Publications

Leadership in Absentia : Negotiating Distance in Centralized Solomon Islands

Hobbis, Stephanie Ketterer; Hobbis, Geoffrey

Summary

This article examines a tension at the heart of national leadership in Solomon Islands today: a conviction that national leaders need to spend more time in rural environments to better represent rural interests, needs and values, while having to be in town to access the individuals and organizations that, essentially, make them national leaders in the first place. Drawing on fourteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in urban Honiara and the rural Lau Lagoon, Malaita, we are especially interested in how this tension shapes rural perceptions of the legitimacy of chiefs as national leaders. Given that development projects can only be negotiated in Honiara, where the required state institutions, international (N)GOs and major businesses are based, rural residents feel compelled to send their most important village leaders, especially clan chiefs, to town. However, the longer these leaders are away from their homes, the more they seem distracted by urban ‘luxuries’ and the less they appear committed to their rural homes. In particular, villagers complain about their chiefs' contributions to exchange relations. Villages, thus, find themselves in a double-bind that exaggerates a broader ‘crisis of leadership’ alongside an urban-rural divide which challenges the promise of chiefly leadership as solution to antipolitical sentiments and a centralized state.