Congratulations to CROCC member, Professor Judy Bennett, who was awarded $710,000 in the recent Marsden Fund round. Her research will explore ‘Constant coconuts: a history of a versatile commodity in the Pacific world’. Judy was also the lead investigator in the the Marsden Fund project ‘Mothers’ Darlings: children of indigenous women and World War Two American servicemen in New Zealand and South Pacific societies’ awarded in 2009.
‘Constant coconuts: a history of a versatile commodity in the Pacific world’.
Within the humid tropics, along the shorelines of atolls and high islands, the coconut palm flourishes, providing food, medicines, cosmetics, and household items for myriad Pacific societies. Yet no commodity history of the coconut exists. As a pathway to understanding globalisation, this research will analyse how from c.1840 onwards, products from the “nut” became commodities, how their production and consumption affected individual communities, power relations, mobility, culture, economies, and environment within the Pacific world and beyond. It will consider why, for most Island societies, the coconut became often the sole export staple, and the consequences of such dependency. A key focus is the fluctuating relationship between production and natural conditions, such as rainfall, as well as external challenges, such as declining markets, which tested indigenous agency. Recently, the coconut’s value as a source of biofuel and health and beauty products has significantly revived production. While the distant past is mainly recorded in archives, this network of producers, marketers, governments, and consumers is accessible to ethnographic methods, such as extended observation. The planned book will combine two perspectives: a) commodity chain analysis to trace economic and social linkages; b) ethnographic investigation. Archival and other documentary research will provide evidence for both.