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Staying Fijian

Staying Fijian: Vatulele Island Barkcloth and Social Identity

Rod Ewins
Copyright Date: 2009
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wqp6d
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  • Book Info
    Staying Fijian
    Book Description:

    Barkcloth, or masi, is the traditional art form of the women of Vatulele Island. Its manufacture continues to flourish, even increase, while many other arts are declining, despite the fact that most of its functional roles have been usurped by Western cloth and paper. This book explores this apparent paradox and concludes that the reasons lie in the ability of its identity functions to buffer the effects of social stress. This is so for not only Vatuleleans but all Fijians. It is argued that the resultant strong indigenous demand has caused the efflorescence in barkcloth manufacture and use, contrary to the common assumption that the tourism market is the "savior" of art. This cultural vigor, however, has social costs that are explored here and weighed against its benefits. Rod Ewins locates a very local activity in both national and global contexts, historically, sociologically, and theoretically.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6050-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-ix)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. x-xiii)
  4. [Illustrations]
    (pp. xiv-xv)
  5. PRELIMINARY NOTES
    (pp. xvi-xviii)
  6. PREFACE
    (pp. xix-xxv)
  7. 1 INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-9)

    When I first arrived in Vatulele Island’s chiefly village of Ekubu (Photo 1.1, Plate 1a) in July 1980, I became immediately aware of a rhythmic clanking sound from houses on all sides. Walking past the first kitchen doorway, I could see what the source of the sound was. A woman was using a short wooden club to hit something laid over a wide timber beam with short legs (Photo 1.2). I entered politely, stooping low with hands clasped in front of me, and immediately sat down just inside the door to watch, covering my ears with my hands against the...

  8. 2 STAYING FIJIAN: VATULELEAN IDENTITY, CHANGE AND STRESS
    (pp. 10-69)

    There can be no questioning the potency of the mental images left by Fiji’s armed Coups d’État of 1987 and 2000, when unruly mobs of indigenous Fijians harassed, robbed and terrorised their non-indigenous fellow citizens. For some, these images may have forever displaced the painstakingly-crafted, soft-lensed picture of smiling, courtly hosts in a tropical paradise holiday destination.

    Few indigenous Fijians would be happy defining themselves as members of such mindless ugly mobs. Yet on each occasion, the civil disorder and racist violence have been extreme expressions of the Fijian determination to maintain their distinctive identity — to ‘stay Fijian’ and...

  9. 3 INDIGENOUS ART OR AIRPORT ART?
    (pp. 70-89)

    Given the particularity of Fijian identity, and my contention thatmasiis a key signifier of that identity, it was always going to be difficult to reconcile this with the widespread currency within Fiji of the view expressed above by Graburn, in relation to barkcloth generally, and to that of Vatulele specifically. Though seldom challenged either in public statements or in the literature, it quickly became apparent to me that it is at odds with the evidence of Vatulele’smasi-makers themselves. They have been involved in the commercialisation of their barkcloth for over half a century, and undoubtedly tourist-tapahas...

  10. 4 ART, MEANING AND MYTH
    (pp. 90-117)

    In all Pacific cultures, space-time media such as music, dance, performance and rhetoric are as important as, and often function in conjunction with, the plastic or material arts. However, since it would be cumbersome to be constantly particularising, and given the focus of this book on barkcloth ormasi, the word ‘art’ should be read throughout as referring to intentionally-producedphysicalobjects — the so-called ‘plastic arts’. It will be clear, however, that these operate in the widest possible context of meaning and association, particularly when they participate in the ‘multi-media performances’ of ritual.

    Every Vatulelean woman making a piece...

  11. 5 BARKCLOTH’S ASCRIBED AND INSCRIBED MEANINGS
    (pp. 118-167)

    So far, I have been making the case thatmasiis important in defining, sustaining and reconstructing social identity, and thus contributing to social solidarity (particularly, though not exclusively, through its role in ritual), and that these capacities are particularly mobilised in times of social stress. Its capacity to do these things, I have argued, are due to the meanings that have been attached to it, by the makers inscribing it with socially-accepted and recognised meanings, or by meanings becoming ascribed to it through usage. It is time to examine which ofmasi’s sign-functions have been powerful enough to generate...

  12. 6 RITUAL IN VATULELE
    (pp. 168-221)

    It was argued in Chapter 4 that the instrumental potential of art in general, andmasispecifically, operates through its embedded meanings to help define and sustain group identity, and Barthes’s conclusion that the sign-functions of objects (likemasi) can be condensed into myth has been discussed. In order to reach their full affective potential, myths may require the multiple stimuli of ritual, in particular its repetition and bodily engagement. In turn, the power of ritual depends heavily on the potency of its incorporated signs and myths (Kertzer 1988:179). As Turner would reaffirm much later, Durkheim stated firmly that ‘very...

  13. 7 GOODS PRODUCTION AND DISTRIBUTION
    (pp. 222-247)

    It has been pointed out previously that artforms such as barkcloth are made and function within specific parameters of meaning that are configured by the social group and not by individuals. Fijians have always had two words for their material culture which distinguish between objects in terms of their social roles. Those words arei-yauandi-yāyā. Little light was cast on the distinctions by an early translation of the two terms as ‘property and gear’ (Beauclerc, translating Tonganivalu 1917), as both fit i-yāyā, the broader term for objects and possessions. Thus the Fiji Museum, which contains a vast array...

  14. 8 FROM NON-RITUAL TRADE TO COTTAGE INDUSTRY
    (pp. 248-289)

    A case has been made in previous chapters thatmasi’s various levels of meaning, and its roles as mythified art and ritual prestation-object, all have a bearing on its increased role in the indigenous market, supplying urban and other Fijians who have not sustained their own manufactures of, or now have limited access to,i-yau. Theories of goods circulation have ranged from depicting gift, barter and capitalism as an ‘evolutionary’ sequence (Mauss (1925)1969), to seeing them as extremes on a continuum (for example Sahlins 1972:192). However, the so-called ‘gift economy’ generally overlooks, or at least does not deal well with,...

  15. 9 IN CONCLUSION (AND ANTICIPATION…)
    (pp. 290-310)

    When I decided to undertake research into Fijian art, and settled on the barkcloth of Vatulele Island as my central case-study, I was, as I said in the Introduction, intent on discovering the meaning that I was confident existed in barkcloth. Over time I found that multiple layers of meaning do indeed exist, but none of them in the straightforward manner of ‘this motif symbolises that’ or ‘this name signifies that’ that I had initially naively expected (perhaps hoped) might be the case. The foregoing has been a record of that long engagement, and in this chapter I will review...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 311-337)
  17. 3 BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 338-372)
  18. 4 GLOSSARY of Vatulelean and Standard Fijian
    (pp. 373-388)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 389-402)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 403-403)