Anuta: A Sustainable Social Structure?


In the third series on islands, the next island is the tiny island of Anuta in the Polynesian region of the Pacific Ocean. Anuta is in the Eastern Solomon Islands and is a volcanic “high island” that has a maximum height of 65 metres above sea level. A high island is rather ambiguous in it’s description; it is not necessarily very high as in the case of Anuta. Typically there is a volcanic origin and there is a water supply that benefits the local population. The island is very remote, and due to the tiny size, has a very high population density. It has a diameter of around 750 metres and has a population of around 300 people. This tiny area means that people live in very close proximity here.

Social structures reflect the close proximity that is a necessity on a tiny island. According to the encyclopaedia there are three main types of groups. In increasing order of inclusiveness, these are the patongia, kainanga (clans), and kanopenua. Members are recruited to these groups on the basis of patrilineal descent and aropa (positive feelings as expressed through economic support and cooperation). The patongia is the basic domestic unit and then there are four kainanga, each of which consists of a group of patongia that trace descent through a line of males to a founder about nine generations ago. Kanopenua is the entire population which includes long-term visitors to the island who have been incorporated into one of the patongia. This is a very co-operative society that seems to welcome visitors.

Aropa is a concept for giving and sharing, roughly translated as compassion, love and affection. Aropa informs the way Anutans treat one another and it is demonstrated through the giving and sharing of material goods such as food. For example, the land on Anuta is shared among the family units so that each family can cultivate enough food to feed themselves and those around them.

Gardens on Anuta are vital for feeding the islanders. Each patongia is responsible for the production and maintenance of their hill top gardens. The rich volcanic soils grow the main crops: manioc, taro and bananas. Manioc is a Cassava or tuberous, hardy root crop. Taro, the most highly valued crop, is another root vegetable but is fragile so needs care and attention to ensure its growth. Manioc provides the Anutans with a food store in times of storm or drought. Crop rotation is practiced on Anuta; fields are rarely left fallow and crops are rotated so not exhaust the soil. This way of farming is one of the most intensive, and sustainable, in the whole of the Pacific: it has to support the dense population of the island. The Kanopenua bury cooked manioc or taro in what is termed a maa pit. The buried food can be used in case of an emergency such as a storm: patongia bury food in widely distributed maa pits.

Anuta shows that close cooperation can work well: it is a sustainable long-term approach that benefits all of the society. The local population use Aropa to allow a sustainable approach where each person shares resources. The population is resilient by planning for natural disasters that may destroy crops.

Further references about Anuta can be found here:
1. Wikipedia
2. BBC Tribe


About mappedit

Geographical practitioner with an interest in climate change, open mapping, sustainability, the transition movement, transport and many other things.
This entry was posted in Islands, Population, Resources, Sustainable Development. Bookmark the permalink.

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