Standards of Gender Equality Are Assessment

Excerpt from Assessment :

(2003, p. 136)

Other manifestations of kastom also indicate the concept's gender-related impact on a modern Pacific state. For example, Gregor and Tuzin (2001) cite the kastom communities of South Pentecost as a good example of how male-dominated societal practices have been used to maintain the status quo. Described by Gregor and Tuzin as "a tiny traditionalist enclave in a pervasively Christian country," these authors report that "there are still tenacious patterns of sexual segregation -- exclusivist men's houses, or mal, separate from the household im and commensal separation therein, with men's and women's cooking fires" in South Pentecost (2001, p. 178). These long-held beliefs that have assigned Vanuatun men the long end of the social stick have somewhat morphed the original kastom concept into a more modern version that remains centered on protected the status quo. In this regard, Gregor and Tuzin emphasize that, "Such gendered patterns of spatiality were attacked by Christian missionaries and abandoned by most ni -- Vanuatu decades ago. But even in traditionalist villages -- because of young men departing as indentured and later wage laborers to plantations and towns, the intrusions of commodity values, and the influences of a colonial and now an independent state -- we witness a transformed and perhaps more trenchant form of male domination" (2001, p. 179).

By contrast, some progress has been made in overcoming kastom's lingering effects. In Papua New Guinea, for example, Scaglion (2003) reports that, "Traditional customs (called kastom) have been largely replaced by a belief in komuniti (community), an envisaged state of modernity not yet attained" (p. 224). The process taking place in New Guinea appears to be pragmatically inspired and is directly related to economic and social needs. In this regard, Scaglion notes that, "Village discourse on change now contrasts kastom with komuniti, which has become a symbol for desired economic and social development. Feeling increasingly marginalized, villagers have tamed to a variety of strategies for improving their condition" (2003, p. 224).

These developmental strategies have included various entrepreneurial endeavors as well as new religious practices, but the results have been mixed and largely ineffectual (Scaglion 2003). As Scaglion points out, "Development has been elusive, and people are still searching for new strategies and new frames of orientation. Despite the current distaste for 'tradition,' those business ventures that have been most successful seem to have capitalized on longstanding patterns of reciprocity and exchange" (2003, p. 224). The incremental process that is required in order to overcome long-standing kastom practices that is playing out in New Guinea may mirror those that will be required elsewhere in the Pacific state where kastom remains a powerful influence. For instance, Scaglion concludes that, "At the same time, many villagers believe that a residual implicit customary habitus is impeding progress towards modernity, although most explicit manifestations of traditional cultural patterns have been abandoned" (2003, p. 224). While Troost (2000) also identified non-kastom villages in New Guinea, he also identified many that remained adamantly tied to the "traditional ways" in response to continuous outside influences. For instance, according to Troost, "Missionaries, traders, planters, colonists, soldiers, tourists, and the international aid community have turned more than a few islands into places where the inhabitants seem adrift -- tethered neither to the modern world of strip malls and stock markets nor to the old one of storytelling and cash-free ways" (2000, p. 2629). In some cases, this response has created the perfect environment for using the "traditional ways" to justify male-dominated practices in ways that are difficult or impossible for women to refute. For instance, Troost notes that, "Yakel is one of several villages on the island to have forsaken modernity entirely. Its people live according to the dictates of kastom, or 'the old ways,' in which religion, tradition, and the harvest are intertwined" (2000, p. 2629). With little or no contact with the outside world, it is interesting to note how these different villages in the same country have responded to the modernity forces of the 21st century, with some withdrawing entirely into a kastom-driven world while others have embraced gender-equality from a strictly pragmatic perspective based on economic needs. In many cases, a gradual and incremental process is being used to replace kastom with more enlightened approaches to gender equality. Despite this progress, though, it is readily apparent that kastom will likely remain a highly influential social force in some parts of the modern Pacific state for the foreseeable future.


The research showed that when it comes to painting the modern Pacific state in any fashion, a very broad brush is required. This was particularly the case with the effects of kastom on inhibiting contemporary standards of gender equality in the modern Pacific state. Some regions of the state were found to be mired in the male-dominated "traditional ways" that did in fact adversely affect the ability of women to gain gender equality, while in others there was a gradually process underway to replace these outmoded institutions. Indeed, in the highly urbanized major cities of the modern Pacific state, it is reasonable to suggest that the influence of kastom is highly limited, nonexistent or even purposely ignored. While it would be shortsighted to conclude that kastom will prevent women from gaining gender equality in the modern Pacific state, the research was consistent in showing that it is going to take some time to do so.


Colchester, C. 2003 Clothing the Pacific. Oxford, England: Berg.

Gregor, T.A. & Tuzin, D. 2001 Gender in Amazonia and Melanesia: An Exploration of the Comparative Method. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Kapferer, B. 2003 Beyond Rationalism: Rethinking Magic, Witchcraft, and Sorcery. New York:

Berghahn Books.

Rodman, M.C. 1987 Masters of Tradition: Consequences of Customary Land Tenure in Longana, Vanuatu. Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia Press.

Scaglion, R. 2003 'Kastom or Komuniti: A Study of Social Process and Change among the Wam


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