Douglas (2002) based this judgement on contemporary daily patterns of work in the taro gardens in Aneityum
but her image of quotidian isolation is at odds with ethnographic experience in central and nothern Vanuatu, as Spriggs has suggested and she acknowledged (2002:13-14; see Bolton 2003; Jolly 1994a; Rodman 1987).
In this paper I illustrate the principles and method outlined above via a worst-case scenario: a narrative vignette of surpassing mundanity, which nonetheless exemplifies, confronts and exploits some hoary passivist stereotypes about indigenous women in mid-nineteenth century Aneityum, Vanuatu.
My main recourse is to texts written by female and male Presbyterian missionaries, especially Charlotte Geddie, Canadian cofounder of the European mission in Aneityum in 1848, several of whose private letters were published in a contemporary mission periodical and a later anthology (Geddie and Harrington 1908).
11] It was the particular condition of 'heathen' women in Aneityum, whose alleged 'degradation and wretchedness' had two main signifiers for missionaries: 'brute' and 'slave' (Murray 1841: 30 Mar.
Three quarters of a century earlier James Cook and his colleagues had come to similar, if less florid conclusions about gender relations in the neighbouring island of Tanna, but the candid empirical grounding which underpinned and qualified their ethnocentric denial of agency to indigenous women was notably lacking in the complacent r hetoric of later Aneityum mission texts which did the same:
Missionaries on Aneityum generally listed similar complaints in a standardised inventory of 'heathen' turpitude, but there were some textual traces of the disapproved indigenous relations of production which inspired them, with a few shadowy intimations of unacknowledged female agency therein.
On Aneityum Spriggs saw no land surface in alluvial sections older than 2000 years, so at least a thousand years of history was essentially missing.
Earlier experience on Aneityum and Erromango suggested where to look for such answers: on coasts where early sites would be preserved by tectonic uplift through earthquakes; and where old shorelines dating back beyond the time of modern sea levels, that is before 6000 BP, would be preserved.
In 1995 research was extended to the island of Malakula and in 1996 to Aneityum, Efate and Maewo.
On Aneityum we sought to further clarify the nature of human impact on the environment of the island through pollen and geomorphological analyses.