Kin and gifts: understanding the kin-based politics of Solomon Islands — the case of East AreAre

12 Sep 2016

Despite the claim that money and especially Rural Constituency Development Fund (RCDF) disbursement have played a major role in influencing political choices in the Solomon Islands national parliamentary elections, empirical evidence and election data suggest that political alliances in some rural constituencies are based more on kin relationship rather than gift exchanges and RCDF disbursements. Although gifting has attracted a lot of attention in the discus - sions about politics and elections in the Solomon Islands, it is kin relationship (more than anything else) that forms the basis for political alliances in the constituency politics. In the rural areas where social organisation is kin-based and institutions like the extended family or clan still play an important role in the lives of individuals, it is the social and biological bond between members and their loyalty to these institutions that set the foundation for collective political action and allegiance.

This paper is based on the work I did for my MA thesis and has used (beside election results) data from the fieldwork I carried out in East AreAre, Malaita Province, in 2013. I have also relied on my knowledge of the region, its people and culture to discuss social organisation and its influence on political affiliation and allegiance in the politics of the rural constituency. More generally, I have reinterpreted the correlation between gifting and voting behaviour using a kin-based model. This model advances two arguments that form the core of the paper. First, kin relationship forms the basis for collective political actions and allegiance in rural constituency politics. Secondly, gifting when isolated from kin relationship does not have the significant impact it is often accorded. The kin-based model therefore contends that the core or base support of any candidate would be his/her kin group and such support could be maintained over successive elections, even without big campaign budgets.

The first part of the paper deals with models that have been used by scholars and researchers to discuss political behaviour in Solomon Islands and the shortfalls associated with using these models to describe the politics of the constituency. I also discuss the kin-based model and its appropriateness for understanding constituency politics in this section. The second part of the paper discusses social organisation and traditional gifting in East AreAre. The last part deals with the implications of kin-based social organisation for constituency politics in East AreAre and Solomon Islands more generally.

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