Page:The Melanesians Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore.djvu/82

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60
[ch.
Property and Inheritance.

these three divisions of the land, the bush, the uncleared forest, is not property; nor, as far as I am aware, do the natives fix any limit up to which they consider the bush to belong to the particular district or group of villages in which they live, although probably they would resent the felling of trees too near their own grounds. The gardens and the sites of the villages are all held in property, and pass by inheritance; so that every part has its owner for the time, who possesses it as his share of the family property, but who can by no means alienate it as if it were simply his own. The chiefs, however powerful in some places they may be, have no more property in the land or more right over it in any of the islands than other men; they often use their power tyrannically to drive away the owners of gardens which they covet, and they are very willing to meet the common European belief that a chief is the owner of the soil, by taking a price for land which is not theirs to sell; but the ownership of every piece is remembered and will be asserted when occasion offers. The remarkable case of the landless chiefs at Saa (page 50) shews how fixed is the right of property in land. Before the coming of Europeans the sale of land was, at least at Saa, not unknown, but was at any rate uncommon; of late, especially in the New Hebrides, much land has been sold to Europeans, some honestly and effectively, some by transactions in which the title of the vendor has been nothing but his willingness to receive some calico and guns. In a true sale the consent of all who have an interest in the property must be had, and the exact boundary of each parcel of land defined; then the value of each piece and of each fruit-tree has to be ascertained, and the claim of

or forest. The veikau is common to all members of a community, but the yavu and the qele are divided and subdivided. Each owner, however, holds for the household to which he belongs, the household holds for the clan, the clan for the tribe, the tribe for the community, and the community for posterity. Each generation has the usufruct only, and cannot alienate the land. The chiefs have overridden this rule, but most unjustly.' This will stand for the islands west of Fiji, with the important difference made by the absence of tribes.