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In light of the ongoing political events in the Pacific the book Chiefs Today: Traditional Pacific Leadership and the Postcolonial State may be of interest. It explores some of the dynamics that are behind current developments.

Chiefs Today: Traditional Pacific Leadership and the Postcolonial State, edited by Geoffrey M. White and Lamont Lindstrom. Contemporary Issues in Asia and the Pacific. 1997. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Distributed by Cambridge University Press, (914) 937-9600 / (800) 872-7423. Cloth, $51.00; paper, $19.95.

[T]his is a valuable book, with much to offer to scholars of comparative social sciences focusing on the Pacific Islands.

-The Journal of Pacific History

Thirty-five years after the first new Pacific states gained their independence, traditional leaders remain important political actors throughout the region. The political environs of the South Pacific, freshly populated with presidents, prime ministers, members of parliament, and local judiciary officers, are also increasingly crowded with newly visible chiefs. Far from being premodern relics, the chiefs who operate within modern Pacific states today figure significantly in attempts to fashion national identities and manage the direction of political and economic development.

This volume presents detailed analyses of the accommodations between chiefs and states in thirteen Pacific societies. In some states, traditional perquisites and political authority have overlapped so that the state is a contemporary form of chiefdom. Elsewhere, chiefs operate as a mechanism of local accommodation to centralized state authority, facilitating state operations in the local community. In still other states, local chiefs have risen up against central authority, leading their communities in opposition to the state and its depredations. In each case, the chief is a focus for cultural struggle in the border zones of local, national, and transnational politics.

The renewed significance of chiefs, and the discussions and disagreements that surround them, are a vital part of debates about identity and power in the Pacific today. In some cases, these debates produce calls for the revitalization and reempowerment of chiefs; in others, they spark attempts to constrict or otherwise regulate their powers. In either instance, these controversies provide a window into social and political transformation in postcolonial states today.

The Pacific societies treated are: Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Marshall Islands, Rotuma, Solomon Islands, Tana Toraja (Indonesia), Tonga, Vanuatu, Western Samoa, and New Zealand.

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