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Changing Contexts, Shifting MeaningsTransformations of Cultural Traditions in Oceania$
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Elfriede Hermann

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780824833664

Published to Hawaii Scholarship Online: November 2016

DOI: 10.21313/hawaii/9780824833664.001.0001

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Naming and Memory on Tanna, Vanuatu

Naming and Memory on Tanna, Vanuatu

(p.141) Naming and Memory on Tanna, Vanuatu
Changing Contexts, Shifting Meanings

Lamont Lindstrom

University of Hawai'i Press

This chapter investigates notions of time and history on Tanna—an island in today's Vanuatu—as these inform island-naming practices. Tanna's personal and toponym systems are intimately connected. Each personal name cues some particular place, and vice versa. Recycled personal and place names suggest a static temporality, but there is a tension on Tanna between stasis and cycles, on the one hand, and change on the other—a tension between eternity and history. Enlightenment understandings of progressive time began to leach into Tanna from 1774 onwards, when Cook arrived with a ship's calendar. But one can also discern in island myth and cosmology other concepts of revolutionary time and social transformation that flank more static notions of timeless social reproduction. Expectations of historical transformation, therefore, are not necessarily exogenous to the island. On one level, the system pretends to eternal stasis and continual social reproduction—the same places, the same people, endure from century to century. On another level, however, history may rewrite eternity. People reinvent themselves and their island by inscribing new names (on their land and on themselves) which remark and memorialize novel and unique historical events that themselves then become part of stereotypically reproduced island memory.

Keywords:   Tanna, island naming, Vanuatu, toponym, island memory, names

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