Honiara is Hard: The Domestic Moral Economy of the Kwara'ae People of Gilbert Camp

  • Rodolfo Maggio

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis concentrates on the Kwara'ae people of a peri-urban settlement named Gilbert Camp. Originally from Malaita (hom), they migrate and settle in Honiara, capital city of Solomon Islands. They articulate their condition in relation to two sets of value oppositions. The first opposes hom as their primitive, isolated, and hopeless province of origin; and Honiara as the modern, all-promising, all-fulfilling arrival city. The second juxtaposes hom as the epitome of unity, cooperation, and sameness, where life is easy; and Honiara as the place where diversity, competition, and separation reign, and life is hard. The Kwara'ae people leave hom and settle in Honiara because they value what lacks in the former and can be found in the latter. But in Honiara they despise some of the things they must confront, and miss what they can have at hom but not in Honiara. For these reasons, they repeatedly declare, "Honiara is hard" (Honiara hemi had).However, rather than interpreting their statements about life in town as the symptom of a negative evaluation, I try to capture the extent to which the Kwara'ae people of Gilbert Camp value their urban life in a positive way. The starkest illustration of their commitment to town life is in their daily efforts to deal with the tensions over the meaning and use of their values in the urban context. I analyse these tensions, challenges, and negotiations in a series of ethnographically grounded case studies.In a peri-urban village of a shrinking Pacific economy where there is a general disproportion between income and mouths to feed, a tension between the priorities of kinship and the need to make ends meet is almost inevitable. Secondly, the confusion surrounding the issue of land causes tensions concerning how land must be dealt with. There is also a tension between customary and state law, and between historical and recent forms of Christianity. Kwara'ae people use their creativity and cultural knowledge to find viable solutions to these tensions, which I argue is an illustration of how much they try to live according to their values on the outskirts of Honiara.It follows that the statement "Honiara is hard" indicates the measure of their efforts, of how intensely they want to live in Honiara according to their values, rather than the measure of how much they want to go back hom. This interpretation has important implications for the anthropology of urban Melanesia. Previous urban ethnographies in Solomon Islands emphasised the reproduction of hom values, rather than the creation of a new hom through the manipulation of contemporary cultural logics. Although the former approach coheres with negative evaluations of the urban context, it does not account for why people leave a place where life is "easy", and settle in a place where it is "hard". In contrast, an approach emphasising the hom-making process inherent in daily value negotiations reveals the contingent, unpredictable, and contested construction of the sense of homeliness with which Kwara'ae people are turning Gilbert Camp into their new hom.
Date of Award1 Aug 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorKaren Sykes (Supervisor)


  • Land
  • Value
  • Economy
  • Morality
  • Pentecostalism
  • Malaita
  • Kwara'ae
  • Melanesia
  • Solomon Islands
  • Domestic Moral Economy

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