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Chapter 2 (Rosalva and Kyle)

May 3, 2012

In chapter 2, Niko Besnier talked about the anxieties Tongan people are experiencing. These anxieties are the results of both foreign and local influence. Tongan’s modernity can been seen from various aspects of life in the islands from living, consumption, productions, and foreign presence and influence. King George Tupou I became king through the helped of British Wesleyan missionaries. He had conquered many small island or groups under his ruled and this was how his dynasty began. They developed a constitution that was inspired by “Hawai‘i’s constitution, which itself was based on the constitution of the United States” ( Besnier 2011:29). During the colonization of the pacific islands, this was considered the “intrusion of colonial powers and resident foreigners” (Besnier 2011:31) conflicts and other problems arose in the area of Tonga. Tongans believed that their country never really subdued to colonial rule, even though British still interfere in their affairs. According to Besnier under the reign of … “Tupou IV (1918-2006), the country underwent fundamental transformations” (Besnier 2011:31) and the people struggled with the changes that were occurring.
Secondly he mentions the migrations that take place, both eternal and external. Tongans people move from rural to urban areas where they would seek education, medical services, and economic opportunities. One of the main concentrated city and island is Nuku ‘alofa or Tonga. Tongan people not only move between islands, but they also move across international boundaries. The international countries that the majority moves to are New Zealand, Australia, and United States etc. When Tongans migrate to other countries it is often the desire to seek education. This became possible with “Newington College, a Methodist Church school in Sydney founded in 1863,” (Besnier 2011:39) Newington was also responsible for introducing rugby to Tongans. Education is believed to bring upward mobility, but is also responsible for migrations were Tongans seek work in their field and this is scarce in the islands. In today’s world it is harder for Tongans to obtain visas. Tongans that have migrated to industrial countries were not allowed before to claim dual citizenship until 2008, where they were allowed to claim dual citizenship if they were able to demonstrate Tongan descent.
Tongans who have migrated or have relatives in other countries look to them for economic sustainability. Family economic varies according to seasons. An emergency may arise or other obligations that may present themselves, this would make it difficult for the person sustaining them. Some rely on remittances, loans from banks, pawnshops, and communal savings. One example is the “Kava-drinking club” where they “hold fund-raising drinking parties” (Besnier 2011:44) for different purposes such as scholarships. For Tongans who come back from industrial countries they bring back with them new ideas, goods, and symbols, which influence Tongans in the island. Foreigners have also moved to Tonga islands. With this came commerce, some of the most prosperous are the Chinese in retail and shops. There is resentment between the less privileged Tongans and Chinese. The Chinese businesses were among the first to be attacked by looters and arsons.
Agriculture is also of importance to the islands, generating income through crops such as Kava, yams, and bananas. One of the main fruit that was generating money for some time was squash, but stops when it was affected by environmental damage, and mal practices. The downfall of the squash became problematic to the industry and many did not return to it.
Besnier also talked about consumption and that it was more of a desire and ideology to have material goods. Some examples that he use were houses, cars, overweight bodies etc. One of the businesses flourishing is car washes, since dust is common in Tonga. Owning a car has brought with it other problems such as health care since many do not walk anymore. There is a high rate of obesity and diabetes due to lack of exercise. Clothing is another major factor that plays a role in modernity. The wearing of barkcloths was also prohibited forcing them to buy imported clothing, although this was repealed it never came back it is now use for ceremonial use. Besnier believes that “The material life of the country and its diaspora is shaped, not surprisingly, by both world economic conditions and local dynamics. Economic projects are also informed by ideological dynamics, many of which are resiliently continuous with the past” (Besnier 2011:74). I do think that all this themes presented in this chapter play a role in the anxieties people in Tonga are feeling and are experiencing today. With influence from around the globe and the ideology that they need to have all this material good or the desires to have them would bring in happiness and trying to have the same commodities as other industrial countries brings many anxieties. I also add that this creates more self dependent of other countries for goods or material goods, more energy, money, and time is used to achieve this.


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