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Urbanisation in Mélanésie (for the JS0)

Christine Jourdan and Lamont Lindstrom

Melanesians increasingly live in cities and towns. Census data are slippery, but estimates put Port Moresby's population at over 400,000; Honiara at 80,000; and Port Vila at 45,000.  Ethnically complex Nouméa (175,000) and Suva (90,000) feature diverse mixes of indigenous and immigrant communities. Anthropologists, too, in recent years have moved into Melanesian towns, either following migrants who leave their village homes behind, or conducting ethnography in dilating urban and peri-urban settlements. Urban anthropology in Melanesia dates back to Cyril Belshaw's 1957 study of Hanuabada, and to early surveys of peri-urban communities like Hohola (Oeser 1969) and Maat-Efate (Tonkinson 1964), and ethnographic interest in Melanesian urbanity is growing along with the region's cities and towns.

Town organization and culture are European imports, with deep colonial roots. Melanesian urbanity, however, is increasingly shaped by local sociocultural systems, particularly as citizens have repopulated towns following national independence. This is true of old colonial cities, and also of post-colonial new towns (e.g., Tanna's Blakman Taon), some of which are developing rapidly around the sites of former colonial outposts.

This collection provides comparative analyses of urbanity throughout Melanesia.   We are interested in two aspects of this development:

1) continuing associations between city and hinterland, where the village flows into the town, and vice versa, carried along by the ebb and flow of urban migration;

2) new forms of urbanity that towns allow or demand, including new arrangements of time and space.

These include transformations of family and kindred, expanding social networks, wage employment and other economic challenges, inventive petty economics, rentiers and incipient class development, new forms of political organization (e.g., taon jifs), and closer connection with police and other state authorities, religious innovation, sorcery panic and reaction to inequality and community discord, transformation of marriage custom, language losses and gains, better access to global culture via education, the media, mobile phones, and the Internet, innovative urban entertainment and diversion, new youth cultures with fresh musical, linguistic, and sartorial styles, intergenerational conflict, and urban rephrasing of tradition for a variety of audiences, including state authorities, children, and tourists.

Each Melanesian city or town is distinctive with its own particular history and conditions. But each also faces broadly similar demographic and economic challenges. The collection offers a comparative snapshot of accelerating island urbanity-how the city is Melanesianized.

For more details, please contact:

Christine Jourdan ( or

Lamont Lindstrom (