Outside agencies working in the Solomon Islands—whether a postwar land commission or a late-twentieth-century global environmental organization—have consistently called for the clarification of property rights as the necessary starting point for any form of economic development. Many residents of Ranongga, a small mountainous island in the Western Solomons, are eager to have their territorial rights recognized by national and international organizations and by other islanders. Yet transforming complex, crosscutting, localized relationships into abstract rights that are commensurable, predictable, and knowable to outsiders raises major political and ethical dilemmas for Ranonggan leaders. As in other Oceanic polities, the true people of the land are supposed to generously welcome foreigners. Aggressively claiming exclusive rights for oneself or one's group would effectively alienate those others who are necessary for a properly functioning polity. Clarification—however necessary for the workings of a capitalist economy—thus threatens to undermine the tenuous achievement of unity that Ranonggans see as the prerequisite to peace, prosperity, and (as they understand it) development.

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