Crawford House Publishing
Nokonofo Kitea We Keep on Living This Way


This volume is centered on five stories and two songs from the Polynesian outlier community of West Futuna, Vanuatu and aims to accomplish three goals: found a secular literature, celebrate and interpret the verbal arts, and connect ancestral discourses with the complex fabric of present-day human lives.

The volume represents an unusual collaboration between foreign anthropologist and Pacific islander. Every facet of the work is shaped by our interaction. Texts were selected and translations emerged in an extended dialogue addressing literacy, audience diversity and relevance. These issues introduce the volume. Our narrative interpretations remain dialogic throughout the book reflecting our varying perspectives, sometimes melded, sometimes intermingled and sometimes in conflict.

Theoretical vantage points from which to contemplate the West Futuna verbal arts combine indigenous and western perspectives. Local wisdom highlights the relations between surface utterances and underlying messages, and emphasises the potency of metaphor enabling people to speak their minds while shielding their intentions. Our analysis links these ideas with western intellectual traditions to pursue relations between the said and the unsaid, centre texts within imaginal and real contexts, and unravel figurative tropes. We are pointed to connections among narrative, persons and places by West Futuna cultural conventions that bear out western scholarship linking landscape and discourse. Following these leads we foreground the dynamic sense of belonging derived from narrative productions and reproductions of locale.

The selected texts provide a rare window on personal and social struggles characterising the 19th and early 20th centuries. Cultural geography and the cosmological realm are created in the tales. Gender roles, marriage, residence, exchange and alliance are interrogated therein. Gluttony and conservation are juxtaposed. Earliest evangelism is critiqued. And the homeland is ambiguously valued as secure yet confining while the horizon attracts yet endangers those who would travel. It is such themes we argue that have the power to touch the lives of islanders today for whom dilemmas of the past resonate in ongoing experience. Through the collected narratives we envision a principled place for ancestral insights in transforming present social conditions associated with migration, urban development, nationalism and globalisation and in sponsoring conversations about the future.


Janet Dixon Keller received her doctorate in Anthropology at University of California, Berkeley, in 1975. Janet is currently Professor of Anthropology at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and has been engaged in research with the community of West Futuna, Vanuatu intermittently over thirty years. Takaronga Kuautonga is a staff member and fieldworker for the Vanuatu Cultural Centre. From the West Futuna community himself, he has studied with the elders, recorded local events and developed cultural exhibits for the National Museum.

Collaboration on this project began in 1998.

Cover image © by W.R. Dougherty


Janet Dixon Kellor & Takaronga Kuatonga


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b/w illustations, maps


Hard cover, jacket, 284pp


240 x 155mm



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