Reply by Kerry James


Valeri (1989:240) wishes to show that the authority of Tongan kingship rested ultimately on the way in which it was exemplary of cultural ideals, so that the kainga [extended family] relations of the Tu'i Tonga were symbolically important to the society as a whole (loc. cit., 211). Why, then, does he stress the father-son relation as 'crucial in the constitution of Tongan kingship' (loc. cit., 222) at the expense of key relations with women? He merely repeats an earlier assertion, that the Tu'i Tonga appointed the titles of the Tu'i Tonga Fefine and of the Tamaha, her sacred child, and therefore 'controlled' them as a function of himself (loc. cit., 238). But Gifford (1929:79), his source, gives only slender evidence that the Tu'i Tonga 'directed the choice' of these titles, and none that he controlled them. Instead, he says, the Tu'i Tonga brought offerings to the Tu'i Tonga Fefine and sat down in front of her with all humility (loc. cit., 82), just as he did to his titular deity Hikule'o. Valeri (1989:238) interprets this as the Tu'i Tonga bowing not to a person but to 'a principle'. This bears out my points rather better than it does his.

Valeri also accuses me of reducing his exposition solely to its 'secondary (oedipal) thesis'. I didn't; I pointed out his inadequate treatment of female figures in both Tongan myths and the 'oedipal drama' although, by his own definition, they are critical (Valeri 1989:219). In caricaturing my analysis he goes too far in the other direction. Misreading a quote from Thomas in one of my notes, Valeri says that mothers had their chiefly husbands killed to have their sons installed in their place. 'One can easily imagine', he speculates, 'what it meant to a Tongan son to be installed by a mother who had had his father killed. It was really an oedipal fantasy come true ...' Well, no, because the mother did not install her son. Thomas clearly says, as did I (James, 1991:307), that 'the friends of the family' would 'make way for the child of their daughter to reign'. Lacking Valeri's crystal ball, I do not presume to imagine what that meant to the son. In assuring me further, however, that I know nothing of the oedipal conflict as a current psychoanalytic concept, Valeri enlarges on what he said in his paper, as if saying it louder might convince me. He then broadens the male child's object of rivalry to 'any person or even set of persons who are likely to be perceived by the child as an obstacle or obstacles between himself and his primordial relationship with his mother'. Such as his wet-nurse? He follows this with so many 'displaced, symbolic and usually polarized', emotionally unconscious and indirectly revealed, forms of the oedipal conflict, that I cease to wonder that Valeri could find 'whiffs' of oedipal themes in Tongan myths; by this definition, they could be found in the Sydney Street Guide. …

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