The Markets of the Pacific Islands

When visiting any island in the Pacific, it won’t take long to notice the focal point of any town- the market. The church, ceremonial and museum houses and even government buildings may catch the eye of the inquisitive visitor. But it is the hustle and bustle of islanders selling a variety of fruits, vegetables, fish, housewares and artifacts that attract tourists, visitors, ex-pats and islanders alike. Indeed, the market unites a very diverse group of people.

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The Central Market, Honiara, Solomon Islands

For many islanders selling their stuff at the market is their livelihood. Many sellers work six days a week (markets are closed on Sundays) and depending on the island, can travel several hours on slippery, unsafe roads and in extreme weather conditions just to get to their stall at the market. It is not unusual to see sellers sitting in the back of trucks fiercely clutching their produce to avoid falling when the truck hits a pothole.

Although the market located in the center of town is usually what most visitors become acquainted with when travelling to Oceania, there are several other kinds of markets that can be found throughout an island. The Municipal Markets are organized by the local government and require vendors to pay stall fees. These are typically the kind of markets that you would find in the center of town. Roadside Markets are typically organized on an ad hoc bases by farmers, and may or may not be legal. These are definitely subject to regulations by local authorities. Other markets that one will see mainly outside of town include a Private or Home-based Market and the Barter Market. The Barter Market typically is the exchange of produce or some other goods without cash. Flea Markets that sell used, discarded and scavenged items are springing up here and there throughout the Pacific. The source of these may come from other countries collected by visitors or ex-pats. Finally, there is the Handicraft Market that caters primarily to tourists and sometimes to local urban residents interested in goods manufactured by those with rural ties.

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The Central Market, Port Vila, Vanuatu

Some of the markets are dominated by farmers who have grown the produce for sale, while others are largely operated by brokers selling produce  purchased from farmers or wholesalers and other markets are dominated by a combination of both. The amount of revenue generated by market sellers will vary widely. Some sellers make a lucrative living, while others make just above the national minimum wage. Many use the market as a way to simply supplement their other wages or income generating activities. In fact, access to markets can be a highly coveted prospect due to their potential for cash generation, especially by groups with limited access to cash and transportation.

Historically, markets were the first places where goods were exchanged for cash, they also served as important social functions. For example, they were used to ease tensions between antagonistic groups and helped regulate relationships. Markets were also the sites where marriages and other important life rites took place. A recent study also showed that markets are both products of and embedded in the social context in which they take place. They are a social gathering site as much as they are locations of economic exchange. It is not unusual for consumers to interact with others in the public atmosphere of the marketplace.

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Municipal Market, Suva, Fiji

Display of Culture

Markets throughout the Pacific Islands are becoming more than a place to sell and trade goods. They are also becoming a place that can showcase cultural groups such as dance and music performers. The Punanga Nui Market on Rarotonga, Cook Islands, is an excellent example of this as the Ministry of Culture Development (MOCD) looks to expand its performance stage to accommodate a variety of performances.

The Secretary of Culture, Anthony Turua, says that dance groups are an important asset to the Cook Islands, helping to keep the nation’s culture alive. Turua adds, “This has been a place where most of our locals and tourists go on Saturday to see our local food and produce and to view our performing arts for free.”

Turua also encourages youth groups to form cultural groups to promote their art and culture.“I am definitely encouraging young boys and girls to join groups so that they value our culture and heritage.Developing their skills at a young age will give them the confidence to perform in front of an audience and to be proud of our performing arts culture.” Turua said.

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The Entrance to Punanga Nui Market as it looked in 2002, Cook Islands

So, the next time you vacation in a Pacific Island town make sure to visit the market. Take in the smells, the sounds, the energy of the place. And by all means, taste the exquisite produce that the place has to offer.

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About islandculturearchivalsupport

Island Culture Archival Support (ICAS) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of records pertaining to the cultural identity of island peoples in Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia whose national and public archives, libraries, cultural centers, and business organizations are underprivileged, underfunded, and understaffed. The specific purpose for which this nonprofit corporation was formed is to support the needs of these South Pacific cultural heritage institutions by helping to preserve and make accessible records created for business, accountability or cultural purposes. The organization will endeavor to add value by providing resources or volunteers to advise, train, and work among island residents to support their efforts in building their future and preserving their collective memory through the use of modern archival techniques.
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