Pacific Islands

Melanese Trobriand islanders, and Polynese Hawai'ian and Samoan islanders have attracted matriarchal scholars. An interesting hypothesis is given about the Menehune, the fairy people of Polynesia.


Trobriand Culture

Anthropologist Malinowski 1923, 1926, 1935 first detailed Trobriand matrilinearity and its wide-ranging consequences, but Weiner 1976, 1980 challenged his male-oriented analysis. Brindley 1984 also revised Malinowski on matriarchal structure of this society, while Tiffany and O'Brien 1984 critiqued anthropology's male-domination as detrimental to Melanese studies.


Malinowski, Bronislaw. Argonauts of the Western Pacific: An Account of Native Enterprise and Adventure in the Archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea. New York: Paul R. Reynolds, 1923.

This classic of ethnography focused on the extensive, oceanic trading and gift giving system, the “Kula ring,” established by the Trobriand islanders.


Malinowski, Bronislaw. The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western Melanesia. An Ethnographic Account of Courtship, Marriage and Family Life Among the Natives of the Trobriand Islands, British New Guinea. New York: Paul R. Reynolds, 1926.

Women played a large role in community life, taking the lead not only in deciding the course of human relationships but also in enjoying erotic life, which Malinowski regarded as much more elaborate and developed in Trobriand society than in so-called “civilized” societies.


Malinowski, Bronislaw. The. Coral Gardens and their Magic: Soil-tilling and Agricultural Rites in the Trobriand Islands. 2 vols. New York: American Book Company, 1935.

Malinowski's imposing study of Trobriand m atrilinearity found wide-ranging consequences of matriarchy in this culture. Despite his grasp of the culture, Malinowski nevertheless insisted on presenting Trobriand economics as a male domain.


Weiner, Annette. Women of Value, Men of Renown: New Perspectives in Trobriand Exchange. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1976.

Anthropologist Weiner revised the Malinowski literature on the Trobriand Islanders finding a solid and healthy, male-female balance in Trobriand society by her research.


Weiner, Annette. “Stability in Banana Leaves.” In Mona Etienne and Eleanor Leacock, eds. Women and Colonization. New York: Praeger, 1980. 270–89.

Weiner here analyzed the complementary nature of the oceanic “Kula ring,” the men's communal canoe expeditions to circulate gifts made from mussel shells, and the woman-run, reciprocal system of gift-giving to enhance their reputation. Women circulated the “Doba” or skirts of colored grasses and hand-worked banana leaves.


Brindley, Marianne. The Symbolic Role of Women in Trobriand Gardening. Pretoria: University of South Africa, 1984.

Brindley corrected the one-sided male perspective on Trobriand gardening in Malinowski's Coral Gardens by showing the significant role of women in the Trobriand economy.


O'Brien, Denise/Tiffany, Sharon W., eds. Rethinking Women's Roles: Perspectives from the Pacific. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984.

In this anthology the contributions by Tiffany, “Feminist Perceptions in Anthropology,” and O'Brien, “Women Never Hunt: The Portrayal of Women in Melanesian Ethnography,” offered excellent critiques of anthropology's male-dominated perspective, which they argued had distorted reporting on the roles of Melanese women.


Hawai'ian Culture

Luomala 1951 looked at Melanese and Hawai'ian mythology, with Casey 1978 zeroing in on Hawai'ian women's power. Knipe 1989 took an unfortunate Jungian tack on Hawai'i, while Indigenous Trask 1999 remained rooted in modern, Hawai'ian political structures.


Luomala, Katharine. The Menehune of Polynesia and Other Mythical Little People of Oceania. Honolulu/Hawai'i: Bernice P. Bishop Museum Press, 1951.

One of the first matriarchal studies of Hawai'i, Luomala's interesting hypothesis that the “Menehune,” or “Little People,” of the Polynesian islands were real and queen-ruled was confirmed by her presenting the stories and archaeological relics of the legendary first inhabitants of the Hawai'ian and Polynesian islands. The Little People had been driven out by the warrior chiefs of the later population of the Pacific.


Casey, Linda. “Mythological Heritage of Hawaii's Royal Women.” Educational Perspectives, 16.1 (1978), 3–9.

Casey traced the pre-eminent role in religion and social life taken by the noble women of the Indigenous Hawai'ian culture.


Knipe, Rita. The Water of Life: A Jungian Journey through Hawaiian Myth. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1989.

Knipe trekked through Hawai'ian stories, taking a Jungian-inspired look at the Hawai'ian matriarchy, but her psychological lens tended to deflate the matriarchal content of the traditions. For her mythic materials, Knipe leaned heavily on Luomala.


Trask, Haunani-Kay. From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawai'i. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 1999.

Coming from a socio-political vantage point as a Hawai'ian native as well as a credentialed political scientist, Hawai'ian scholar Trask argued that Western naming had “co-opted” essential Hawai'ian identity in “a theft of matrilineal by Western patriarchal descent” (104). She showed the damage done to understanding by determined, colonial redefinitions of Hawai'ian culture.


Samoan Culture

Tamasese 2009 considered Samoan sibling relations.


Tamasese, Taimalieutu Kiwi. “Restoring Liberative Elements of our Cultural Gender Arrangements.” In H. Goettner-Abendroth, ed. Societies of Peace, Toronto: Inanna Publications, 2009. 108–113.

The Indigenous author Tamasese emphasized the centrality of the sister-brother-relationship in her Samoan culture, placing it in a matriarchal context.