Preparations of yam gardens on Tanna. Photo by Loop Pacific

James Flexner discusses how non-hierarchical anarchy prevailed over centralisation in southern Vanuatu.

In this essay, about the islands of southern Vanuatu, which presents an alternative to the traditional Western Civilisation narrative, James Flexner explores the ways that a 5,000 year history of domestication, island colonisation, and agricultural practices contributed to the anti-hierarchical nature of Island Melanesian societies. Chiefly status in southern Vanuatu derived from mass gifting of agricultural surpluses during competitive feasting events, which limited possibilities for the establishment of permanent hierarchies.

James Flexner is senior lecturer in historical archaeology at the University of Sydney. He is a member of the Black Trowel Collective group of anarchist archaeologists. His books include Archaeologies of Island Melanesia (co-edited with Mathieu Leclerc, and Community-Led Research: Walking New Pathways Together (co-edited with Victoria Rawlings and Lynette Riley), which are both available as a free download/Open Access.

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