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Creating a Nation with Cloth

Creating a Nation with Cloth: Women, Wealth, and Tradition in the Tongan Diaspora

Ping-Ann Addo
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 252
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  • Book Info
    Creating a Nation with Cloth
    Book Description:

    Tongan women living outside of their island homeland create and use hand-made, sometimes hybridized, textiles to maintain and rework their cultural traditions in diaspora. Central to these traditions is an ancient concept of homeland or nation-fonua-which Tongans retain as an anchor for modern nation-building. Utilizing the concept of the "multi-territorial nation," the author questions the notion that living in diaspora is mutually exclusive with authentic cultural production and identity. The globalized nation the women build through gifting their barkcloth and fine mats, challenges the normative idea that nations are always geographically bounded or spatially contiguous. The work suggests that, contrary to prevalent understandings of globalization, global resource flows do not always primarily involve commodities. Focusing on first-generation Tongans in New Zealand and the relationships they forge across generations and throughout the diaspora, the book examines how these communities centralize the diaspora by innovating and adapting traditional cultural forms in unprecedented ways.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-896-4
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-ix)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. x-xii)
  5. Introduction. Nation, Cloth, and Diaspora: Locating Langa Fonua
    (pp. 1-31)

    In November 2000, I walked into the foyer of an old church in Grey Lynn, a suburb of New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland. Up until two decades ago, this run-down, yet beautiful building had been used for worship by the Loto Tonga Methodist Church congregation of Tongans, who emigrated from their small island archipelago homeland, some 1200 miles away. It was now used as an ancillary space by the church, which had relocated to a newer building further back on the property. Two rooms near the front of the church were occupied by rectangular tables on top of which were...

  6. 1 Migration, Tradition, and Barkcloth: Authentic Innovations in Textile Gifts
    (pp. 32-62)

    Through exchange, members of Pacific transnational communities forge and maintain the intersecting webs of obligation, desire, and value transfer that connect them to kin and co-ethnics in other homes, villages, and countries. Their exchange practices involve both high-status traditional valuables and modern cash wealth. In the case of textiles that are particularly prominent in exchange practices of Tongan diasporans, the objects’ value stems partly from the fact that Tongans have historically invested them with power and shared meanings.

    Textiles are symbolically “open” to a range of categorizations and associations that depend, in part, on the qualities of the textiles in...

  7. 2 Gender, Materiality, and Value: Tongan Women’s Cooperatives in New Zealand
    (pp. 63-90)

    In 2001, a photograph and short article about a group of Tongan women appeared in Auckland’sCentral Leader,a regional newspaper. In the accompanying photograph, ten smiling women were seated in front of a large reddish-brown dyed textile with black hand-painted motifs of flowerlei(garlands) and the royal seal of Tonga. The textile was mounted on the rear inside wall of the public hall that adjoined the Methodist church building where the women worshipped regularly. From its size and patterning, this textile resembled bark-cloth from Tonga. The headline to the article read: “Sharing Skills and Good Laugh” (Scaife 2009)....

  8. 3 Women, Roots, and Routes: Life Histories and Life Paths
    (pp. 91-118)

    This chapter explores how commoner women’s involvement withkoloa,or textile wealth, articulates with their transnational family relationships and their individual life choices to produce the multiterritorial nation. The premise of the chapter is that commoner women have historically been innovators inkoloamaking, having continually experimented with new materials, techniques, decorative designs, and uses forkoloa.Their propensity toward experimentation and embellishment with new forms has enabled these women to expand the number and types of valuables that they gift in a traditional vein, even when living in new contexts, locations, and material conditions. When commoner women presentkoloa,...

  9. 4 Gender, Kinship, and Economics: Transacting in Prestige and Complex Ceremonial Gifts
    (pp. 119-147)

    The obligations inherent in the bonds of family are the reason that Tongans engage in the often complex and challenging processes of financing kin-based exchange, now under conditions of a globalized world largely controlled by capitalist exchange. Anthropologist Ilana Gershon (2007) calls for a reconceptualization of the scale of diaspora, suggesting that diaspora is not simply happening on a global or regional scale, but also at the level of family. Diasporic communities develop because people move or relocated between different branches of a kin group, a reorganization of family across national borders. In this chapter, I build on Gershon’s conception...

  10. 5 Cash, Death, and Diaspora: When Koloa Won’t Do
    (pp. 148-167)

    The use of money as gift continues to transform gift giving in Tongan life-stage rituals, occasions at which families present both women’s valuables—textiles—and men’s valuables, such as long yams and pigs. Indeed, several Tongans I have spoken to predict that money will eventually replacekoloaas a ceremonial valuable, especially in diaspora, and some of these informants perceive some advantage to this scenario. They note that cash is less cumbersome than large pieces ofkoloa; it takes less time and labor to transport than traditional wealth; it carries important symbolism as a modern valuable, indexing spiritual devotion and...

  11. 6 Church, Cash, and Competition Multi-Centrism and Modern Religion
    (pp. 168-187)

    One of the contexts that most Tongans consider to symbolize “tradition” is the practice of donations to Christian churches, especially in the various Tongan Methodist denominations. As described earlier, members of these congregations are expected to present cash gifts to their churches at regular donation periods (misinale) and material gifts to church ministers, and churches play a key role in facilitating cash and in-kind donations to villages and national projects in Tonga. Since the late nineteenth century in Tonga cash has been a conventional form of church donation, but as we saw in chapter 5, it is not the preferred...

  12. Conclusion. Moving, Dwelling, and Transforming Spaces
    (pp. 188-196)

    For people in diaspora communities, there continues to be a powerful connection between feeling tied to a place and moving between various places. This book has explored this connection through the lens of women’s material culture production and exchange, illuminating how the movement of objects maps spaces of significance for social actors and how the roles assigned to certain valuables continue to be shaped by competing ideas about gender roles, cultural and religious identity, history, the present, and the future. Recognizing that movement must be punctuated by culturally significant activity on the ground, the book has also thrown into relief...

  13. Glossary of Polynesian Terms
    (pp. 197-203)
  14. References
    (pp. 204-218)
  15. Index
    (pp. 219-227)