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Incorporating the Archipelago: The Imposition and Acculturation of the Solomon Islands State


Shaped by the intertwining effects of foreign imposition and local acculturation, the transformation of the southwestern Pacific archipelago into the Solomon Islands state is an entangled and on-going narrative of incorporation. Beginning in the colonial imagination, the territorial consolidation of the islands through imperial cartography, imprinted the archipelago on European maps paving the way for the triad of colonization, missionization, and modernization. Contraposed against diverse indigenous cultures, the imposition of European socio-political and religious ideologies reframed local customs as deficient, initiating what has been an enduring process of reforming the people to fit the global imagination of the West. Inculcating a discourse of dysfunction, this self-disparaging characterization shapes local perception of the Solomon Islands encountered in even the most mundane aspects of everyday life including discussions about potholes. Regularly reaffirmed by anti-corruption initiatives, conservation efforts, government strengthening programs, and contemporary failed state discourse, the incorporation has imposed a quasi-benevolent project of reformation, turning the archipelago into a problem in constant need of solving. While the oppressive forces of imposition have been substantial, the people of the islands have played their own role in the formation of the Solomon Islands state via processes of local sense-making through acculturation. Newfound agency, emerging in some cases from the dissolution of customary socio-religious patterns, has provided local people opportunities to pragmatically incorporate aspects of imposed systems enabling engagement on culturally relevant terms. From reconfiguring political participation to reappropriating negative stereotypes, indigenous people have begun to transform the Solomon Islands state to reflect their contemporary Pacific Island realities. Moving beyond the label ‘failed state’, my project has aimed to understand how the state is variably and diversely manifested through multifaceted processes of incorporation, where political relations and negotiations embodied in politicians and revealed through everyday lived experiences transform the archipelago into the Solomon Islands.

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