Written articles

Misconceptions : The South Pacific has been a laboratory for social anthropologists for the best of a century. Theoreticians have come and gone, but the field still yields rich data and as ever raises questions on...

The unsung reality behind the oft : Wayward actions of the official colonial structure inside New Caledonia...

Chiefs and what they are : A criticism of some aspects of archeological reconstructions of the Pacific Island’s past...

Questions and answers in Pacific Art : The collected object in between strictly ethnographical criteria and the aesthetic viewpoint...

Derek Freeman versus Margaret Mead : Jean Guiart’s answer to Paul Shankman in The Thrashing of Margaret Mead, Anatomy of an Anthropological Controversy, The University of Wisconsin Press


Jean Guiart was born in 1925 in Lyon and died in 2019 on the island of Tahiti. He was a french anthropologist. He was directeur d'études at the École Pratique des Hautes Etudes (EPHE) and from 1973 to 1988 head of the Laboratoire d'ethnologie du Musée de l'Homme in Paris.

Since his retirement, he lived in Tahiti (French Polynesia) and Noumea (New Caledonia), where he founded in 1997 his publishing company Rocher-à-la-Voile.

His research interests were the arts and religions of Oceania, particularly New Caledonia and Vanuatu (formerly New Hebrides). He made an important contribution to the studies of Kanak society.

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Book cover Chieftainship

Chieftainship in South Melanesia Vol 1 & 2

More or less everything cultural has found its way inside these two volumes, as regards New-Caledonia proper and the Loyalty Islands, in all sorts of ways which will be discovered through reading, page after page, what wishes to be considered as rich if not in theory (I am very careful at this level), at least in detail of the data, in the strong details which make the real value of a book in anthropology (each theory being brushed off by the next generation).

The experience of the last decades has shown the value of this text for the people, and the amount of young people asking for it, because they inevitably find their family lore inside. I had only been the scribe of their forefathers and only put in form what they had decided to tell me, for all sorts of good or bad reasons, acccording to the status of the viewer and the viewed inside the colonial set up. I was the only French civil servant trained and employed to know all that there was to learn about the island people.

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Book cover Tanna

Tanna revisited

This work on Tanna has been the best received in all of Professor Jean Guiart’s professional career. His experience in New Caledonia and the Loyalty islands, on Ambrym and Malekula, allowed him to work quickly and efficiently; all the time in the day being taken by field work, sleeping in the open and eating what was brought to him by the people. He never required anything from them and let them act on their own.

This work had been asked from him by the two Resident Commissioners, in what has become Vanuatu, the French and the British, after a bout of the millenarian movement known under the name of John Frum, the one who would «broom» the white man away. The method chosen by the author, carefully refined through his previous experiences, was to establish a kind of public workshop in each village, everybody being present, particularly the women, whose presence was needed to compensate the men’s at times insufficient memory and to prevent them from bringing in the situation too much imagination.

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Book cover cultures edge

Cultures on the edge

Caught between the White Man's concepts of Polynesia opposed to Melanesia. From Efate to Epi, Central Vanuatu

A wrong idea has reigned for two centuries on Oceanic studies, the one that Polynesian island civilisations were superior to the ones of the Melanesian islands, dominated by barbaric customs, where neighbour tribes were the enemies of one another, cruel chiefs’ and sorcerers’ will was supreme, and cannibalism the law.

But mostly, they were the same people as the Melanesians, eating the same foods (taro and yams brought from Asia, bananas, sugar cane and breadfruit created on the spot), building their housing with the same materials, cultivating the same crops, the same fruit trees and tiare flowers, having recourse to the same medicinal plants (brought from South Asia), fishing in exactly the same way and dealing inidentical fashion with the hurdles of everyday life.

From the Santa Cruz islands to northern Vanuatu, the longest journey is two days from Tikopia to the isolated island of Vatganay, where the crew stops to cook and clean the garden of coconut trees and taro for the next visitors. Then they change course so as to make land on one of the central islands of the Banks group and later go to Mota Lava, where there is a marriage between Tikopia and this island at each generation.

Jean Guiart shows here how the people of South Central Vanuatu, from the islands of Efate to Epi, are the real direct ancestors of the Western Polynesians.

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