Concept: Kastom


Kastom is a Solomon Islands Pijin term that can refer to shared traditions, but also to contemporary ideas and institutions perceived to be grounded in indigenous concepts and principles. Thus 'kastom' is not, as is often supposed, synonymous with the English 'custom', which is typically conceived as Melanesian ways from before Europeans' arrival in the islands. In addition to its usage in everyday language, anthropologists have analysed and debated kastom's meanings. Particularly in its political uses, kastom is often closely tied to indigenous means of dispute resolution, or 'kastom loa', set in opposition to state or 'government law'. The word has developed different meanings in different Melanesian countries and cultures. In the Solomon Islands, relative to Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea, the state has had little success in harnessing kastom as an ideological tool. David Akin suggests that this is because several leading Christian churches have long opposed retention of what they see as 'customary ways' (though this is slowly changing), and, more importantly, because on Malaita, the most kastom-conscious island, kastom has since the Second World War been at the centre of various anti-government ideologies and movements. Kastom is a fluid concept that is used selectively and creatively, and is for many Solomon Islanders a key mechanism for adapting to and channelling modernization and change. (Akin 2005; personal communication, 2012; Keesing and Tonkinson 1982; Keesing 1982, 1993; Babadzan 1988, 2004; Gegeo 1994)

Related Concepts

Published resources

Book Sections

  • Babadzan, Alain, 'Kastom and Nation-Building in the South Pacific', in Remo Guidieri;Francesco Pellizzi;Stanley J. Tambiah (ed.), Ethnicities and Nations: Processes and Interethnic Relations in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1988, pp. 199-228. Details

Journal Articles

  • Akin, David, 'Kastom as Hegemony? A Response to Babadzan', Anthropological Theory, vol. 5, no. 1, 2005, pp. 97-105. Details
  • Keesing, Roger M., 'Kastom in Melanesia: An Overview', Mankind, vol. 13, no. 4, 1982, pp. 297-301. Details
  • Keesing, Roger M., 'Kastom Re-Examined', Anthropological Forum, vol. 6, no. 4, 1993, pp. 587-596. Details
  • Keesing, Roger, and Tonkinson, Robert, ' Reinventing Traditional Culture: The Politics of Kastom in Island Melanesia, ', Special issue, Mankind, vol. 13, no. 4, 1982. Details


  • Gegeo, David W., 'Kastom and Bisnis: Towards Intergrating Cultural Knowledge into Rural Development in the Solomon Islands', PhD thesis, University of Hawai'i, 1994. Details