Stones in Motion: monuments and chiefly title histories in central Vanuatu

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    This paper addresses the ways in which stones have anchored stories and people in central Vanuatu. Three different sets of stones, and stories about those stones, cast light from different angles on the history of the distinctive chiefly title system of this region. The first set revolves around the fulcrum of Wotanimanu, a pillar of stone that rises from the sea between Efate and the Shepherd Islands. This is the figure of a chief who arrived on Efate by sea, accompanied by his “stones” or people. Senior chiefly titles of this region, which draw on lengthy histories of migration, ground their narrative and genealogical claims in the proof of a second set of stones, including grave markers, magic stones, and arrangements of stones in series that stand for successive holders of each title. The third set of stones and stories was initiated by the first resident Presbyterian missionary in the Shepherd Islands, Oscar Michelsen, who acknowledged the importance attached locally to history by setting up a series of stelae to commemorate the conversion of individual chiefs. The paper concludes with thoughts on the agency and mobility of stone in the Shepherd Islands, and the ways in which stones give substance to chiefly power.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)20-32
    JournalArchaeology in Oceania
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2023


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