Trends in Motives and Organisation in Solomon Island Agriculture

In this 1949 paper I set out for the first time my ideas about the theory of socio-cultural change. It is based on a variation of the model of Talcott Parsons’ “unit act” (though it is not here emphasized).  and concepts of choice in economics, and is thus more about the theory of change and the application of economics concepts than about Solomon Islands agriculture.  The perspective begun here and developed in my Ph.D. thesis was repeated and amended in several later publications, but although I myself value later formulations as predictive, it seems to be a long way from current anthropological writing.   The typescript from which I have worked is difficult to scan — so do please let me now if you pick up any errors.  Of course I would be fascinated to know whether the ideas can be extrapolated into the present.

Note in paper

The data upon which this paper is based are being more extensively set out, among others, in a thesis under preparation in the University of London on Economic aspects of Culture Change in Eastern Me1anesia, with special reference to the influence of monetary economy”, with the financial support of the Emslie Horniman Trustees.  [later published as Changing Melanesia – Social Economics of Culture Contact, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1954]


The object of this paper is to outline the changes that have occurred in Solomon Island Melanesian agriculture since the arrival of the Europeans, and to see whether some of the concepts of economics may be used to this end, supplementing the current anthropological approach.

      At the outset I must make it clear that the paper is not based upon any deep understanding of native society such as would be expected to come from an intensive and prolonged anthropo1ogical field study. My observations as to the war and postwar periods were undertaken haphazardly during administrative duties, and before I had grasped their full imp1ications or learnt the possibilities of observing more thoroughly. For the rest, I have drawn extensively upon published materials, especially those given in the bibliography The facts of this paper are hardly new, but it is necessary to re-examine them in the light of modern problems.

Early Native Agriculture

      With regard to the early literature on the Solomon Islands, two facts stand out. The first is that there has been no systematic attempt at a study of agriculture qua agriculture or as a problem in agricultural economics. Although Guppyband Ivens have short sections on gardening, and though Hogbin in his later work gives a very clear and forceful picture of the dynamic way in which men attain agricultural wealth, there are, as we shall see, many 1acunae.

       The second point is that Solomon Island society has changed a great deal in the past hundred years. It is true that observations by Mendana by and 1arge present a picture which is recognisable today. The view is very superficial, however, and if we examine later writings we must alter this opinion. The most striking example to me has been the comparison of the writing of Verguet (published in 1885 on observations  he made in 1845, with those of Fox in 1924 for San Cristoval, and with my own memories of my stay there in 1946. The il1ustrations given in Verguet are quite different from those given by Fox, and the descriptions of both, especially with regard to the materia1 paraphernalia of ritual, are unrecognisable today.

       This raises the question of the validity of reconstructions of early native agriculture, since we have no other early observers of the calibre of Verguet, and even such excellent later writers as Codrington pay practically no attention to agriculture. The answer is that we cannot hope to provide a completely full account of agriculture, and it is not necessary that we do so. The general principles of native agricultural activity are fairly clear, and even observations of the cultivation of traditional plants made today are reasonably useful for any descriptive purposes. We run certain risks of overlooking some changes, of giving some activity a traditional status which in fact it should not have, but the degree of error is not likely to be large nor to affect the general conclusions that we draw. Nor is it indeed necessary to postulate a pre—European agriculture as a starting point of study. All we need is a state of agriculture which preceded a later state of agriculture, in that way obtaining the time dimension essential to any study of change. The best way of doing this in the present circumstances is to postulate a “subsistence” or “primitive” agriculture which can be compared with a “cash-crop” or “monetary” agriculture (b)

(b) It may be pointed out, for instance, that if we are concerned with general principles or types rather than detailed ethnographic data, then many of the general affirmations of Professor Firth (15) hold good for Melanesia just as for Polynesia — the social effects of the standard of technology, and the significance of ceremonial distribution of food, for instance. Institutional details, of course, vary considerably.


 As will be apparent to any anthropologist, subsistence agriculture does not mean that every one produced exactly as much agricultural produce as he wanted for his own direct consumption. It is purely  a relative term indicating that the standard of technology and of demand was such that men could if they so wished produce what they required for themselves, that the quantity of trade was relatively low, and, in particular, that produce was not exported to an impersonal speculative market. These points will be mentioned later, but it is as well to emphasise them at the outset.

      Agricultural activity, like any other activity, is organised to meet specific ends, which are present in the minds of the actors as a medley of conscious purpose, unconscious desire and habitual drive. It is beyond our present task to examine the ways in which patterns of agricultural activity arise — the interplay of upbringing, of adaptation to the activity of the family fellow-villagers and acquaintances, of limitations and possibilities imposed by the environment, of the influence of developments in near-by communities. It is however relevant to note the ends which were in fact present in Melanesian society in the Solomons.

      In the first p1ace, of course, agricultural activity provided food. Panna, yam, and taro were the commonest cultivated staples, varying in importance with soil conditions. It is interesting to note the influence of environment here upon the acquisition of taste. In areas where yam grew well it always took pride of place: but in some areas, such as Gela, it was difficult to cultivate, and hence panna replaced it. Gela people became accustomed to a panna preference, which they retained even when visiting yam-growing areas or working away from home. Other foods cultivated included the plantain, and, since they required p1anting and a certain amount of care, one could also include the breadfruit, coconut, and a number of shrubs which provided edible leaves. Except in limited areas of the Western Solomons, the sago palm was not cultivated for its food value by Melanesians, but for its leaf, though in times of shortage the pith was occasionally eaten.

      The direct consumption of food is not necessarily a simple phenomenon. Anthropologists have drawn sufficient attention to sociological factors which modify and accompany it — such factors as ritual abstentions, proscriptions applying to clan members, abstentions during child – birth, and so forth. Indeed, we might draw together all such food habits together with traditionally developed tastes, under one heading such as customary or habitual behaviour. By such a phrase we imply that for sociological reasons men, when confronted with specific situations, act in certain ways and adopt certain values which may be predicted for their society. Demand, in the economist’s sense, is socially determined.

      At the same time there are two other concepts which may be applied to the same behaviour, the concepts of competition and complementarity. By competition I mean that a choice has to be made as between ends or between means according to customary rule, by considering advantages or disadvantages rationally in terms of more ultimate ends, or by an emotional decision, or by all three. But whatever end he adopts for his activity, however unconsciously realised, principles of choice are involved, implying the sacrifice or postponement of some other ends not so important at the moment, whether they be leisure, alternative ritual forms, warfare, or what you will.

      Competition is quite evident, for instance, in the provision of food. If we take a year’s activity, most Solomon Island communities will eat both fish and tubers. But at any particular time they may eat fish alone or tubers alone or fish (of different kinds) in combination with tubers (of different kinds). In other words, even limited resources permit a wide variety in consumption. Moreover the balance will be decided not solely by reference to some ideal standard of preference, but in weighing up, rationally or irrationally, the advantages and disadvantages to be attained in acting to achieve particular ends. Any single activity involves a  number of considerations —inland San Cristoval people, for instance, when deciding whether to eat fish, have to consider whether it can be bought from coastal dwellers and at what price, whether they are in position to fish for it themselves by individua1 effort, whether the journey to get it is worth while, how much alternative food is available, whether the time used to get it could be better employed in gardening or taking part in a memorial feast for a departed elder, and so on. Of course, not all these considerations will apply at one particular moment – men are not completely  rational, sometimes certain things weigh more heavily on the mind than others. Nevertheless I feel that anthropo1ogists have tended to overlook to some degree the play of competition in native life. Sociologioa1 and environmental determinism plays a  large part in establishing the range of ends in a community, and even in establishing habitua1 responses, but it does not destroy the great variety of life and the numerous competing ways of employing time and resources.

       By the second concept, comp1ementarity, I mean that in order to achieve certain ends particular resources or particular kinds of activity must be combined. Insofar as they may be substituted one for another, they are said to be in competition; insofar as an increase in one involves an increase in another they are said to be complementary. Thus If we take the end broadly as the provision of food, the cultivation of panna may be conceived as being in competition with the cultivation of yams. If however we take a specific occasion, the provision of food for a marriage feast, it may be customary to provide specific kind of food in which several resources are mixed. Thus coconut flesh, tubers, and forest nuts are combined into many pudding recipes, pounded and fermented or baked, and for this purpose may be considered to be complementary. The activity of gardening involves clearing, burning, digging holes, planting, weeding, gathering, and considerable ritual at many stages, all of which may be considered as complementary activities.

      Comparison of the two examples shows a further distinction. Not only are resources or activity complementary, but they are complementary to different degrees. The complementary nature of the resouces in the first case is based upon their power to combine to produce a tasty or ritually required dish. But if one of them is lacking or difficult to procure, substitution may be possible, although there will be loss in subjective value satisfied. In the second case, it is true that different activities may be combined in different proportions – one fami1y may take greater care over burning, while another may be painstaking over clearing – but the variations possible are not great, and it is not practicable to do away altogether with any one activity, at least in the native’s view, without complete loss of the end result.

        The food is complementary in  a less essential sense than the item of technical activity; we may say, to introduce another term, that the elasticity of demand is greater in the case of food than in the case of the item of technical activity. Such variations of degree introduce the possibility of measurement, but we have not the space to go into this complicated question at the moment.

       The reason I have paid particular attention to these concepts is that I believe that they and others developed with some precision in economics can be of considerable use in describing culture change. Their use makes one such questions as, if value A is introduced as an end of activity, how will it compete for resources and time with value B? If value C disappears as an end of activity, will it mean that the demand for D and E lessens because they are complements, or increases because they are in competition? If resources increase, can we regard the demand for A as being elastic or inelastic — that is, will it increase more than in proportion to the increase in resources or less? We are accustomed to thinking of such terms as applicable to material goods in a money economy. But, surely, even if we cannot measure the quantities involved with accuracy, the same concepts apply in relation to values and non-monetary activity. If ritua1 activity is held onto  tenaciously, demand for ritua1 is inelastic, and its inelasticity may be compared with the elasticity of demand for food or art forms or whatever is relevant. The functiona1 interrelations of behaviour may be observed through the degree of competition or complementarity which applies. If Church-going ritual decreases it will permit totemica1 objects to enter into competition as food. If Church-going or labour supply or court cases increase, time available for other activities must decrease, and we can query how the adjustment is made, what re-arrangements are necessary.

      Let us now note as briefly as possible the salient features of Melanesian agriculture that are relevant for our present discussion. Apart from food, there were numerous other agricultural ends. Cultivated plants provided numerous items of raw materia1, such as thatch from sago pa1m and coconut, spoons and bowls from the coconut, weaving material from coconut and pandanus, wood from coconut and breadfruit. There is no need to enlarge upon the list.

      The food  used was not simply for direct consumption –  the prevention of hunger. In particular it was used for ceremonial purposes and the ostentatious display and exchange of goods that accompanied most socially important occasions. Certain foods, particularly the first-fruits, were sacrificed to the spirits when occasion demanded. Stores of food, either gathered or left to ripen in the gardens, were important capital resources, for they could be used to maintain craftsmen while working to order, to supply the feasts which called forth the labour required for cooperative activity such as house-building or garden clearing, to feed visitors. In most cases such uses were deliberately planned for, thus maintaining the direct relationship between production and use, but a margin for emergencies had to be maintained thus introducing a speculative element.

       To fulfil these ends, agricu1ture as whole was often times in competition with and sometimes complementary to fishing and animal husbandry (of pigs), and self-sufficient agriculture was in competition with acquisition by exchange, as with the fish-markets of Malaita. The problems of choice were often decided by reference to limitations of resources in particular areas. Trade between Gela and Malaita for instance altered as the balance of resources altered – as Malaita became richer in coconuts, so the export of coconuts from Gela declined. The pattern of trade has not been investigated with authority, but it is quite extensive. Agriculture also competed with forest gathering – of nuts, roots, edible leaves, fibres and the like.

      Given the desire for agriculture, organisation.of activity was required. Here again we may observe the operation of competition and complementarity within a socially and environmentally determined framework. Techniques were simple but effective, permitting the use of land on the almost universal steeply sloping hil1aides. Large trees were felled by chopping and burning to prevent undue shade, but habits of shifting cultivation had reduced the stands of mature trees so that the task, though lengthy, was not as great as might be thought. Roots were left in the ground to hold the soil together — many of these quickly started to grow again. The main im1plements were shells for weeding, the well-known digging sticks forming holes. Certain signs, such as the budding of particular trees, provided indications of times for various operations to commence. Ritual incantations, prayers, and sacrifices were made at every stage. Most of these factors are an expression of technical knowledge and the interpretation of the unseen forces controlling or having an effect upon agricultural fortune. Such. knowledge and interpretation was passed on from generation to generation by upbringing, continual association with such activity, and by the lack of environmental factors which could indicate the possibility of anything else. Given these factors, the people could conceive of no substitute for the methods, which, so far as we know, were varied in direct proportion to the quantity of end—product desired (c).

(c)  An economist might object that diminishing returns would be expected. Diminishing returns are however largely a function of scarcity of the best resources, and except in limited areas I doubt if this principle applied in any great degree in the Solomon Islands.

       Agriculture was organised with reference to numerous social groups, of which we may distinguish groups of kin, local groups, and groups of friends. Working parties were seldom institutionalised – though Ivens reports named cooperating groups on U1awa – but the individuals cooperated very much according to circumstances. Clan members, village members, and friends would gather to help families prepare the garden ground, build houses, paddle canoes or go fishing. This often involved the leadership and direction of a village head. People were attracted to such cooperative work by the preference they had for group activity rather than isolated activity (though there were a few semi-hermits and introverts), by the joy of the feasts that accompanied such work, by the sense of achievement that resulted from the rapid progress made, and by affection for the family for whom they worked. An allied principle of great importance was that of reciprocity. Those who cooperated were often working off a debt they owed to the family for a similar service rendered to them in the past; or else they were creating a moral obligation for aid some time in the future – a truly native form of interest. Hogbin has given very clear accounts of the operation of reciprocity and the calculation of obligations as a factor governing advancement in material wealth and social prestige.

       The principles governing the use of land have been given hard1y any attention by investigators in the Solomons. There is no satisfactory account of the systems of land rights, though it would appear that overall rights were held by clans, where such groups existed, and immediate rights of usufruct by individuals. The importance of inheritance in transmitting wealth was diminished by the quantity of lend available, for those with less land could relatively easily extend the areas of cultivation, either in unclaimed land, or in land claimed only by the clan and not by individuals. Nevertheless, the fertility of 1and varies and the costs of production vary even more when the density of bush, distance from the village, steepness of slope, and availabi1ity of water, are taken into account. Certain property, such as sago palms, coconut trees, and nut groves, could be passed on after the death of the owner, and this, together with the specia1 character of the soil required for their growth, resulted in a certain inequality of wealth. This tendency was limited, at least in the case of coconut resources, by the destruction of some trees on death, but it must be admitted we have very little concrete evidence of the distribution of wealth.

        Let us now summarise the main characteristics of self—sufficient agriculture and the place of agriculture in socia1 life. Techniques were limited, but adequate to sustain traditional standards of demand on a relatively egalitarian basis. Production and consumption were relatively directly related, at least when compared with the speculative and round about character of production in our own society. Nevertheless, food was used for a variety of ends. In particular, it entered into ceremonial and was used in exchange designed to call  forth labour. The low standard of technique, the relative lack of capital resources, and the relative abundance of land prevented any gross inequalities of wealth, though some specific shortages and differences of individual capacity and will to work prevented society from being completely egalitarian. Indeed the close re1ation between standard of wealth and standard of work was reflected in the high prestige given to men of wealth, who became men of power. Agriculture was related to other social activities in several ways. It competed with them in satisfying ends, and it was undertaken as a complement to them: in one sense other activities and values limited and controlled agriculture (as with religious conceptions and preferences of organisation), and in another sense agriculture exercised a controlling influence upon them (as with political structure, or conception of potential wealth).

      Before going further we may ask if we can discern any elements of change existing in native society before its stimulation by Europeans. This is rather difficult because I cannot look back at things in a Melanesian manner and because no chronicler of change existed before the arrival of the Europeans. We can only make assumptions on a priori grounds. There are however a number of theoretical hypotheses that can be made and applied to both the pre—European and the post-European situation; and certain deductions can be drawn from them regarding subsistence economy.

        Let us define a state of socia1 equilibrium as a state of society in which patterns of activity (involving the means taken to satisfy ends and the statistical weight of various types of activity) is maintained. For a state of social equilibrium to exist, there must be present four factors: the ends adopted by individuals must appear to them to be mutually compatible; resources and knowledge of means, including their distribution, must be unchanging; given current resources and knowledge of means, potential ends (i.e. unsatisfied hopes and desires) must be brought as near as can be managed to satisfact1on; and effective ends (i.e. those actually satisfied) must be achieved with the maximum apparent efficiency (i.e. least sacrifice of alternative ends, resources and time). The greater the lack of adjustment in these factors the greater the state of dis-equilibrium. Further, men will tend. to adjust all factors except the rate of change of resources and knowledge of means in such way that a state of equilibrium will be re—established. (d)

(d) We must recognise here, as do economists when using an allied concept of equilibrium, that in our own society actual equilibrium is never achieved, though we can  discern tendencies towards it. No sooner does one action result in adjustments by other people than new conditions intervene to cause disturbance in other directions. In particular, knowledge of means is ever expanding.

            In Melanesian society we can discern a number of factors which, if the above hypotheses are true, must have resulted in dis-equilibrium and therefore change.  We may regard knowledge of means as relatively static, and, speaking for small community units, we can infer that ends were relatively compatible. We can say this on the assumption that pure invention is a rare occurrence, that the communities were sufficiently old for behaviour to become adjusted, and that there was relatively little contact with communities of radically different culture which would have increased the range of perception and new ideas. This was only relatively so, however. The prevalence of warfare indicated that, at least outside the smallest community units, ends were sometimes regarded as incompatible. Resources, being beyond the control of man in large degree must have changed from time to time, resulting in alteration of behaviour. Such changes would have included population trends, and the influence of weather in drought or times of excessive rain. Warfare itself must have resulted from time to time in changes in the relation of men to resources —— the land available to them, the size of the po1itical unit or social group, and so forth. Contact with other groups must have resulted in the perception of hitherto unknown ends, which were then available for adoption, becoming potential and perhaps effective, resulting in diffusion. Such alteration in ends, and alteration in resources, must have resulted. in further changes in means, as the pattern of means and ends, considered in terms of efficiency, would require new balances.

       These considerations must not be unduly laboured, but they should draw attention to the dynamic aspects of primitive society, so often mistakenly described as static..

The effects of European activity

      We are now In position to describe and interpret changes in agriculture which resulted from the presence of Europeans. European activity affected each of the four factors in equilibrium both directly and indirectly —— the indirect effect being traceable through the operation of competitive and complementary principles. We may consider these from the agricultural point of view.

      Ends, since they control activity, may first be examined. Observation in this field tends to support the view that the concrete form of ends changes, that the meaning given to ends changes as connotations alter in the new society, but that function in the sense of subjective purpose, of a new form is similar to that of the form replaced. They do not support the view that function, in the sense of inter—relations with other ends and activities (through competition or comp1ementarity), does not alter.

      To exemplify, in agrricu1ture there was considerable ritual activity, in part1cu1ar, prayers and offerings to the spirits during operations, and the sacrifice of first-fruits. Today Christian communities pray to God. for the success of gardens, and conduct harvest festivals. The concrete form of this activity has altered and so has its meaning in terms of synthesis of the new theology with old conceptions. The subjective purpose has not altered. But the inter-relations of the activity with other activity has altered pari passu with its form —— it calls into play a different religious organisation with different sanctions and methods of reward; it involves Church—building; it sometimes casts doubt upon the efficacy of certain spells in agriculture with  which it is in competition, and therefore in a complementary way upon certain spells in other activities; it places ritual power in the hands of a priest, thus partly removing it from those of the sorcerer and removing a part of the religious sanction supporting the secular authority of the headman, and so on.

      This does not, however, justify us in reaching the conclusion that the general ends of agricultural activity are the same, though the form my have changed and the effects be different. Let us trace each of the four factors in equilibrium in its direct and indirect effects at first limiting the argument to the period preceding the war.

      European activity was not directly incompatible with Melanesian agriculture, and thus no direct conflict arose in this field, and information is too vague to permit any precise description of indirect effects. We my note however that a large number of incompatible ends in other fields were solved by the use of po1itica1 force on the part of the Europeans and by secrecy and reserve on the part of the Melanesians —— thus head—hunting was put down, and men of the status of headman or chief  hid themselves from European eyes by means of puppet go—betweens. Though we have no direct descriptive evidence, this must have had indirect effects upon agriculture. For instance, the allocation of time must have altered when the cessation of head—hunting or the adminstrative enforcement of the maintenance of paths in considered. This competitive effect is matched by complementary effects such as the decline in feasts required for head—hunting, and therefore in agricultural demand.

      The effect of European activity upon resources and the knowledge of means will mainly be considered in relation to techniques and organisation, but we my record here the way in which connections with the great outside world opened up new choices, and broadened the range of agricultural goods possessed by the natives —— fruits, such as pineapple, and improved strains of pigs, dogs, and so on. Apart from this, however, we can assume that native resources —— in particular the avai1ability of land and labour —— on balance remained very much the same, though we will have more to say in connection with techniques and organisation.

      European activity had a very marked effect upon the range of ends and therefore upon the relation of potential ends to effective ends, and the efficient achievement of ends. Natives could choose activity not only be reference to former Melanesian patterns, but, added to these, there were ends interpreted from the actions of planters, traders, officials, and missionaries. These first took on the form of hopes and desires, and then as they became satisfied became effective demand. Sometimes activity was directly copied, as when Queensland labourers adopted clothing; sometimes it was inculcated, as when missionaries exacted the wearing of clothing, or when plantation labourers carried the taste for rice into the villages. The most significant thing about this, from our present point of view, is that agriculture became directly concerned with the achievement of such ends, in addition to those already existing, through the use of barter and money-exchange with traders. I think, moreover, that it is true to say that before the war there was fairly steady equilibrium achieved in this field. European living standards were not particularly high, and hence the range of possible desires presented to the natives was limited. It was a1so limited by the small range of goods kept in the stores, which hardly altered over fifty or sixty years. This conclusion may have to be modified if we find that the depression, and consequent decline in purchasing power, caused any frustration.

      At the same time we must take note of a number of indirect effects. The essential feature of this new range of ends was that it could be purchased for money, and although agriculture was an important earner of money, it was not the only one. The collection of copra and ivory nuts was rival1ed by fishing for trochus shell and beche-le-mer, and, above all, by the sale of labour to Europeans, particularly for European agr1culture which was in competition with the cash—crop element of native agriculture since the organsation available —~ mainly small  Chinese traders —~ was not able to pay a good price for village products, natives preferred on the whole to sell their labour to Europeans than produce themselves. This was in contrast to the New Hebrides, where there was about an equa1  balance between plantation labour and peasant agriculture; and New Caledonia, where few native labourers needed to work away from the village.

       We must also bear in mind the role of agricultural ends as a complement to and in competition with other ends. In contrast to labour-selling, agricultural ends were complementary to the satisfaction of those ends connected with village life. The sale of labour competed not only in the market with  the sale of peasant copra, but also involved a temporary break with the subsistence element of agriculture and all that went with it. Even if he remained in the village, a man had  to adjust his activity between cash-producing, and subsistence agriculture, house-building, Church attendance, festivals and the like.

      Given the new range of preferences, certain adjustments were necessary in the techniques and organisation of agriculture. In connection with resources, there has been a tendency towards increased competition for the ownership of resources and increased competition in the use of different kinds of resources, and different uses of the same resources. Compeetition of this kind is very largely a function of scarcity, however, and since pressure upon resources has not been great in the Solomons in re1ation to their availability, competition has not been great enough to involve any radical departure from old methods. One can however observe a number of tendencies. There is thus a tendency for individuals to extend their concepts of ownership of land. Not only to they require more land for cash crops, but land  not now in use may have a potential value if Europeans require it for plantations. Individuals are beginning to claim rights over virgin forest, while the rights of the clan decrease as it become less organised. Men must now decide whether they will use land for subsistence crops, cattle, or coconuts —— since pressure on resources is still slight, however, such questions may still be decided by reference to the quality of the land rather than the returns to be expected. Again, resources are so great that the decision whether to use coconuts for food or for copra is not yet of serious moment.

      By the time the war had broken out know1edge of appropriate techniques had not changed much either, again due to the fact that for most individuals there were other ways of earning cash than by agriculture. Melanesians were not hard pressed to it; traditional techniques —— almost haphazard growth of coconuts, smoke—drying, and digging—sticks for gardens —— were quite well adapted to securing the returns they required in relation to the effort. It is true that some individuals, impressed not only by monetary wealth but by the prestige of doing as the Europeans did, maintained their own neatly planted plantations and pastured cattle. But such individuals were rare. They gave an indication of the way activity might shape if motives were intensified, but were otherwise not significant.

      Nor have we any reason to believe that the organisation of agricultuure changed in any of its essentials. Labour teams continued to operate in the same manner, and the role of reciprocity was still important, even in connection with those natives who  copied European estates in their techniques. It is sometimes said that the introduction of money which could be earned by plantation labour altered the balance of wealth from the older people to the younger people; and therefore the structure of authority and leadership involving agricu1ture among other things, must have altered. It is true that there must have been some initial disturbance of the equilibrium, but it is also evident that by the outbreak of war there had been ample time for a return to the former structure, though based upon money rather then upon garden produce. Even in early days the accumulation of  wealth depended upon the energy of the young man, who could obtain wealth and therefore wives and therefore more wealth. Today the young man works for money, but this gain only provides the initial impetus in a dynamic situation. The young men of 1900 and 1910 have had time to acquire wea1th and the present status of elders —— it will be interesting to note if their children tend to inherit cash wealth in addition to other forms of capital such as shell—string ornaments, and whether the former egalitarian structure of society gives way to greater difference in inherited wealth.

      It might be thought that preoccupation with wage labour must have had some effect upon agriculture, if not through effects upon resources and organisation, at least through the altered balance of available time. If other things had been equal, this certainly would have been the case: men could have offered labour services only by sacrificing time spent on other things, including, agriculture. However, when we view native life as a whole, it is evident that time can be diverted from many other things. In agricu1ture itself, it is now no longer necessary to protect women from armed forays by enemies, and the felling of the bush with iron axes is a much shorter operation than heretofore. These savings are probably a little more than balanced by the loss of women and children’s work in monogamous households, though to decide upon this point we would have to know more about the degree to which friends and relatives respond. It is certain that for reasons unconnected with the supply of labour to plantations, the need for time has declined, and has permitted this supply without serious dislocation. In part this may be due to the moderate number of labourers required —— about one in thirty population — to the reduction in warfare, fishing, canoe—building (in some parts), handicrafts, some ritual activity (perhaps more than balanced by Church activity), and the like. It is pity however that we cannot measure time spent on these activities and the quantity of agricultural produce obtained over a long period of time.

      To sum up, the pattern of agricultural activity changed, but not in any great degree. “Subsistence” agriculture was retained, for, in terms of local organisation, income, and prices, it was the most efficient method of achieving the ends for which it was designed. “Cash—crops” were produced mainly as a by product of  subsistence agriculture, for the demand for money could be satisfied more easily through plantation  labour. It is incorrect to say that native agriculture was unprogressive and not competitive: considered in relation to possible alternatives, it served its purpose very well. We have no reason to suppose that, given an intensity of purpose for which it was not designed, it would not have changed. Indeed, we can observe something like this happening now, as a result of war—time experience.

Effects of the war

      The broad outlines of war-time activity are clear. The Japanese advanced as far south as Tulagi and Guadalcanal, and the main body of Europeans evacuated. Cash production came to a standstill. The Japanese remained only for a few months (except for some isolated pockets which were left until the surrender), and did not have any positive influence on the natives, who quickly learnt to distrust them. After the American counter-attack some fled into the bush where they looted gardens and killed most of the 1ivestock in such areas as Gela. The American and New Zealand occupation, by scores of thousands of troops, lasted for three years and had much more 1asting effects. A1though the main occupation was concentrated on Guadalcanal, Tulagi, the Russell Islands and New Georgia, troops frequently visited even the most outlying ports, while natives from these parts flocked to military areas whenever opportunity arose. Thus the effects of the occupation permeated through the whole group.

            This contact did not originate without mixed feelings for [they] are numerous. They had sometimes been told this by a few of the troops with anti-Imperial ideas. The British exacted prices through the trade stores which were not only contrasted with American and New Zealand generosity, but with pre—war prices, which were much lower. The trade stores only supplied goods which pandered to the bodily taste of the native, whereas many of them wanted substantial capital goods. In fairness to the administration, we must record that these conditions were largely outside their control, being governed by the supply policy of the United States Corporation. Finally, the administration, with an eye to postwar conditions, refused to increase wages, which, though slightly higher than pre-war, did not correspond to price levels, and were  not nearly competitive with prices offered by troops on the black-market or by private individuals in the New Hebrides.

        The most spectacular result of these and other factors was the organisation of a political movement expressing native frustrations, which I have described elsewhere. But there are special implications for agriculture and lessons to be learnt for its post-war organisation. We may now turn to the examination of these.

Implications of the Post-war Situation

        The present situation has the following chief characteristics. Except for a small survey party on Guadalcanal and occasiona1 naval visits, troops have left the area. European planting companies have returned, but not on the pre-war scale. They are however interested in obtaining labour on the basis of £1 per month plus keep. The price to be obtained for copra f.o.b. is £40 to £50 a ton, higher than ever before (e). There are

(e)   These Solomons figures however compare unfavourably with the New Hebrides, where wages are £4 to £6 per month and copra reached a peak last year of  £70.

considerable internal and external transport difficulties, partly met by occasional shipping from overseas under the control of one of the large trading firms operating widely in the Pacific, and by unscheduled inter-island trips by small government vessels. Although there are signs that copra production has been increasing in recent months, available figures show a serious collapse by comparison with pre-war years. Before the war the Solomons constituted one of the chief copra-producing areas in the Pacific, exporting about 20,000 tons annually. During the war, no copra was produced, but employment more than doubled. Since the war copra is produced at a rate of 1,500 tons annually, about 1/13th the pre-war figure. This does not mean that employment has fallen to 1/13th the prewar figure, because presumably numbers will still be engaged in rehabilitation work, while government services have increased considerably. But it does indicate a considerable loss of income to the Protectorate.

        This tremendous slump following upon such stimulating boom is bound to have significance for the future of the economy. Even if we neglect the obvious political danger signs, we can deduce the nature of this from our general hypotheses. We can begin by putting on one side direct effects upon resources: since there is no activity of any moment there is no significant pressure upon them. On the other hand there has been advance in technical knowledge among some natives, who have learnt the elements of driving, vehicle maintenance, carpentry, and the like. This advance has not been thorough enough or widespread enough to involve a real understanding of mechanical techniques, but it has, in conjunction with the sight and handling of mechanical contrivances, whetted the appetite for more. It is not safe to assume that techniques have been properly inculcated, but it is clear that the ground has been prepared for their teaching.

        It is in the realm of ends that causes of dynamic change and disequilibrium have  been laid. From my contact with the Masinga Rule political movement I would say that it is quite clear that the natives are now conscious of number of competing ends which they regard as incompatible. These apparent conflicts are not equal in all parts; they are perhaps greatest in Malaita, strong in San Cristoval and Guadacanal, and weak in the Western Solomons,

        They take number of forms. First, there is the belief that the European is with-holding advance from the native, as I have already indicated. This means that European ends are conceived as being necessarily incompatible with native ends, the basis of mutual confidence is removed, and it is difficult for policy to be effected. Secondly, those natives who, for one reason or another, do not subscribe to these views, or who do not actively support the programme of the Masinga Rule, are regarded as being in opposition. It is no exaggeration to say that the Solomon Islanders are split on the issues involved. Thirdly, there is the conflict between desire for Westernisation and the adoption of European artifacts, and the dislike of Europeans, a conflict which is expressed through jealousy and a great deal of confusion. Fourthly, there is the conflict between the desire for goods, if possible free, the necessity for obtaining money to buy a smaller range of goods, and the dislike of going to work away from the villages to earn low wages. This conflict is expressed in division within Masinga Rule —— I am told for instance that leaders have offered to sell out for a consideration at various times, and that poorer peop1e, pressed for money, have wanted to earn wages, restrained only by political pressure.

      All these conflicts are I think capable of resolution by various means, at 1east in theory if not in practice. What is certain is that society will remain in a seething, even dangerous condition until they are resolved. The direct practical measurea must be left to the administration (f), but we can suggest the kind

(f)  Arrests have been made, but such action only touches the immediate problem and does nothing to resolve the long—term economic conflict.

of solution that could be considered. The accusation that Europeans are with—ho1ding advance can perhaps be countered by  rapid advance in education, by taking natives to Austra1i and New Zealand so that they can appreciate the magnitude of the technical problems that have to be faced, and by inducing as high a standard of living as is possible. I can suggest no solution to the second problem of split in native society itself — this is a problem of political organisation and the moulding of a colonial loyalty rather than sectarian loyalties. The third problem can be resolved only if the natives can be given a greater measure of economic power in the v1llages, thus decreasing the necessity for wage-labour, and by increasing both wages and the range of goods they can buy. This appltes also the solution of the fourth aspect of conflict.

      It is more than probable that such measures, if practicable, will even then not wholly remove the dynamic effects inherent in the present situation. They cannot go the whole distance in making ends compatible, or in equating potential ends with effective demand. We must indeed regard Solomon Island society today in very much the same light as our own. Solomon Islanders like ourselves, have become acquainted with the vast possibilites of modern industry. Whereas heretofore the things they could buy with their income appeared to be limited, today they appear to be limitless. This does not mean that they will expend limitless energy to achieve limitless ends: leisure, village life, and so forth are still important ends and must be balanced in the native view with the advantages to be derived from the purchase of  manufactures. Hitherto during the war these have been obtained at -a cost of next to nothing; this will not happen again, even though the Malaita people have built warehouses in expectation of the arrival of the millennium, and it will be interesting to note just how elastic is the native demand for these things.

      This raises the problem of economic efficiency, We have noted from time to time the great diversity of competing ends in Solomon Island society – many derived from ancient times, others originating In recent times. Agriculture, and its different forms, must be judge by the degree to which it satisfies some among these ends, and at what sacrifice of alternatives. Only upon such judgment can successful policy be based.

      It is my contention that native village agriculture will satisfy native ends far more fully and at less social cost than most forms of plantation agriculture; though this might not be true if the processing of secondary products became reality. Peasant agriculture enables full participation in village life, the adjustment of the calendar to local needs, the adoption of economic organisation in native patterns, and the desired balance between subsistence and cash-crop agriculture. It may be contended that this was true in pre-war years, but that natives chose to work on plantations instead. But now the balance has moved in the opposite direction. Village life was sacrificed enough during the war. Standards of purchasing power are higher — people will not work except for a higher income. The question is, can peasant copra production be organised to provide higher returns, and can rather more expensive capital goods be introduced to provide the required rewards? These questions I have discussed elsewhere (23) and I will be content here with drawing attention to the problem.

      The question of efficiency is also very relevant in considering crops alterntaive to copra. An instance of this is the rice—growing scheme recently introduced by the Agricultural Department. Rice stands high in native estimation: Melanesians have previously been willing to pay high prices for it, and have been accustomed to it as a chief food on plantations. It was not grown in native  agriculture largely because most were ignorant that it could be grown, and one or two attempts had failed for technical reasons. During the war a large-scale rice-growing scheme was started by the Agricultural Department on Guadalcanal, which impressed the natives with its possibilities, and in several areas, with administrative encouragement, native plots have been started. This however involves a radical departure from old techniques. Not only does the rice use some of the best land, but it involves painstaking gathering and intricate methods of despatch to government stations for husking, while returns vary considerably.

      I have not heard whether the scheme is in fact a success. But we can predict a number of problems that are bound to occur. If rice is still available in stores and if natives have the income to pay for it, the purchase of rice will compete with its growing, and, especially since purchase is easy, growing may not become habit. This possibility might be countered by the presentation of a wider range of goods in the stores, providing competition for the limited amount of money available. Again, it is quite possible that if copra production becomes more profitable in the villages through government organisation, natives will abandon rice cultivation for copra making, since otherwise they would presumably have to sacrifice leisure.

      This is not in the least to suggest that the  introduction of rice has been a mistake. On the contrary, the above questions of balance are likely to be decided differently in different areas and success in some can be anticipated. The balance achieved  will depend upon such factors as the relative availability of copra-producing and rice-producing land (and subsistence crop land), the relative efficiency of the organisations set up to buy or process copra and rice, on the communications between stores and villages, on the time available for agricultural pursuits. But these questions do indicate that successful production is an economic question rather than a technical one, though technical considerations play their part in deciding the economic balance. Moreover, the successful production of new crops on an experimental farm is no indication of its possible adoption by the native community: one must consider, social and financial costs and the availability of resources locally.


        The description of agricultural change in the Solomons has necessarily been brief and lacking in detail. This is largely because anthropological field workers have not been primarily interested in problems of economic choice. It has not been my purpose however to present finely worked out and incontrovertable conclusions. Rather, I hope, I have indicated that economics — which is something very different from technological description — has its part to play in the study of culture change; that socio-economic problems are of primary importance both in field work and for administrative action; that present-day, and even early, Solomon Island society is and has been a competitive one within its sociological framework; and that the present problems of these islands are of considerable significance for anthropology.

Cyril. S. Belshaw