Rahui and local organizations in Polynesia

Christian Ghasarian (Université de Neuchâtel)
Tamatoa Bambridge (CNRS)
Session slots:

Short abstract:

This panel analyses ancestral cultural concepts and current practices related to the land and the sea and its usage and appropriation in Polynesia. It will address local continuities and changes, through the institution of the rahui, the community’s decision to limit the use of natural resources such as fishing in some defined coastal spaces around the Islands.

Long abstract:

This panel analyses ancestral cultural concepts and current practices related to the usage and appropriation of the land and the sea in Polynesia. It particularly focuses on the institution of the <i>rahui</i>, a formal and sacred community prohibition placed on resources in some specific coastal area of the Islands. This consensual decision allows people to manage their food resources carefully, by allowing the marine fauna in especially designated areas to develop without human predation during a defined period. The historical perspectives consider the importance of the <i>rahui </i>in pre-European Polynesia, stating its relationship to cultural notions of <i>mana</i>, hierarchy and group orientation in social organization. The contemporary perspectives, based on anthropological fieldwork, address how local communities in Polynesia manage the ancestral custom of the <i>rahui </i>in a different social context. In remote and more or less autonomous communities, such as Rapa or Moorea in French Polynesia , the inhabitants, neglecting the official French laws and sometimes acting in contradiction to them, may organize their economic life and appropriation of natural sea resources in a way that takes into account their possible limits. This requires the definition of rules and moralities. Self-imposed in a sacred manner, with ceremonial public prayers, these rules require each individual to be fully responsible for their respect of what is defined as a common good. Every fishing activity in the <i>rahui </i>outside its official and temporary openings exposes the infractor to both social reprobation and supernatural sanction; two reasons strong enough to invite people to comply with the prohibition.