chapter  8
20 Pages

The political economy of prestige practices in the Pacific

Understanding Lapita and after
WithMatthew Spriggs

The Lapita culture of the Western Pacific of around 3000 bp derives in large part from a Southeast Asian Neolithic migration traceable fairly directly back to Taiwan. Lapita long-distance interactions occurred across some of the greatest distances found in Neolithic societies worldwide. But did they represent exchange, particularly of prestige goods, as in most narratives, or did they signal another form of interaction? The chapter extends the ideas discussed in several recent papers, including a key one by Tim Earle and the author of 2015. The Lapita phenomenon is foundational for much of the Western Pacific but it cannot be understood outside of a wider context addressing its ultimate origins and the subsequent societal transformations that occurred over the next thousand years. In part to address such questions of the longue duree, the chapter develops the idea of prestige practices as an alternative (or addition) to that of prestige goods. Prestige practices are those activities that enhance the sociopolitical status of an individual through the activation of often-esoteric knowledge systems and powers above and beyond the merely pragmatic skills used in the production of material items, transport systems or other communally recognised activities and/or performances. Although seemingly ephemeral in the archaeological record, this does not mean that traces of them cannot be found there.