class situation is reinforced by idioms such as those of the wantok system” (1979: 84).

28Will, one day, people’s shared economic relations and status trump their extended family responsibilities? There are increasing numbers of Melanesian families, mostly urban-based, who can be categorized as middle class given economic position, access to education, and consumption practices which include automobile ownership and the employment of “housegirl” domestics (Jourdan, this issue). But kin duties remain difficult to ignore. Even after several generations of city life, many urbanites of all income levels remain embedded in kin networks. Kinship continues to offer vital survival strategies (see Maggio, 2017), providing accessing to shelter, food, information, and security in risky urban environments, and also the chance to escape to original homes, should this become necessary. The Levines rightly concluded that

“kinship in urban areas is often not the same phenomenon that it is in the villages” (1979: 61).

29Brison (this issue) likewise notes that kin networks for many Fijian urbanites have become “wider and flatter” – incorporating some who, back in a village, might be excluded, and also less riven with hierarchical distinction. Hukula (this issue), along the same lines, notes that Port Moresby residents enlarge their kin networks, creating

“relatedness through the experience of living together in the same place.” (p. 163)

30However these might be transformed in urban areas, most people’s primary relations, however, remain kin relations. The Levines, back in the 1970s, concluded that kinship, and the wantok system, contributed to “a muting of the salience of growing class divisions” (1979: 110). Such muting continues. Middle-class urbanites are under constant “demand-sharing” pressure from kin, but few manage to detach themselves entirely from extended family duties or even from passing unease about fellow townsmen they encounter who are less well-off (Spark, this issue). The continued economic benefits of a translocal strategy, if only as a refuge in emergencies, encourage families to cultivate local roots even if some have indeed have renounced their kin ties, or claim that they have (Gewertz and Errington, 1999; see also Brison, this issue).

Photo 7. – Poster of information (found in the toilet of a restaurant of Honiara) about the refuge for women Seif Ples, Honiara, 2016

Photo 7. – Poster of information (found in the toilet of a restaurant of Honiara) about the refuge for women Seif Ples, Honiara, 2016

(© Christine Jourdan)

31Alongside kin, urban residents create network with others from the same village, region, or island – these are the wantoks network found in Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea (Schram, 2015). But other types of networks, independent from kin and wantoks also develop, which some researchers consider to be an important side of the urban rooting of town residents (see Philibert et Jourdan, 1994). Hukula (this issue) finds that Port Moresby residents seek connection with fellow church members (wan lotu) (see also Maggio, this issue), school mates (wan skul), and neighbors (wan strit). Co-workers (wan wok), too, are likely comrades (see Brison, this issue for Suva). Marginalized urbanites, such as Nouméa’s transgenre women Marmouch (this issue), or the people suffering from hiv with whom Fabienne Labbé worked (2011, 2015) also form close networks and groups. As do social relations everywhere, all these associations depend on ongoing communicative and economic exchanges. Hukula notes the importance, in Moresby, of supportive bride price and mortuary contributions. Maggio (this issue) analyzes gift exchanges between wan lotu Anglican Mothers Union members in Honiara. These sikret fren (secret friends), who may or may not be actual friends, exchange equivalent household goods that symbolize

“the importance of equality, and the irrelevance of actual kinship ties.”

Photo 8. – Waiting to the bus in the city center of Nouméa, 2007

Photo 8. – Waiting to the bus in the city center of Nouméa, 2007

(© Isabelle Leblic)

Photo 9. – Waiting to the bus in the city center of Nouméa, 2007

Photo 9. – Waiting to the bus in the city center of Nouméa, 2007

(© Isabelle Leblic)

32Just as sikret fren exchanges blur distinctions between (rural) gifts and (urban) commodities, and as land deals between Goroka sellers and buyers are similarly muddled, people’s urban networks and situational identities can overlap, sometimes uncomfortably. Wantoks, and close kin, may also be won woks and thus are confronted with negotiating conflicting expectations and duties. Jourdan (this issue) follows the predicaments of urban Honiara haosgel (domestics), most of whom come to town to work for uncles or aunts. When bosses are uncles :

“wages paid to the house girl are a source of worry for both parties because they directly affect the nature of the kinship relationship. [This] blurring of categories… hides the extraction of labor that is part of this practice of urban fosterage” (Jourdan, this issue).

33Hukula (this issue) describes a second case of blurred urban relations in which a woman employed to mind a child becomes a second mother. Brison (this issue) likewise describes incipient class divisions in Suva where richer families employ poorer kin.

34New communicative technologies enable urbanites to strengthen, and sometimes to evade, their kin and other connections. The mobile telephone and associated access to social media platforms, especially Facebook, have intensified transformations in urban kinship. Mobile telephony now extends throughout urban and rural Melanesia, although urbanites have easiest access to smart phones, credit purchases, and battery charges. Lipset (this issue) notes how telephones in Wewak, png allow a “domestic group to coordinate action,” as kinfolk track one another and coordinate plans. Port Vila young musicians similarly use mobile phones to create urban networks (Stern, this issue). Brison (this issue) remarks the recent significance of Facebook (accessed principally on mobiles) among middle-class Fijians. This has become “an important component of indigenous kin relations because it facilitates and enhances the ability to keep in touch with far-flung bilateral networks of relatives.”

Urban Gender

35Urban migration, classically, allows escape from home and kin, permitting new possibilities of anonymity and self-transformation. In Melanesia, however, most urbanites remain embedded in translocal networks of kin and place, and endure ongoing surveillance in these (as do Honiara’s haosgels, Jourdan, this issue). Women’s mobility in town, for some, is even more restricted than back in home villages (Eriksen, 2016; Levine and Levine, 1979: 55-59). Still, the city does facilitate possibilities of escape and personal renovation, for women as for men, and affects people’s marriage strategies. Philibert (1994), for example, showed how women in Erakor, a suburb of Port-Vila, used marriage to better integrate and emplace themselves in the urban social world.

36Gender roles vary across the region, but disparities and hierarchies are common in these. Some urbanites are able to challenge or expand gendered duties although these may also deteriorate in towns (Pollard, 2000). Servy (this issue), reporting from Port Vila’s Seaside Tongoa settlement, notes that

“au Vanuatu, l’usage de la force physique à l’égard des femmes est très répandu” (see also Tor and Toka, 2004; Vanuatu Women’s Centre, 2011).

37Many men continue to assert that violence against women is justified by both kastom and Christianity “comme un raet [droit] légitimé par la relation hiérarchique entre l’homme et la femme.” The same is true in Solomon Islands where 73% of men interviewed agreed that violence against women is justifiable in case of infidelity, breach of kastom, or wifely duty (Rasanathan and Bushan, 2011).

38Women can find in town new opportunities, taking advantage of new urban pleasures. Spark (this issue) follows middle-class Port Moresby women who take advantage of “safe” places such as the Vision City shopping mall, hotels, parks, and cafes. Some even own cars which facilitate mobility and escape from family surveillance. Most poorer Moresby women, of course, still lack these opportunities as do townswomen elsewhere. (Lipset, this issue, remarks Wewak’s lack of cafes.) Spark (this issue; see also 2015) describes how women of the middle-class do not hesitate to dress in a manner that is culturally provocative and argues that in these safer urban spaces at least,

“conservative masculine discourses about what women should wear have decreasing and limited potency.”

39Less well-off women elsewhere, as in Port Vila, have also adopted urbane dress styles, especially trousers and shorts, and manage to deflect similar gendered criticism (Cummings, 2013) although, as Lindstrom (this issue) reports, women wearing traosis (trousers) continue to be taken as disrespectful. Women enjoy other urban opportunities including mobile telephoning with friends and, so some suspect, with lovers (Lipset, this issue). Brison (this issue) notes that women in Suva are principal participants in Facebook networks. Even vigilantly supervised house girls in Honiara can occasionally stray to find a fren, or boyfriend, against the wishes of their employers.

40Urban life also affects men and local concepts of masculinity, especially young men who are often unemployed or underemployed. As Kraemer (this issue) describes, youth in Port Vila, castigated as lazy, are increasingly alienated from family and place. They congregate in gangs – or “squads” – where fictive kinship substitutes for family. Stern (this issue), also reporting from Vanuatu, finds that young men deal creatively with urban alienation by investing in reggae music – a genre which has sustained popularity in Melanesia since the 1970s. Young musicians

“are both embracing and resisting their marginalization in response to urban issues, to create safe spaces to effect moral as well as political agency.”

41If some young men cannot contribute much to family coffers, they at least find appreciation and acclaim through music. Participation and interest in team sports similarly serve to unite youth in novel urban networks who thereby retrieve at least some masculine honor.

42Largely influenced by Western trends, gender play is especially underway in Nouméa, Melanesia’s most cosmopolitan city. Marouch (this issue) reports on Nouméa’s sizeable transgender community. These are hommes pour femmes born mostly into Polynesian migrant families from Wallis, Futuna, and Tahiti, although some are indigenous Kanaks. Influenced by substrate Oceanic gender ideals, these women are also much invested in global gender style. Rejected, often, by their families, Nouméa’s transgenders like other disaffected youth create their own urban networks and substitute families. Some eventually reconcile with family, particularly if they come to support their parents with money earned, often, through sex work. Beyond Nouméa, cosmopolitan gender ideals and practices have filtered into Melanesia as urbanites access global media systems and as they encounter international tourists (particularly in Fiji and Vanuatu where tourist flows are substantial).

Urban Culture

43Concluding their survey of urbanization, the Levines suggested that

“Papua New Guineans have now advanced to the threshold of creating a Melanesian style of urbanism” (1979: 142).

44People today are far beyond that door, busy creating vibrant Melanesian urban cultures. These reflect enduring translocal connections through which village shapes town, and town influences village. Global forces and styles also percolate into Melanesian cities, carried by mobile telephony and international tourism. Urban culture reflects possibilities of new sorts of material consumption, particularly for better-off families (Sharp, this issue). As our contributors explore, cities are incubators of all sorts of novel styles – linguistic, musical, architectural, and sartorial. Much of this stems from the inventiveness of urban youth who, connected with peers, innovate strategies to deal with translocal challenges and troublesome family expectations.

45Urban space differs from rural space given a city’s housing stock and its population density and mix where people interact with others who, if not always strange, are often unfamiliar. Rio, Stern, and Kraemer (this issue) note effects of this: Concerns to create “safe spaces” through fencing, “ghetto” refuges, urban squads, and other sorts of substitute families. As has been noted of many world cities, urbanism frequently intensifies fear of sorcery and witchcraft (nakaemas in Vanuatu, see Rio, this issue; also Rio, 2010; Mitchell, 2011; Eves and Forsyth, 2015). Lindstrom (this issue; see also Servy) analyzes the development of ubiquitous “respect” discourse in Port Vila’s settlements as a reflection of people’s nervous urban circumstances. Tanna migrants “bemoan respects’ absence but they evoke it constantly to explain urban conflict and various disappointments.” Morality, too, in some urban settlements (Maggio, this issue) is redefined as a mix of Christian values, the desire for membership in a new social world, and customary exchange expectations (see also Stritecky, 2001).

Photo 10. – Graffiti asking that we respect places, Honiara, 2016

Photo 10. – Graffiti asking that we respect places, Honiara, 2016

(© Christine Jourdan)

46People innovate – and learn – urban culture through their interactions in town. The Levines, in the 1970s, found few

“levelling devices which integrate disparate peoples into new super-regional wholes, and nuclei for the ‘formation of national tradition’” (1979: 133)

47nor many voluntary associations that crosscut residents’ primordial ties to kin and place. Lipset (this issue) also argues that Wewak, with a population around 35,000, lacks much of a public sphere of the sort that Habermas (1989) described. Larger Melanesian cities, however, do have better organized public spaces and also solid urban associations, as other contributors to this issue, such as Spark and Hukula, detail. Lipset, for Wewak, makes the important point that mobile telephones constitute a new and alternative sort of public sphere in that these “enable communicative freedom in a virtual, or technologically constituted space” (see also Kramer, 2015 for Vanuatu). This certainly is true of all Melanesian cities and towns where mobiles now facilitate all sorts of networking and relationships, as Anderson (2013) noted of “phone friends” in png. Servy (2014) likewise found, in Port-Vila, that the cell phone (mobael) has become one of the most efficient way to find a boy-friend, avoiding the prying eyes of family and acquaintances. Mobile phones also provide access to social media, especially Facebook’s groups and pages where urbanites exchange all sorts of information, comment, and critique (e.g., Vanuatu’s “Yumi Toktok Stret,” “Sista,” and “Mi Harem Se Vanuatu”).

Photo 11. – End of the day, Port Moresby, November 2011

Photo 11. – End of the day, Port Moresby, November 2011

(© Pierre Lemonnier)

48Much public critique, as Lipset points out for Wewak, spotlights the legitimacy of the state and the moral failings of the nation. Whether critical or celebratory, national culture in Melanesia is today largely urban culture. As noted, many urbanites maintain translocal allegiances to origin homes, and urban organization notably reflects these rural roots. The city, however, since the 1970s has emerged as the main engine of cultural production, and new urban styles and practices readily flow back into rural areas. Melanesia’s national cultures, as these develop further, will be shaped and informed by expansive urban experience.

Urban Futures

49Demographic trends point to ongoing and increasing urbanization in the Southwest Pacific (Keen and Barbara, 2016). Growing percentages of Melanesians will live in the region’s cities and towns. Regular flows of rural migrants promise to maintain cities’ translocal character. Melanesian urban culture continues to be hybridized – a creolization of rural, urban, and global elements:

“La vie urbaine est encore reliée à la vie des villages par un flot d’informations et de gens qui font l’aller et retour entre les deux. De plus, la vie urbaine est formée directement par les influences et exigences du système mondial culturel et économique” (Jourdan 1994: 184); see also Jourdan and Philibert, 1994; Philibert, 1994).

50Future ethnographers will follow developments in Melanesia’s creolized cities, including the persistence of rural/urban connections and the enduring conundrum of kinship and class. The urban middle-class is increasing, as is economic inequality in general. Will urban families manage at last to slough off their kinship duties and local identities? To what degree, also, will city ways bleed back into rural villages? Although the circular migration that characterized the colonial era has dwindled, people still regularly travel from city to town and back again. The ruralized city vitalizes the urbanized village.

Photo 12. – Bus stop, end of the day, Port Moresby, 2011

Photo 12. – Bus stop, end of the day, Port Moresby, 2011

(© Pierre Lemonnier)

51Despite the city’s opportunities and excitements, many urbanites remain conspicuously suspicious and critical of town life, typically contrasting this with nostalgic and idealized memories of home villages (see Lindstrom, 2011a). Many look forward, one day, to returning home to these villages. It may well be, however, that fewer and fewer will escape the city despite their expressed intentions (see Petrou and Connell, this issue; also Petrou, 2015: 218-228 on Port Vila migrants who, despite firm hopes, never return to Paama Island which they realize is small and overpopulated). A final persistent urban issue is the degree to which future generations born in town will identify with ancestral homes, and find opportunities to learn at least some parental languages and customs since many may not realize what they are losing. Evidence from Nouméa, Vila, Moresby, and Honiara points to the loss of ancestral languages among third generation urbanites. Melanesian cities ultimately may be a terminus and a trap but they are also – as these articles explore – captivating, dynamic, and always stimulating places.

Photo 13. – View of Nouméa since Top-Magenta, over the 4th km cemetery, 2007

Photo 13. – View of Nouméa since Top-Magenta, over the 4th km cemetery, 2007

(© Isabelle Leblic)

Photo 14. – View of Nouméa since Top-Magenta, 2007

Photo 14. – View of Nouméa since Top-Magenta, 2007

(© Isabelle Leblic)

Photo 15. – The mwaka downtown, Nouméa, 2007

Photo 15. – The mwaka downtown, Nouméa, 2007

(© Isabelle Leblic)

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Table des illustrations

Titre Photo 1. – Aerial view of Honiara, February 2008
Crédits (© Christine Jourdan)
Fichier image/jpeg, 28k
Titre Photo 2. – Houses and gardens, Honiara, 2007
Crédits (© Christine Jourdan)
Fichier image/jpeg, 480k
Titre Photo 3. – Honiara Chinatown seen from Mataniko river, 2007
Crédits (© Christine Jourdan)
Fichier image/jpeg, 96k
Titre Photo 4. – Fulisango, residential suburban of Honiara in the South, 2016
Crédits (© Christine Jourdan)
Fichier image/jpeg, 132k
Titre Photo 5. – Garden above the Pierre Lenquête buildings, peripheral popular district of Nouméa, 1985
Légende All the hills overhanging these low-rent housing are occupied by Kanak or Oceanian inhabitants to make gardens to improve their everyday life
Crédits (© I. Leblic)
Fichier image/png, 3,6M
Titre Photo 6. – Port-Villa Market, 2006
Crédits (© Lamont Lindstrom)
Fichier image/jpeg, 616k
Titre Photo 7. – Poster of information (found in the toilet of a restaurant of Honiara) about the refuge for women Seif Ples, Honiara, 2016
Crédits (© Christine Jourdan)
Fichier image/jpeg, 52k
Titre Photo 8. – Waiting to the bus in the city center of Nouméa, 2007
Crédits (© Isabelle Leblic)
Fichier image/png, 255k
Titre Photo 9. – Waiting to the bus in the city center of Nouméa, 2007
Crédits (© Isabelle Leblic)
Fichier image/png, 251k
Titre Photo 10. – Graffiti asking that we respect places, Honiara, 2016
Crédits (© Christine Jourdan)
Fichier image/jpeg, 104k
Titre Photo 11. – End of the day, Port Moresby, November 2011
Crédits (© Pierre Lemonnier)
Fichier image/jpeg, 100k
Titre Photo 12. – Bus stop, end of the day, Port Moresby, 2011
Crédits (© Pierre Lemonnier)
Fichier image/jpeg, 80k
Titre Photo 13. – View of Nouméa since Top-Magenta, over the 4th km cemetery, 2007
Crédits (© Isabelle Leblic)
Fichier image/jpeg, 512k
Titre Photo 14. – View of Nouméa since Top-Magenta, 2007
Crédits (© Isabelle Leblic)
Fichier image/jpeg, 672k
Titre Photo 15. – The mwaka downtown, Nouméa, 2007
Crédits (© Isabelle Leblic)
Fichier image/png, 289k
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Lamont Lindstrom

Professor of Anthropology, Associate Dean, Henry Kendall College of Arts and Sciences, University of Tulsa USA

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Christine Jourdan

Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Concordia University, Montréal, Canada

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