Academic journal article Oceania

Selling Is Poverty, Buying a Shame: Representations of Work, Effective Leadership and Market Failures on Wallis

Academic journal article Oceania

Selling Is Poverty, Buying a Shame: Representations of Work, Effective Leadership and Market Failures on Wallis

Article excerpt

In a research proposal on work and its representations, Maurice Godelier reminds us that words such as 'work', 'to work' and 'workers' have different meanings in different historical periods and cultures. The ancient Greeks, for example, did not have a term to indicate work-in-general, but used ponos for painful activity, and ergon for tasks in the domains of agriculture and warfare. They used verbs such as poein for to-do and pratein for to-make or to-act (cf. the more contemporary concept of praxis). In ancient and medieval China, another example, lao was the word for both the intellectual and manual work of the ruling class and the class of peasants-soldiers. As in ancient Greece, the Chinese peasants were also warriors, but they did not live in cities and had no citizen rights. All these kinds of work (lao) were intensive and difficult, but honorable. In contrast to lao, the Chinese word ch'in indicated the work of artisans and merchants, and presupposed skill and patience in order to create artificial go ods, which were not considered especially deserving or meritorious. All female activities belonged to the category ch'in, and were thus without particular merit or honor (Godelier 1980:171-173). The Polynesian society on Wallis Island ('Uvea) shares such gender based distribution of forms of work. A distinction is made between male and female work in terms of gaue a te tagata and gaue a te fafine or, shorter, gaue fakatagata and gaue fakafafine. The principal tasks for Wallisian men are the production of food in the form of root crops, pigs and seafood (fish), whereas women produce tapa and mats. Aside from this, some men engage in politics (chieftaincy), whereas most women give birth to children, care for them as well as for the household. For the last one and a half centuries, (local) warfare is past history, or is transformed into the performance of war dances accompanied by songs in which maleness is expressed in a dramatic way. Both men and women are implicated in formal as well as informal gift-giving, although the most formal presentations and discourses, usually around a kava bowl, are executed by men.

POLYNESIAN FEATURES AND RESTRICTED FRENCH CAPITALISM

Wallis is an island of 23 square miles to the north of Fiji and west of Tonga and Samoa. At present, 9,500 people live on Wallis (INSEE/ITSEE 1996:1), whose original, Polynesian name is 'Uvea. In 1888, Wallis obtained the status of a French protectorate and, in 1961, that of a French overseas territory (Territoire d'Outre-Mer). With this, the political link imposed from the outside with the island of Futuna (at 230 km distance and with 4,600 inhabitants) became a fact. These are, however, two distinct Polynesian societies with differing cultures (Burrows 1936, 1937). At present, Wallis is still part and parcel of the overseas territory of Wallis-and-Futuna, a French variant of American Samoa, since 1900 an unincorporated territory of the USA and also to be found in Western Polynesia. We should add here that, for France, the political-economic interest in the territory of Wallis-and-Futuna is relatively small compared to the two other French overseas territories in the Pacific, French Polynesia and New Caledon ia. Apparently, however, such interests exist (see Aldrich 1993; Chesneaux 1991; De Deckker and Lagayette 1987; Guillebaud 1976; Henningham 1992; Laux 2000; Rensch 1983; Roux 1995). Apart from the typically Polynesian political-juridical system of chieftaincy, Wallisians as well as Futunans participate in parliamentary politics and there exists a form of French administration of justice (droit commun) parallel to the Wallisian one (droit coutumier) (see Aimot 1995, Trouilhet-Tamole and Simete 1995).

The Wallisian version of Polynesian identity or, in short, Wallisian identity, is composed of a specific socioeconomic, political and ideological system which, analogous to the situation in other western-Polynesian societies such as Tonga, Futuna, Samoa and Rotuma, may be defined as a configuration of the following four features: (1) a paramount chieftainship and corresponding system of asymmetrical ideology based on the mana-taboo complex; (2) the dominant role of cognatic kinship in the social relations of production, distribution and politics; (3) a form of land ownership which is structured by principles of both chieftainship and (cognatic) kinship; (4) a subsistence-, barter- and gift economy in which pigs, root crops, seafood, kava, mats and tapa play a predominant part (Van der Grijp 2001 and n. …

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