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Identification. The name "Nasioi" has been employed by Europeans since the beginning of the twentieth century, and it is best thought of as a linguistic term. Speakers of the Nasioi language and its dialects have referred to themselves by many names, usually reflecting locality. "Kietas" is now commonly heard from other Bougainvilleans and missionaries.

Location. Nasioi occupy a large part of the southeastern portion of the island of Bougainville, from the coast around the port of Kieta inland for approximately 29 kilometers, between 6° and 6° 12 S. Their villages extended from the coast through the valleys up to altitudes 900 meters above sea level. Thus they occupied several different ecological niches; this settlement pattern conditioned exchanges of produce before European contact and created differential impacts of colonialism and social change. Mean annual temperature at sea level is 27° C, and the temperature varies over a wider range during a 24-hour period than in terms of monthly mean variation. Temperature is estimated to decrease with altitude at a rate of about 3.5° per 300 meters. Rainfall of approximately 300 centimeters annually is distributed more or less evenly throughout the year.

Linguistic Affiliation. Nasioi and Nagovisi form the Nasioi Family in the Southern Bougainville Stock of Non-Austronesian languages. The language includes several distinct dialects and a number of villages contain speakers of other languages as well. Today, most younger people speak Tok Pisin (the lingua franca of Papua New Guinea) and/or English.

Demography. In 1963, Nasioi speakers were estimated at 10,654. There has been a sharp growth in Bougainville's population since that time, and annual natural increase is estimated at close to 4 percent. Although the 1980 census for the island does not distinguish among language groups, a figure of 14,000 may be extrapolated for Nasioi.

History and Cultural Relations

It is assumed that speakers of Non-Austronesian languages like Nasioi were the first arrivals on Bougainville and that Austronesian speakers followed later. There is evidence of human occupation on nearby Buka Island more than 28,000 years ago, and a date in excess of 30,000 B.P. for the ancestors of Nasioi seems reasonable. The Non-Austronesian speakers of south Bougainville were distinguished from their Austronesian neighbors by such characteristics as preferred cross-cousin marriage, achieved leadership and, probably, headhunting. Bougainville Island was sighted in 1768 by the French navigator for whom it was named. Beginning in the latter nineteenth century, Nasioi living on the coast were among those Bougainvilleans most frequently contacted by traders and other Europeans because of the natural harbor at Kieta. Roman Catholic missionaries settling near Kieta in 1902 were the first Europeans known to reside on the island, and Imperial Germany (which had claimed the island in 1899 as part of its New Guinea colony) established an administrative headquarters there in 1905. By 1908 colonizers had begun to alienate Nasioi land, establishing coconut plantations and employing Nasioi as laborers. Australia administered what had been German New Guinea from 1914 to 1975, first as a League of Nations Mandate and later as a United Nations Trust Territory. Bougainville suffered severely during World War II under Japanese occupation and the subsequent Allied effort to retake the island. By the beginning of the postwar era, the Nasioi had become increasingly dissatisfied with the colonial situation in which they found themselves. These social disruptions were sharply increased by the construction, beginning in 1968, of a gigantic copper mine on Nasioi land heretofore untouched by European economic interests. Since then, Nasioi life has been characterized by continued rapid social change; by increasing discontent with the mine, with other European interests, and, after 1975, with the central government of Papua New Guinea; and by more and more militant expressions of that discontent. In 1988, what might be called the injuries of colonialism culminated in violence led by a self-styled "Bougainville Revolutionary Army" composed mostly of Nasioi that closed down the mine, resisted forces sent by the Papua New Guinea government, and declared Bougainville an independent state. As of August 1990, a new peace treaty had been signed with the central government, but the future of the Nasioi remains problematic. Thus the people in Bougainville most directly affected by colonialism in various forms have had the most tempestuous modern history of social change in the island.


Whether they lived along the coast, in the valleys, or on mountain slopes, Nasioi dwelt in small, scattered settlements, often consisting of no more than one or two households. Because of continuous pressure from the administration, by the 1960s villages were larger and oriented around a central "main street." Most houses were built on piles, though some households had separate cooking huts set directly on the ground. Houses had rectangular floor plans, walls of split bamboo, and roofs thatched with sago-palm leaves. By the 1970s, Nasioi active in a modern cash economy were building houses of European materials.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Traditional Nasioi subsistence was conditioned by the differing ecological niches (coastal, valley, and hillside) in which the population settled, but the general pattern was that of typical Melanesian swidden horticulturalists. Taro was a staple crop until a plant blight swept through the island in World War II; thereafter, sweet potatoes became more important. Coconuts and sago were raised at lower altitudes. Nasioi men were employed on local plantations before World War II, but subsequently they began to take more interest in cash crops: first copra, then cacao. Although resentment of the copper mine kept many Nasioi from working there, a larger number were employed by the various contracting firms during construction of the mine, roads, and towns during the 1970s. Educated Nasioi are now employed in the modern, urban sector in Bougainville and elsewhere in Papua New Guinea.

Industrial Arts. Traditional crafts included carving, basketry, and, on the coast, pottery making. By the 1960s, few Nasioi practiced these arts; instead, they purchased comparable items in trade stores.

Trade. Items of produce were exchanged among people settled in different environments: coastal people produced pottery, sago, fish, and salt; valley dwellers grew coconuts and raised pigs; and hill dwellers traded baskets, bows and arrows, and game. Nasioi obtained shell currency from the Solomon Islands, via their neighbors in south Bougainville, but this currency was for special purposes (e.g., marriage) only. Nasioi on the coast began trading with European ships in the nineteenth century, in particular exchanging coconuts for metal tools. Early on, German administrators encouraged copra production as well as wage labor. Today all Nasioi participate to some degree in a modern cash economy.

Division of Labor. Subsistence work was divided according to gender: men did the heavy but intermittent work of clearing forests and fencing gardens, while women engaged in the steady production of garden foods. Men hunted possums, birds, and feral pigs; they also harvested betel nuts. Women collected freshwater crayfish, made baskets and mats, and bore the major responsibility for child rearing. Men were much more active than women as the economy became modernized, especially as wage laborers, and they are still more prominent in the cash sector. However, women today grow and market cash crops, and increasingly they go on to higher education.

Land Tenure. Land seems to have been plentiful in the traditional setting. Rights to land were in the first instance achieved by clearing virgin forest and were most often inherited through matrilineal kinship ties. However, rights could also be established through marriage, residence, individual kin networks, or ceremonial exchanges. Land could never be alienated beyond the local group. As elsewhere in Papua New Guinea, it was easier to establish than to extinguish claims to land. Nasioi entry into cash cropping, a rapidly increasing population, and, above all, the presence of the copper mine have created massive problems because of the incongruity of traditional land tenure with modern economic structures.


Kin Groups and Descent. Basic to Nasioi social organization was the dispersed matrilineal clan (muu' ). Such clans were ideally exogamous. Since Nasioi paid little attention to genealogy in Western terms, clan membership provided people with a fixed place in the social system as well as a basis for making land claims. Entire clans did not operate as corporate units, but localized segments did carry out important social activities as ad hoc groups.

Kinship Terminology. Traditional Nasioi terminology was a variant of the Iroquois system, in which siblings were equated with parallel cousins and terminologically distinguished from cross cousins. Other equations were father with father's brother and mother's sister's husband, and mother with mother's sister and father's brother's wife. Distinctive "aunt" and "uncle" terms were applied to father's sister and mother's brother's wife and to mother's brother and father's sister's husband, respectively.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Traditional marriage among the Nasioi was ideally between bilateral cross cousins; thus a boy would marry a girl who was at once his mother's brother's and father's sister's daughter. Even if such a genealogical relationship did not obtain, the pattern was of continuing exchange between two clans, on a model of balanced reciprocity that operated in other realms of social life. Child betrothal was common, often negotiated between the mothers of the children. Exchange of food and other valuables was supposed to balance; there was no bride-price or dowry as ordinarily defined. If a widow remarried, either she or her intended new husband might be expected to make a prestation to the clan of her deceased husband. Polygyny was rare, practiced only by unusually industrious men. Residence after marriage was uxorilocal, and divorce was easy. Cross-cousin marriage, polygyny, and child betrothal came under early attack from missionaries and are not normative today. Because educated young people are more likely to seek out others of comparable accomplishments, modern marriages may be contracted between Nasioi and other groups, including other Papua New Guineans and Europeans.

Domestic Unit. Households traditionally consisted of a married couple and immature children. Sometimes an aged parent or other relative might join a kinsman's household. The nuclear family household continues to be a norm; in the 1960s and thereafter adolescent boys (either relatives or friends) might establish their own group household, since it was considered inappropriate for such youth to dwell under the same roof with parents who were still sexually active.

Inheritance. Much of a deceased person's property was consumed or destroyed during funeral rituals, so that there was little to inherit. Land rights were inherited matrilineally in the first instance, but other factors such as a major prestation of food from the deceased's children to his clansmen might prevail. Today, cash-crop trees or money normally pass from parents of either sex to their children, but the conflict between tradition and demands of the new economy increases the likelihood of disputes.

Socialization. While mothers had primary responsibility for child care, fathers, older siblings, and the entire settlement took an active interest. Life-cycle events, such as a first trip to the garden, were often the occasion for ceremonial exchanges, which varied considerably as to scale and elaboration. Often the child's "aunts," who were members of a different clan, performed sometimes ribald songs or dances to mark the event; they were then given food, betel nuts, or other valued items as compensation. A girl's menarche might be marked by a short period of seclusion, followed by a feast with singing and dancing. This practice was discouraged by missionaries and, in the 1960s, was usually confined to the daughters of ambitious men. There were no ceremonies to mark a boy's adolescence. Today, formal education has replaced most, if not all, traditional observances.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Even by the standards of south Bougainville, traditional Nasioi life seems to have been relatively egalitarian. Women, on whom society depended for subsistence and the continuity of the clan, exercised considerable influence, especially in such matters as marriage arrangements. One of the problems in modern Nasioi life is the conflict between the ideal of balance and equivalence in society with the formation of strata based on differences of wealth and education.

Political Organization. A pattern of small, scattered settlements characterized Nasioi life before colonization and is correlated with political atomism. The typical Melanesian role of big-man thus took a very modest form among Nasioi. A Nasioi oboring (big-man) established his position by industry, generosity, and wisdom, but he remained a person of influence, not authority. The status of oboring was achieved by giving feasts, and it was not normally inherited. Today, when many Pacific Islanders are eager to "reinvent tradition," Nasioi claim that "paramount chiefs" were customary, although early published accounts and informants' reports dating from 1962 contradict this. Because of their post-World War II discontent with the social changes brought about by colonialism and subsequent political and economic developments, Nasioi have for the past forty years been especially vocal in demanding Bougainville's succession, first from the Trust Territory of New Guinea and now from the independent nation of Papua New Guinea. As of August 1990, the Nasioi-led "Bougainville Revolutionary Army" claims authority over the entire island.

Social Control. The oboring might use his influence to settle disputes in his locality, but he had no real authority to do so. Public opinion and shaming also encouraged conformity, and a victim might destroy his or her own property to show chagrin and to rally the support of others. However, the most effective form of social control before colonialism seems to have been the fear of sorcery that could be performed against anyone who committed an offense. Nasioi opposition to Australian colonial authority in the 1960s and 1970s left a vacuum in social control, and intergenerational conflict today seems to be increasing.

Conflict. Perhaps because of abundant land, genuine warfare does not seem to have been characteristic of traditional Nasioi life. Violent conflict more often took the form of individual homicide and revenge. Once a single act had been "balanced" by another or by material compensation, the affair was considered over, that is, Nasioi did not feud. Today the peaceable practices of the Nasioi are being altered by contact with the more violent customs of other Papua New Guineans; the recent level of organized violence in Nasioi is unprecedented.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Although the Nasioi also believed in supernatural beings who inhabited the forests and rivers, the outstanding characteristic of traditional Nasioi religion was the belief that humans are dependent on the spirits of the dead (ma'naari ) for material well-being. Offerings of special food (e.g., pork) and invocations were made to ensure the favorable attention of these spirits. When Roman Catholic missionaries began to work among the Nasioi, many converts seemed to regard the Christian pantheon as a set of especially powerful ma'naari. Seventh-Day Adventist missionaries arrived in Nasioi territory in the 1920s and Methodists in the 1930s. After the disruption of World War II and with growing discontent over their colonial situation, the Nasioi began to display cargo-cult beliefs. These often syncretized traditional beliefs and introduced Christian notions, with the goal of changing Nasioi life to be more like that of the European colonizers. The Tok Pisin term longlong lotu or "crazy church" was sometimes applied to these beliefs and practices, which were attacked by the colonial administration. At present, adherence to Christianity seems to have suffered while various cargo cults thrive.

Religious Practitioners. Nasioi did not have full-time religious practitioners. Individuals were thought to have special knowledge (e.g., of sorcery), usually derived from a familiar spirit. After missionization, a number of Nasioi became teachers and catechists, and the present Roman Catholic bishop of Bougainville is a Nasioi. At least one Nasioi has sustained his position as a cargo-cult leader for more than two decades.

Ceremonies. Propitiation of ma'naari and life-cycle events occasioned the most common ceremonies; the former kind were usually individual activities. Missionization meant Christian observances, which may have fallen off during recent unrest. Cargo-cult ceremonials often relate to the remains of the dead, showing continuity with the past.

Arts. Although utilitarian objects like combs were occasionally decorated, the Nasioi seem to have emphasized music and dance over graphic and plastic arts. Slit gongs, wooden trumpets, panpipes, and the Jew's harp were employed, and dances sometimes involved cross-gender performances. Modern Nasioi enjoy "string bands" and other Pacific adaptations of Western music.

Medicine. Illness was thought to be most often the result of sorcery. Various plant materials were employed in curing, but the ultimate efficacy of cures depended upon the assistance of spirit helpers. Some individuals were thought to be especially skillful at dealing with bone and muscle injury. Western medicine is today valued for certain ailments; despite the initial success of a malaria eradication campaign, the disease has once again become a serious health problem.

Death and Afterlife. Nasioi believed most deaths, except those of the very young and very old, were ultimately caused by sorcery or malevolent spirits. A human was thought to have two souls; the one that stayed near the living was important, as noted. Informants were vague about the fate of the other soul or shadow. Nasioi cremated the dead, though they sometimes preserved the lower mandible in a clanmember's house. These rites were traditionally important, but following contact missionaries introduced burials and cemeteries. Since the 1970s, however, cremation has revived, as Christian practice has weakened and cargo cults have maintained vitality.

See also Siwai


Frizzi, Ernst (1914). Ein Beitrag zur Ethnologie von Bougainville und Buka mit speziellen Berücksichtung der Nasioi. Baessler-Archiv no. 6. Leipzig and Berlin: B. G. Teubner.

Ogan, Eugene (1971). Business and Cargo: Socio-economic Change among the Nasioi of Bougainville. New Guinea Research Bulletin no. 44. Canberra: Australian National University Press.

Ogan, Eugene (1971). "Nasioi Land Tenure: An Extended Case Study." Oceania 42:81-93.

Oliver, Douglas L. (1949). Studies in the Anthropology of Bougainville, Solomon Islands. Papers of the Peabody Museum, Harvard University, vol. 29, nos. 1-4. Cambridge, Mass.