Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

Tikopia is a small volcanic island that is part of the Solomon Islands. The inhabitants are Polynesian in language and culture. The Tikopia are primarily agriculturalists and fishermen, living in more than 20 nucleated villages, situated along the sandy coastal strip. A rise in population in the mid-twentieth century forced migration to surrounding islands where half the population now resides, including Honiara the capital of the Solomon Islands. Today, all Tikopia are Christians, belonging to the Church of Melanesia, which is part of the Anglican Communion.


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Oceania --Polynesia


Solomon Islands

OWC Code


Number of Documents


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Number of Pages


Collection Overview

The Tikopia collection contains 28 documents, all in English. Twenty- five of these are the work of Firth, and he is also co-author of another document (No. 23), along with Borrie and Spillius. The earliest document is 16: Rivers, in which the account of Tikopia is based mainly on Rev. Durrad's data. The principal works in this collection, all by Firth, are numbers 1, 2, 3, 20, 26, 27, and 28. 2: Firth presents a comprehensive study of Tikopian kinship and social organization. Of all of Firth's publications, this one probably most closely approximates a general ethnography. 1: Firth is a thorough study of the economic system while 3: Firth focuses on the major religious cycle called the "Works of the gods." 20: Firth is of particular theoretical interest, since it is a detailed study of social change based on Firth's data gathered in two field sessions spread some 25 years apart. 26: Firth is a study of the original pagan religion and of the process of acceptance of Christianity by the majority of Tikopians. Firth's other works in this collection consist of a series of articles covering a wide diversity of topics ranging from Tikopian dream interpretation (document No. 4), to an analysis of the succession to chieftainship (No. 25). Special notes should be taken of 8: Firth, which seems to be his only summary account of Tikopian culture. 23: Borrie, Firth, and Spillius is a thorough analysis of demographic patterns and trends. 21: spillius presents an interesting discussion of the social and psychological reactions of the people to a famine resulting from a typhoon in 1952. In 1993 two additional documents were added to the collection, again, both by Firth. 27: Firth is an analysis of a body of Tikopia tales in relations to the social structure and social organization of the people. Much of the material in this document deals with the origin of the major social units (e.g., lineages and clans), relations with outside groups (particularly with the Tongans), internal struggles within the society, and settlement, expansion, and overseas voyages. 28: Firth consists of a series of essays dealing with various aspects of Tikopian culture. These essays provide some general background on Tikopia, with more specific data on suicide, ritual adzes, myths, spirit mediums, eschatology, and concepts of the soul. Firth concludes with a commentary section, prepared in 1966, describing some of the intricate adjustments made by the Tikopians, especially in regard to their belief systems, in the face of on-going cultural change.

The culture summary was written by Raymond Firth for the Encyclopedia of World Cultures. The information presented in the synopsis was prepared by John Beierle in May 1993.

Overview by

John Beierle

ARIKI -- chiefs -- Category 622, 614

ATUA -- spirits -- Categories 775, 776, 769

districts of Faea and Ravenga -- although true moieties seem to be lacking in Tikopian society, the districts of Faea and Ravenga were judged to perform many of the functions of moieties -- Category 616

IRAMUTU -- sister's child -- Category 604

KAFIKA -- an important clan -- Category 614; (also major ritual centers -- Category 778)

KAI -- food of men -- Category 262

KAINANGA -- clan -- Category 614

KAVA -- as a drug, Category 276; as a ceremonial, Category 796

MARU -- executive officials of the chief -- Category 624

MAURI (ORA) --the spirit -- Category 774

PAITO -- a patrilineal group of persons closely related, who are descended from a male ancestor a few generations back -- Category 613

RANGI -- the spirit world -- Categories 772 and 775

ritual elders -- Categories 613, 793

Indexing Notes by

John Beierle

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