Little People, Ghosts and the Anthropology of the Good

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    Abstract

    Ethnographers in Oceania and elsewhere often hear talk about ghosts and mythical little people who have great strength and magical qualities. Two analytical temptations are to dismiss talk about such figures as delusional or to see them as tokens of an expansively defined "hauntology". This article, however, attempts to bring together ghosts and little people in a more analytically productive way, asking how they serve as both figures in history and figures of history. The recent work of Joel Robbins on an "anthropology of the good" is drawn upon as a key resource. Robbins argues that anthropologists used to be committed to the principle that human diversity is extensive and profound, but that in the wake of critiques of the culture concept and ethnographic writing, many scholars have lost certainty that otherness matters. As a result, many anthropologists have sought out the "suffering subject", seeing trauma as a universal human experience that perhaps exceeds cultural contouring. In response, Robbins suggests a new focus on topics such as value, morality, time and hope, topics which-while not denying the reality of trauma, nor discounting the ability of anthropologists to study trauma effectively-allow us to find new promise in difference. This article describes Fijian ghost stories and talk about veli, mythical little people, and offers an analysis of them as alternative perspectives on the morally marked relationship between past and present. Ghosts are a socially disconnected subclass of spirits that mark suffering and loss. Veli (and other autochthonous spiritual figures) are signs of indigenous strength that endures and can win out, even as their non-Christian associations make the promising power they offer also somewhat dangerous.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)11-32
    JournalJournal of the Polynesian Society
    Volume125
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2016

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