The Contemporary Pacific, vol. 19, no. 2 (2007)

TCP 19.2 cover imageAbout the Artist: Ralph Regenvanu, p. ix


The Story of the Eel, p. 357
told by Elder Mark of Emil Potun


A Fishy Romance: Chiefly Power and the Geopolitics of Desire, p. 365
Heather E Young Leslie

What can fish stories tell us about how people live with the complexities of rapid environmental transformations and the local effects of national, globalized, and neoliberal desires for resources? To answer this, I take the Tā‘atu fish harvesting ritual and accompanying oral narrative to be an “ecography” that addresses human intimacies and changes on a small atoll in Tonga. This type of analysis draws on traditional ecological, political, and sociological knowledge, as well as geography, history, and cultural symbols, to give a deeper understanding of place and the contemporary experience of people intimate with the local environment as source of food and livelihood. When examined in the light of today’s drastically depleted stocks of Pacific pelagic fishes such as skipjack tuna, the ecography of the Tā‘atu provides a benchmark for a shift in a human–fish relationship that provided Polynesians with practical and poetic sustenance for hundreds if not thousands of years. At the same time, the myth of the Tā‘atu highlights the historic political importance of desire, beauty, and their confluence with bounty, in the production of generations of chiefly privilege and cultural practice. Imbricated with the shifts in human–fish and beauty–bounty relations are lessons for the contemporary chiefly–commoner relationship in Tonga, the last nation to claim status as an uninterrupted Polynesian kingdom, as well as laments for the loss of independence an important food resource offered. Today, as in the past, the Tā‘atu is a fishy tale about the geopolitics of various desires.
Keywords: beauty, chiefs, ecography, environment, fishing, narrative, Tonga

The Trouble with RAMSI: Reexamining the Roots of Conflict in Solomon Islands , p. 409
Shahar Hameiri

While the debate that has followed the intervention by the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) has centered on the suitability of the failed state label to Solomon Islands, I argue that this debate is misdirected because the concept of state failure itself is accepted uncritically. Examining what is meant by state failure is crucial, because (a) it has assumed an almost commonsensical mantle, which obscures its particular political and ideological underpinnings; and (b) it has considerable conceptual limitations that render it a problematic framework for explaining the roots and possible trajectories of the conflict in Solomon Islands. State failure is essentially a descriptive category with limited explanatory capacity, grounded in a depoliticized and a historical theorization of institutions, state, and society. At its core is an unhelpful preoccupation with state capacity as measured against a hypothetical legal-rational good-governance model. Conflicts are understood in this framework as the result of poor governance or recalcitrant social forces. RAMSI, consequently, has sought to strengthen the institutional capacity of Solomon Islands as the key to conflict resolution as well as a preventative long-term peace-building initiative. In contrast, I argue that unless we develop a clearer understanding of the causes and dynamics of conflict, RAMSI’s state-building approach is likely to exacerbate rather than alleviate tensions in Solomon Islands. This approach involves a shift in emphasis away from the current fixation on institutional capacity audits associated with the failed state concept, toward a more constructive theorization of the historically contingent relationship between changing patterns of economic development and social conflict.
Keywords: Solomon Islands, failed state, RAMSI, state capacity, conflict, governance, patronage


The Last Leserrkab on Uripiv, p. 443
told by Elder Mark of Emil Potun


Making a Case for Tongan as an Endangered Language, p. 446
Yuko Otsuka

This paper examines the sociolinguistic situation in Tonga and discusses its relevance to language maintenance in Polynesia. The environment surrounding Tongan is not visibly ominous: it is an official language of an independent state and is spoken by a sizable population in a predominantly monolingual community. Tongan represents an instance of language shift as a result of globalization, wherein a speech community voluntarily gives up its indigenous language(s) for another, more socioeconomically beneficial language, in this case, English. The paper proposes that language endangerment should be understood in terms of a unit larger than the nation-state. This is particularly relevant in the Polynesian context, in which international borders are obscured by transnational migrants. The paper also discusses some positive roles the diasporic communities may potentially play in language maintenance.
Keywords: Tongan, Polynesian, endangered languages, globalization, diaspora, language shift, language maintenance

Viewing Diasporas from the Pacific: What Pacific Ethnographies Offer Pacific Diaspora Studies,
p. 474
Ilana Gershon

This article explores what long-standing analytical traditions in Pacific ethnographies can offer Pacific diaspora studies. In particular, I advocate researchers’ reconceptualizing their unit of analysis when interrogating the relationships between families and diasporas, and argue that family networks fashion diasporas’ longevity and tangibility. Emphasizing families’ social organization encourages Pacific diaspora studies to focus on how and when cultural differences have effects.
Keywords: diaspora, migrants, networks, knowledge circulation, exchange, families


The Journey of the Dead, p. 505
told by Chief Sukon of Emil Potnambe


Imagining Oceania: Indigenous and Foreign Representations of a Sea of Islands, p. 508
Margaret Jolly

This paper considers the relation of indigenous and foreign in how “the Pacific” and the “Pacific Rim” have been and are imagined. First, I ponder the power of cartography through the lens of two maps derived from the eighteenth century and speculate as to how such maps differed from indigenous genealogies of places and peoples. Second, I explore the origins and the lasting significance of the partitioning of the Pacific into the spatiotemporal regions of Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia, and consider some indigenous uses of these foreign constructs. Third, I reflect on how academic and policy representations of the Pacific “region” and “rim” have been shaped by geopolitical concerns and developmentalism starting in the 1970s, from the viewpoint of Australia (and in a more fleeting way, the United States). Fourth, through a brief exegesis of the influential writings of Epeli Hau‘ofa, I consider his alternative vision of Oceania as a “sea of islands.” Finally, I confront the specter of new ethnological typifications derived from a reading of “roots” and “routes” as dichotomy rather than dialectic, and stress the need for refocusing on the relations and creative exchanges between Islanders living in and between region and rim.
Keywords: Oceania, cartography, culture areas, Pacific region, Pacific Rim


The Two Children Left Behind, p. 547
told by Frank Kenneth of Emil Lowi


The Region in Review: International Issues and Events, 2005-2006, p. 552
Karen von Strokirch

Melanesia in Review: Issues and Events, 2006, p. 578
David Chappell, Alumita L Durutalo, Anita Jowitt, Louisa Kabutaulaka, Tarcisius Tara Kabutaulaka


The Lebon Brothers, p. 615
told by John Regenvanu of Emil Bweterial and Emil Periv


The Making of Global and Local Modernities in Melanesia: Humiliation, Transformation and the Nature of Culture Change, edited by Joel Robbins and Holly Wardlow, p. 618
Reviewed by Bruce Knauft

Pacific Futures, edited by Michael Powles, p. 620
Reviewed by Anthony van Fossen

Political Parties in the Pacific Islands, edited by Roland Rich with Luke Hambly and Micheal G Morgan, p. 622
Reviewed by Stephen Levine

Globalization and the Re-Shaping of Christianity in the Pacific Islands, edited by Manfred Ernst, p. 624
Reviewed by John Barker

Conservation Is Our Government Now: The Politics of Ecology in Papua New Guinea, by Paige West, p. 626
Reviewed by Alec Golub

Rationales of Ownership: Transactions and Claims to Ownership in Contemporary Papua New Guinea, edited by Lawrence Kalinoe and James Leach, p. 628
Reviewed by Malia Talakai

Social Discord and Bodily Disorder: Healing among the Yupno of Papua New Guinea, by Verna Keck, p. 630
Reviewed by Judith C Barker

Les Javanais du Caillou, Des affres de l’exil aux aléas de l’intégration: Sociologie historique de la communauté indonésienne de Nouvelle Calédonie / The Javanese of the Rock: From the Hazards of Exile to the Hazards of Integration, by Jean Luc Maurer, in collaboration with Marcel Magi and with a contribution by Marie-Jo Siban, p. 632
Reviewed by Jean-Louis Rallu

Shifting Images of Identity in the Pacific, edited by Toon van Meijl and Jelle Miedema, p. 635
Reviewed by Eric Silverman

The People of the Sea: Environment, Identity, and History in Oceania, by Paul D’Arcy, p. 638
Reviewed by John Edward Terrell

Borrowing: A Pacific Perspective, edited by Jan Tent and Paul Geraghty, p. 640
Reviewed by Uri Tadmor

American Pacificism: Oceania in the US Imagination, by Paul Lyons, p. 644
Reviewed by Elizabeth DeLoughrey

No Turning Back: A Memoir, by E T W Fulton, edited by Elizabeth Fulton Thurston, p. 646
Reviewed by Rob Hilliard

One and a Half Pacific Islands / Teuana ao Teiterana n aba n Te Betebeke: Stories the Banaban People Tell of Themselves / I-Banaba Aika a Karakin oin Rongorongola, edited by Jennifer Shennan and Makin Corrie Tekenimatang, p. 648
Reviewed by Mary E Lawson Burke

The Songmaker’s Chair, a play by Albert Wendt, p. 651
Reviewed by Robert Sullivan

Samoan Wedding and No. 2 [feature films], p. 653
Reviewed by Marata Tamaira

Pacific Encounters: Art and Divinity in Polynesia, 1760 –1860 [exhibition], p. 657
Reviewed by Patricia Te Arapo Wallace