chapter  11
24 Pages

Settlement patterns and networks

Secondary centres and elite ritual-political power in the Society Islands chiefdoms
WithJennifer G. Kahn

Polynesian archaeologists have long studied settlement patterns and monumental architecture as prime foci of analyses. In Polynesia, archaeologists commonly use the spatial distribution of monumental architecture and other elite structures to infer political boundaries and changes in social organisation. When integrated with ethnohistory, such proxy data are utilised to identify socio-political territories and their degree of political centralisation. Yet such territorial approaches imply fixed boundaries, and obviate periodic cycles of centralisation, decentralisation and rotating centres of political power, that are expressed in the historic records. This chapter utilises settlement pattern data and landscape analyses to identify minor ritual-political centres in the ‘Opunohu Valley of the Society Islands (Central Eastern Polynesia). It argues that the identification of inland ceremonial centres has dramatically changed our perceptions of Society Islands political history, site organisation and hierarchy. Examining temporal changes in the distribution and centralisation of elite political power through social interactions, scalar dynamics, and organisation changes highlights the creation of materially inscribed relationships between Ma?ohi elites in secondary ritual-political centres. Such analyses effectively chart organisational changes in socio-political networks through the Classic period (1650–1767 ce) and point towards the important role that religious ideology had in ongoing political centralisation in Polynesian chiefdoms and perhaps other middle-range societies.