For nearly a year Marshall D. Sahlins lived in villages on the Fijian island of Moala, learning the "way of the land," as the Moalans call their customs. From this experience he has written a book that is at once an intensive field study and a new approach to the methods of studying primitive communities. It marks an important departure from the standard trait-listing form of anthropological reports, for Sahlins does not isolate such factors as economics, kinship, and political organization. Rather he shows how closely they are interwoven in a primitive culture and why they must be interpreted with reference to the organic whole.

This book, frankly evolutionary in its approach, views Moalan culture as an adaptive organization, a human means of dealing with nature so as to ensure survival. Proceeding from the smallest kinship groups, families, to the larger organization of village and island, Sahlins shows how kinship structure can organize the polity and economy. In a culture such as Moalan, kinship behavior is economics and often politics as well. By fully appreciating this fact, the author claims, we are made aware of the wide evolutionary gap between primitive societies and the impersonal structure of modern civilization.