Building Societies on Outer Islands: Sociopolitical Institutions and Their Names in Polynesian Outliers
Polynesian Outliers represent several independent migrations from Western Polynesia into Melanesia and Micronesia, which developed in significant isolation under the pressure of severe ecological constraints. Their typical size is a few hundred persons and it is well documented that some reduced to less than twenty persons in the nineteenth century. Surprisingly, these societies were complex, typically, stratified into ‘nobles’, ‘commoners’ and ‘slaves’. There was a wide range of variation regarding how leadership and rules of succession were organised but we can speculate that their way of life was largely due to the ideas inherited from the great ancestors living on big islands.
Etymological analysis of socio-political terms in six Polynesian Outliers shows that the institutions of leadership and larger social groups were created and reinvented in the history of these islands many times, frequently, in accordance with the principle of growing conical clan. Interestingly enough, many new terms for larger social groups are derived from the words denoting places of residence indicating that they are constructed as landholding corporations. Expectedly, the words ‘chief’ and ‘noble person’ are more stable than ‘commoner’ and ‘slave’ in the history of Polynesian Outliers.