1996 Copenhagen Conference

Pacific Peoples in the Pacific Century

Copenhagen, 13-15 December 1996


Dear colleagues,

The theme of this conference, as indicated by the title, concerns some of the most important issues of our time, the problem of the relationships between rapid political economic change, human dislocation and resistance, and large-scale ecological change. These linked phenomena are particularly well exemplified in the Pacific which is in the process of becoming the center of the world economy. Massive economic changes are occuring in Southeast and East Asia and large scale flows of capital are crossing the Pacific Ocean. These processes have tremendous effects in the Pacific Basin, or Oceania, covering Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia and Australia. The political, social, cultural and ecological changes in the lives of the peoples in this region is the primary focus of this conference.

In Europe as elsewhere there has been a growing public discussion of the possible long term environmental consequences of over- exploitation of the natural environment in the Pacific. There has, however, been less discussion of the way in which economic and environmental changes have affected local social situations. There is a clear reaction to these changes in many of the movements for cultural and political autonomy, local resistance to foreign control, the formation of new nation states and increasing ethnic conflict. This complex situation necessitates increased cooperation among specialists in Pacific history, society, culture and human ecology. The dominance of anthropologists in such meetings may be a demographic fact, but it is one that will hopefully give way to a more interdisciplinary arena, especially where questions such as the present and future of the Pacific are at issue.

The Pacific has been an experimental zone for theoretical anthropology and archaeology because its vast “sea of islands” could be used to study social change in what were thought to be isolates. This view has been overturned by a contrasting perspective in which the sea is not a barrier but a bridge (Hau’ofa). It is, however, precisely this vast network of interconnectedness stretching over thousands of miles that renders the Pacific a fragile place. For Pacific islanders this is a crucial problem, in the past as in the present, and it is of utmost importance that their contribution to the European Society of Oceanists be made a permanent part of its organization.

This conference is aimed at bringing together valuable insights provided by regional and thematic specialist studies. It is also important to make local understandings part of the European understanding of the world, not as a way of incorporating indigenous voices into academic knowledge, but in order to create a real dialogue and synthetic discussion. This dialogue is very much needed in a world of islands in this era where processes of economic and ecological change take place with great rapidity and force, causing social instability and fragmentation on the local level.

The number of members of the European Society for Oceanists is still growing. Since the last conference in 1994 more than 130 new members have joined the Society and as of this printing we have a total of 370 members. The size of the conferences seems to have reached a steady level; at the time of print we expect a total number of participants around 200 and we have received titles and abstracts of 106 papers (see the following pages for titles and abstracts).

We are happy that so many have responded to our call for papers, but this also means that the program is tight. We still hope, however, that you will be able to find time between the keynote lectures and working sessions to make new contacts and catch up with old ones in more informal ways. The registration room in the National Museum will be open every day during the conference. This is also where the participants can display their publications, information material, etc. and where the coffee breaks will be held.

We in the Scandinavian organizing committee welcome you all in Copenhagen and we hope you will have a pleasant and fruitful stay.


Jonathan Friedman, University of Lund, Sweden

Jukka Siikala, University of Helsinki, Finland

Bente Wolff, The National Museum of Denmark and University of Copenhagen

Edvard Hviding, University of Bergen, Norway

Ulla Hasager, University of Hawai’i and University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Jari Kupiainen, University of Joensuu, Finland

Steen Bergendorff, University of Copenhagen, Denmark


Marie Louise Hansen-Hoeck and Kristian Morville University of Copenhagen


This conference could not have been held without the generous financial support of:

The Danish Research Council for the Humanities; the Danish Council for Development Research; The Institute of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen; and The Research Council of Norway, Division of Environment and Development; The Swedish Research Council for the Humanities; The Academy of Finland; The National Museum of Denmark

We wish to express our gratitude to the secretarial and technical staff at the National Museum of Denmark; the Institute of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen; and The University of Bergen, Norway. We thank the students from the Institute of Anthropology for their help during the conference. Furthermore, we also thank Kirsten Hastrup and Michael Whyte, former and present, respectively, department heads of the Institute of Anthropology; Torben Lundbæk, head of the Ethnographic Department at the Danish National Museum; and Olaf Olsen and Steen Hvass, former and present Danish State Antiquarians, for their enthusiasm, cash and in-kind support from the very start; as well as Helge Schultz-Lorentzen and the rest of the Secretariat of Greenland, Copenhagen for in-kind support. Finally, but not least, we are grateful to Flemming Johansen, director of the Glyptotek, for giving us access to such pleasant surroundings for the conference opening.