If you spend any time at all in the Marquesas Islands, and ask locals where something or someone is, you soon become familiar with directional terms that, you realise, govern life in the islands. You will be told that a person is ‘i tai, towards the shore or sea, or ‘i uta, inland, up the valley, towards the mountain, and you find that almost everywhere you go involves movement seawards, or landwards. Life, places and social relationships are distributed one way or the other, on this axis. In these same islands, a historian or anthropologist might begin by assuming that islands amounted to, or corresponded with, social units. Any one island, you might suppose, would be, or would have been, divided into tribes, yet the populations of these tribes together surely constituted some unity, relative to the peoples of other islands. Obvious this might be, it would also have been false of collectivities in the historic period. The peoples of valleys did constitute social groupings; in larger valleys there were several such groups; but they commonly shared an ancestry with people on another island, while being strangers to, perhaps enemies of, the peoples of the valleys that neighboured their own.
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