Sunday, June 30, 2013

Murray Edmond in Tonga: some photographic evidence

When Skyler and I decided to take advantage of the 'Atenisi Institute's mid-semester break and travel back to New Zealand for a couple of weeks we were full of fond feelings for friends and relatives on Te Ika a Maui, and forgetful of the brutal weather that Kiwi winters can bring. When we caught our flight south the barometer at Fua'amotu airport read twenty-eight degrees Celsius; two and a half hours later we stepped into an Auckland night that was a full twenty degrees cooler.

I've spent this evening wedged between a small heater and a computer in a suburb of Kirikiriroa, where the temperature is stuck in single figures. I've been uploading some of the photographs Skyler and I took in Tonga, and hoping that the tropical skies and evergreen trees on my screen will somehow bring a little Tongan heat into the room.

If you're annoyed that I haven't shared a little tropical warmth with you, by placing a cocktail-orange sunset or a langurous palm at the top of this post, I suggest you direct your complaints at Brett Cross. When I told Brett, a month or so ago, that the veteran New Zealand poet, playwright, dramaturge, and academic Murray Edmond was preparing to visit Tonga and to do some teaching at the 'Atenisi Institute, the director of Titus Books demanded I provide him with photographic proof of the event.

Brett's scepticism is in some ways understandable. My powers of persuasion are negligible, and the task of persuading a cultural activist as busy and important as Murray Edmond to pay his own way to a relatively isolated island and give a lecture and a theatre workshop there pro bono would normally be well beyond me.

But it wasn't my wit and cooking skills which drew Murray to Tonga and to the 'Atenisi Institute. During his decades as the Head of the Drama Department at the University of Auckland, Murray has worked with many actors, playwrights, and texts from the tropical Pacific. Only this year he helped his Tongan-New Zealand PhD student Michelle Johansson stage Mele Kanikau - a Pageant, a controversial, seldom-produced work by the legendary American Samoan John Kneubuhl, at Auckland's Fale Pasifika. Students like Johansson and texts like Mele Kanikau had made Murray want to take a firsthand look at tropical Polynesia.

Skyler, Aneirin and I picked Murray up from Fua'amotu airport and began to drive him to Nuku'alofa, along a road lined with churches, hibiscus hedges, and Chinese-run stores selling bootleg DVDs. When we reached the village of Vaini, though, we found our way blocked by a procession moving slowly up the middle of the road. A dozen women clad in torn and dirty mats that began near their ankles and almost hooded their heads from the sun loitered near the back of the crowd.

As she sat with her foot on the brake, Skyler explained to Murray that the women were taking part in a funeral procession, and that they were wearing a type of ta'ovala, or ceremonial mat, that symbolised, through its size and bulk, that they were mourning a family member who had held a higher rank than them. Skyler added that Tongans usually wore their shabbiest ta'ovala to funerals, in order to symbolise their sense of loss. The palangi habit of dressing up for the dead baffled them. While Skyler spoke a brass band marched slowly past us into the procession and struck up a tune.

It was hot in the car, and we could only move forward at the pace of the grieving crowd. A dirt road appeared on our left, and I suggested to Murray that we turn onto it, and take one of the several alternative routes into Nuku'alofa. Another traveller might have been eager to get to Nuku'alofa, get out of the car, and get into a cool shower. Murray, though, waved away such ideas. He had produced a battered red notebook from his bag, and had begun to scribble in it. "Everything here is fascinating" he said. "I'm in no hurry to drive on."

Murray was determined, from the very beginning of his visit to Tonga, to experience and learn as much as he could. Over the next six days he managed to give a public lecture which brought together his memories of growing up in the conservative city of Hamilton with a tour of colonial and postcolonial New Zealand poetry, to run a theatre workshop which somehow managed, in the space of a couple of hours, to turn fifty timid Tongan adolescents into scribbling playwrights and beaming actors, to talk individually with many of 'Atenisi's students about their studies and their ambitions for the future, to meet with two local theatrical troupes, the Baha'i-inspired On the Spot outfit and Fili Tonu, which is employed by the Ministry of Health to promote awareness of subjects like safe sex, to attend a raucous Fili Tonu performance held in a burnt-out lot left over from Nuku'alofa's 2006 riot, to visit and learn about many of the important historical sites on Tongatapu, like the stone monuments built by the ancient Tongan Empire in the east of the island and the giant 'tsunami rock' in the western village of Kala'au, to read and explicate one of his poems on Tongan public television, and to sit for hours around a series of kava bowls talking about subjects as different as the Book of Genesis, the theories of Eric Von Daniken, and the New Zealand political scene in the 1970s.

Murray's energy and curiosity were inspiring. When I look now at the photographs (click to expand them) taken during his visit, I feel the warmth of his personality, as well as the warmth of the tropics.



Thursday, June 27, 2013

Rambo the revolutionary

More than a quarter century after his screen debut John Rambo, maladjusted veteran of the Vietnam War and roving ambassador for American militarism, has yet to win film critics to his bloody cause. Sylvester Stallone may have won admission to France's elite Order of Arts and Letters, but his most famous creation is still widely dismissed as a violent buffoon. The Guardian's Xan Brooks expressed the critical consensus when he slammed Rambo's 'boneheaded geopolitics' and 'preposterous' acting in the fourth and most recent film in the series.

But Rambo has always won plaudits from the right of the American political spectrum. In the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan's administration was heating up the Cold War with its Star Wars programme and its proxy wars in Nicaragua and Afghanistan, Rambo seem to embody American bellicosity. Reagan quoted John Rambo during a speech on tax-cutting in 1985, and a few months later treated Stallone to dinner at the White House. That terminally didactic punk band the Dead Kennedys summed up the American left's response to Rambo in their song 'Rambozo the Clown', which condemned the character as a Reaganite 'brat out of hell' who 'rewrites history with a machine gun'.

Rambo's habit of slaying Asians, Arabs and other non-white folk hasn't prevented him from winning huge audiences in the Third World. Many observers have lamented his popularity there, seeing it as an example of American cultural imperialism. In his 1988 book Video Night in Kathmandu, for example, Pico Iyer complained that Rambo had 'conquered' Asia.
But Iyer and the Dead Kennedys had forgetten that movies, like all forms of art, underdetermine their interpretation. Sylvester Stallone may have sought, for cynically commercially or sincerely patriotic reasons, to make propaganda for American imperialism, but his audiences have had their own priorities.

In her 1989 essay 'Rambo in Tonga', Christine Gailey explained the ways that audiences in the Friendly Islands turned Rambozo into a symbol of Tongan rather than American military prowess. As Gailey noted, many Tongans find it hard to stay still when they watch a movie. With encouragement from other audience members, an individual will often leap from his or her seat and 'enthusiastically interact with the characters on the screen'. Interaction will typically involve providing a running commentary on the film and both imitating and adapting the movements and speech of the film's characters. Gailey noted that the Tongan versions of films like Rambo often bear 'only [a] tangential relation to the film's intended narrative'.

In the kava clubs and lounge rooms of Tonga, Rambo ceases to be a 1980s Cold Warrior, and instead becomes an assistant to the Tongan Defence Force as it fights the Japanese Imperial Army through the mountains and forests of Melanesia during World War Two.

Writing in the Journal of the Polynesian Society in 2009, Sarina Pearson amplified Gailey's points. In 'Video Night in Nuku'alofa', an essay whose title nodded ironically at Pico Iyer's book, Pearson argued that Tongans had 'localised and rehistoricised' Rambo and many other Hollywood and Bollywood movies.

When I discussed Pearson's text in my Modern Pacific History paper at the 'Atenisi Institute, the young film buff Miko Tohi* talked at length about the ways in which Tongans far from the bright lights of Nuku'alofa 'act out' foreign movies. "For a long time a lot of people in remote villages never got to see films, because of the lack of power" he explained, "but you wouldn't know that from listening to them talk. Often they'd received a very inaccurate version of a film from a fellow villager who'd seen it first-hand, then narrated and acted it for them." Miko had no doubts about the way his fellow Tongans viewed Rambo. "For a lot of Tongans, Rambo fights in the Second World War" he said.

The Tongans may have sent Rambo back to the 1940s, but for the people of Bougainville, the copper-rich island in the extreme south of Papua New Guinea, he is very much a contemporary figure. in 1989, after decades of unarmed protest against a huge mine that had capsized their gardens and poisoned their dams, the Bougainvilleans launched a guerrilla war designed to force the mine's Western owners off their island and to win political independence from Port Moresby.
The war on Bougainville pitted the Papua New Guinea Defence Force, which had been trained in Australia and which boasted helicopters, mortars, and heavy machine guns, against a thousand or so rebels equipped with homemade rifles so crude that they often jammed or split after firing their first shot. The Bougainvilleans added to their meagre arsenal by foraging for unexploded bombs which had been dropped fifty years earlier by the Japanese, and which lay like huge fossils under the rain forest's rubble of lichen-coated boulders and fallen branches.
The Bougainville secessionists did have one secret weapon. In Bougainville Campaign Diary, his detailed and emotional account of the first part of the war, Papuan Intelligence Officer Yauka Aluambo Liria explained that his opponents modelled themselves on Rambo. They watched Rambo movies for tips on tactics, and wore, in lieu of a proper uniform, the same red headband as Stallone's hero. Long before they named themselves the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, the island's guerrillas were known as the Rambos. The supposed epitome of American imperialism became the symbol of a struggle to drive imperialism from Bougainville.

A peace deal has given Bougainville a measure of autonomy from the Papuan New Guinean state, but the island remains an uneasy place, and its copper mine remains closed. Last year Axel G Sturm, a representative of the European investors in the mine, wrote an opinion piece in which he lamented attacks on Chinese-owned shops, illegal roadblocks, and the continuing refusal of a faction of rebels to recognise the authority of the Papua New Guinean government.
Sturm suggested that Bougainville needed something similar to the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI), the Australian-led armed force which has occupied Bougainville's southern neighbour for more than a decade. Ignoring the numerous criticisms that Solomon Islanders have made of RAMSI, and the failure of the force to impose its authority on a significant part of the country, Sturm went on to suggest that an Australian-led intervention force could be called RAMBO, or the Regional Assistance Mission for Bougainville.

Sturm's choice of the acronym RAMBO for his proposed force is no coincidence. He is well aware of the mana that Sylvester Stallone's character still possesses on Bougainville.

The second instalment in the Rambo series is one of the dozen or so films I'm going to show to students at the 'Atenisi Institute next semester, as part of a paper I'm calling Studying Sociology through Film. I was worried about whether a paper with a title like that was compatible with the sternly text-based pedagogical tradition at 'Atenisi, but Maikolo Horowitz, a long-time 'Atenisian, tells me that he taught a course with an almost identical name back in 2008. "Movies are a great way of bypassing the language barrier" Maikolo told me.

I asked Horowitz what Futa Helu, the late founder of 'Atenisi, reacted when he showed films in the classroom. "Futa owned a VCR player, which he kept in a locked box", Maikolo remembered. "Once a week he would produce a key and very solemnly open the box and hand me the player. After the lesson the machine would go back to its jail, so that it could not fall into the wrong hands and corrupt students."

I want to use movies not only to illustrate important sociological concepts - class, modernity, agency and structure, and so on - but to remind my students and myself of the way that different audiences can interpret the same work of art in very different ways, depending on their worldview and their interests.

I'm still trying to decide on which films to study alongside Rambo next semester. I'd be grateful for any suggestions left in the comments box.

*I blogged about Miko's own film project here.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Saturday, June 22, 2013

New Sensations

I have a theory that newspapers fly to Tonga. Like storm petrels and harrier hawks, they tend to flutter down on Nuku'alofa's main drag, dirty and ruffled after their long journey. Because of the time it has taken them to reach the Friendly Islands, papers often lose their news interest. It is hard to get very excited about an election or rugby game which was won or lost months ago.

Last week, though, I was alarmed to pick up a smudged and torn copy of the Guardian in a Nuku'alofa cafe, and learn that, some time in May, Lou Reed had entered a hospital in Cleveland and received an emergency liver transplant. Had the frontman of the Velvet Underground died weeks ago, without anybody to mourn him in the Friendly Islands? I was relieved when I read more of the article, and learned that the great man had come through his ordeal, and was now robust enough to resume the tai chi exercises which have apparently taken up a good deal of his time in recent years.*

When Lou Reed finally dies the obituaries will be full of stories about his days with the Velvet Underground, when he wrote grinding epics with titles like 'Heroin' and 'Waiting for the Man' and shot up on stage, but I've always loved 'New Sensations', a song he released in the mid-'80s, when he had kicked the drugs and booze and developed an unlikely interest in disco.** 'New Sensations' features a Donna Summer-style synth line, and begins with a complaint about the decadence and negativity of life in oh-so-hip New York City.

Complaining that his New York friends are like 'human tuinols', Lou jumps on his new motorbike and heads through the suburbs to the countryside:

I rode to Pennsylvania through the Delaware Gap
Sometimes I got lost and had to check the map
I stopped at a roadside diner for a burger and a coke

There were some country folk and some hunters inside
Somebody got married and somebody else died
I went to the jukebox and played a hillbilly song

They was arguing about football as I waved and went outside
And headed for the mountains feeling warm inside
I love that GPZ so much you know that I could kiss her

Ooh, New Sensations

It's amazing how good those words sound when Lou floats them over a few chords. With its vision of an escape from the corrupt city into a purifying countryside, 'New Sensations' fits easily in the hoary tradition of pastoral literature, alongside the likes of Marvell's 'The Mowing Song' and Hemingway's Fiesta. The song has become something of a private anthem for me, since I rode an aeroplane from Auckland to the tropics and began my labours at the 'Atenisi Institute.
I identify, I suppose, with Lou Reed's exhilaration as he discovers that there is, after all, a world outside the city where he had lived for so long. When I first visited Tonga in 2009 I was impressed by both its strangeness and its relative proximity to the home I knew so well. Here, less than three hours from Auckland, was a society where winter was a traveller's story, where the consumption of narcotics was virtually compulsory, where the dead were treated like living people, where poets were expected to dance as well as write, and where the capitalist mode of production faced determined opposition from an older way of organising the economy. To visit Tonga was to discover the secret, sunlit attic of the house that I had long inhabited.***

We wrapped up the first semester of the year at 'Atenisi this week with an inevitable bowl of kava. For a raw recruit like me, the last sixteen weeks haven't always been easy - there were the floods that submerged the campus, the mosquitoes that covered my arms and legs with bites, so that I looked like a giant join-the-dots puzzle, and the hot days that saw me sweat my way through three shirts - but the exhilaration of escape and discovery - of New Sensations - has not dimmed. I'll be back in mid-July for the next semester.

*I do wonder, though, whether one couldn't practice tai chi in a dangerously weakened state. Doesn't tai chi consist of a series of gentle hand and arm movements, performed at an almost supernaturally slow pace? I always expect birds to mistake the tai chi exercisers who gather in Auckland's Albert Park for statues, and land on their hunched shoulders.

**I don't share the fashionable view that disco was an aesthetic disaster. During his recent visit to Nuku'alofa Murray Edmond argued that punk was the last truly modernist art movement, because it shared with long-lost campaigns like Futurism and Vorticism the belief that it was not only possible but desirable to ignore the whole of history, and build an art that was completely new. Murray argued that later movements like hip hop have sought, in postmodern fashion, to recycle rather than reject the past. He made a good theoretical case for punk, but theory can't, for me at least, atone for the joyless ugliness of bands like the Sex Pistols. I'll take Donna Summer over Johnny Rotten anyday.

***When I say all this I don't mean to imply that Auckland is a decadent, nihilistic town, full of human tuinols. How could anyone condemn a city which is home to the Hard to Find bookshop? Using Tonga to criticise Auckland would, in any case, be incoherent, given that more Tongans live in Auckland than in Nuku'alofa. It can be argued that Auckland is a vast mirror in which the whole of the Pacific can be seen, albeit in sometimes distorted and dark ways. Every Pacific people, from the Tongans to the Tuvaluans to the Nauruans to the Chamorro to the Caldoche, have their representatives in Auckland. Peoples who once clung to remote atolls or Stevensonian volcanic isles now colonise streets and flats in Glen Eden or Glenfield or Glen Innes, bringing their songs and dances and legends with them. To catch a bus from the Tongan and Samoan strongholds of Mangere and Otahuhu to the Fijian streets of Papatoetoe is to repeat ancient vaka journeys across the western Pacific. Anthropologists and historians interested in even the most remote and recondite cultures of the tropical Pacific are more and more often finding themselves beating the streets of Auckland, as they search for manuscripts and artefacts brought south and stored, alongside umu covers and lawnmowers, in suburban sheds and garages.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Monday, June 17, 2013

Travelling the Pacific by Tardis

[It's exam time at 'Atenisi, so I've prepared this summary of my rather chaotic Modern Pacific History paper for students. I'll post about the visit from Murray Edmond last week as soon as I can track down the photographs I took of his ebullient public performances.]

Modern Pacific History – a summary

What’s in a name?
In our first lecture I argued that names like the Pacific are much more than simple and permanent labels placed on pieces of the world. A name reflects the outlook and interests of the person or people who created it, and over centuries and millennia many different names have been given to the region we today call the Pacific.
In a number of ancient Polynesian cultures, ‘Moana’ was used as a name for the waters we now call the Pacific. In the sixteenth century Spaniards journeyed from Cape Horn at the bottom of South America to Southeast Asia, and gave the name Pacific, which meant peaceful, to the great ocean they had crossed. The Spaniards may have picked a different name if they had run into a cyclone, or had called at an island like Tongatapu, whose inhabitants were very familiar with the martial arts.
Nineteenth century palangi writers like Robert Louis Stevenson made the South Seas into a popular and rather romantic term for the southern and central Pacific. In the decades after World War Two the term South Pacific began to be used by international bodies like the United Nations. Today politicians like New Zealand’s John Key often talk about an Asia-Pacific region, and by doing so lump small island societies like Tonga together with much more populous continental nations like South Korea and Thailand.
The great Tongan-born intellectual Epeli Hau’ofa used an essay called ‘Our Sea of Islands’ to argue that European colonists had thought of the Pacific Ocean as a barrier between island peoples, when it really been, in precolonial times, a highway. Hau’ofa disliked the term Pacific because it made him think of barren water, and proposed using the word Oceania instead. More recently, the ‘Atenisi graduate ‘Okusitino Mahina has proposed once again using the ancient and beautiful word Moana to describe the waters around the nations of Tonga, Samoa, and Fiji. 
I asked class members to think about which word or words they would like to use to describe the region where they live. Ilaisa said that he believed that a pan-Pacific identity existed, but did not identify with the term Asia-Pacific. Salise argued that the Pacific should be renamed Moana-a-Tonga, to remember the empire that Tonga’s mariners and warriors established in the late medieval era.
I also used our first lecture to explain the structure, or rather lack of structure, of the paper. I explained that our class would imitate the great Doctor Who’s Tardis, and jump from one time and place to another in lecture after lecture. Where the Doctor explored the whole universe, we would confine ourselves to the Pacific since the late eighteenth century.  
A blind date
I argued that the first encounters between Europeans and Pacific peoples could be compared to a blind date, because each people lacked information about the other, and in place of information relied on preconceptions. These preconceptions were very different, and reflected the different historical experiences of European and Pacific peoples.
To understand the preconceptions that European and Pacific peoples brought to their first meetings, we had to examine the different histories of these societies.  

The European background
We looked first at Europe, which was experiencing rapid and fateful changes when mariners like Bougainville and Cook set sail for the Pacific. The intellectual movement we now call the Enlightenment was challenging the power of religion, by insisting that the world must be understood through observation and reason, rather than on the basis of theological dogma.
The economic system we now call capitalism was emerging in Europe, as agriculture became increasingly large-scale and profit-oriented, peasants were cleared off their lands, towns began to grow, and gold and other commodities flowed in from colonies in other continents. Many scholars have used the term modernity for the world that the Enlightenment and capitalism brought into existence.
I argued that early European responses to the Pacific were dictated largely by preconceptions, rather than by reality. The Pacific was, for Europeans, a mirror in which they saw aspects of their own troubled societies. Many Europeans unhappy with the greed, hierarchy, snobbery, sexual repression, and poverty of their society saw, in early descriptions of Tahiti, the island Bougainville ‘discovered’ in 1767, an alternative and better way of life. Influenced in many cases by the social critic Rousseau, who praised the life of the ‘natural man’ living outside European society, these Europeans saw the Tahitians as a people who existed close to the soil, abhorred authority and violence, and saw sex as something sacred rather than abominable. The Tahitians were, to use a famous phrase coined by the English poet John Dryden, ‘noble savages’.
But not all Europeans were enthusiastic about the Pacific. The same apparent sexual and social freedom which appealed to devotees of Rousseau upset defenders of Christianity and European imperialism. For Europeans who believed that Christianity and commerce were gifts that had to be shared, societies like Tahiti and Tonga were the ‘dark places of the earth’, where sloth and hedonism reigned. The inhabitants of these dark places were not noble but ignoble savages. In 1796 a ship called the Duff left England for Tahiti and Tonga, full of missionaries determined to Europeanise the peoples of those lands.
I noted Kerry Howe’s argument that certain common assumptions lie behind both the stereotype of the noble savage and the stereotype of the ignoble savage. Both the noble and ignoble savage are supposed to be the product of a timeless, static society; both are supposed to be incompatible with a modern, European-made world. Howe notes that, for much of the nineteenth century and the early decades of the twentieth century, many Europeans assumed that the inhabitants of the Pacific would die out, as a result of contact with Christianity, commerce, and colonisation.
Neither the noble nor the ignoble savage ever existed. Tahiti, Tonga and other Pacific societies were far more complex than either stereotype suggested.  

The Pacific Background
The Pacific is an extremely diverse part of the world, and different societies brought different preconceptions to their early encounters with Europeans. To illustrate something of the Pacific’s diversity, I discussed the chart Patrick Vinton Kirch designed to show how hierarchical various Polynesian societies were in the centuries before contact with Europe.
At one end of Kirch’s chart is Rekohu, the society that the Moriori people established in the subantarctic Chatham Islands. The Moriori, who were the descendants of fourteenth century Maori mariners, survived by hunting and gathering and had an egalitarian, decentralised society. At the other end of Kirch’s chart is Tonga, a highly centralised agricultural society where a class of serfs were separated by wealth and culture from a leisured aristocracy. Tonga had developed rudimentary state structures and an empire by the late medieval period.
It is not surprising that the people of Rekohu and Tonga reacted differently to European incursions on their rohe. When a European vessel landed on Chatham Island in 1791, the Moriori were startled. Because they had imagined that they were the only people in the world, they decided that the ship and its crew must have come from the sun. By contrast, the chiefs of Tongatapu were relatively indifferent to Cook when he first called here. Shortly after landing Cook had associated himself with a low-ranking chief, and this suggested, to more senior leaders, that he must be a visitor of little importance.  

Ungodly trouble
I devoted a lecture to a couple of the early attempts to turn Polynesians from ignoble savages into industrious Christians. Using an essay by Paul Van Der Grijp, I discussed the fate of the first missionaries to land in Tonga, who were brought by the Duff in 1797. Because of their refusal to study Tongan society with any seriousness and the arrogance they showed towards both Tongans and the small but influential number of rough and ready palangi ‘beachcombers’ who had already settled in Tonga, the missionaries became the victims of both theft and violent attacks, and eventually fled from the nation they had hoped to convert. A missionary named George Vason ‘went native’, married a series of local women, took part in a civil war, acquired serfs, and had his body tattooed.
Vason’s rejection of European for Tongan civilisation foreshadowed the story of Thomas Kendall, an English missionary who became, in the second decade of the nineteenth century, a lackey of the notorious Maori warlord Hongi Hika. Kendall had intended to convert Hika, but ended up supplying him directly and indirectly with the guns that would help him ravage much of Te Ika a Maui. The fates of Vason and Kendall were not unusual in the early nineteenth century.   

A digression and a debate: North Sentinel Island
A handful of ‘uncontacted peoples’ unfamiliar with the world of modernity still exist today. I suggested to the class that we could understand the situation of the Moriori people in 1791 by considering the plight of the uncontacted people of North Sentinel Island.
I described how the inhabitants of North Sentinel, which is part of the Andamans archipelago in the Bay of Bengal, had resisted repeated attempted incursions by the British colonisers of the Andamans and then by the Indian government. Boats and choppers that got too near North Sentinel Island attracted swarms of arrows. Today the Indian government refrains from trying to contact the North Sentinelese, and bars private vessels from going near their island. Class members disagreed vehemently over whether the North Sentinelese ought to be visited again by emissaries of the modern world. At one extreme, Ilaisa argued that the islanders should subdued by force and introduced to the Bible; at the other extreme, Miko argued for their indefinite isolation, suggesting they were better off apart from the modern world.  

Two-sidedness and countermodernity
Shortly after World War Two the Australian scholar Alan Moorehead published a book called The Fatal Impact, which became famous for its argument that the peoples of the Pacific had been devastated and doomed by the impact of contact with European missionaries, capitalists, and colonists. Moorehead’s book was popular because it reflected a common palangi view, but in the 1960s a group of scholars based at the Australian National University began to develop a new ‘island-centred’ vision of Pacific history, in which Pacific peoples were not passive victims of history, but instead adapted creatively to the changes Europeans brought to their societies in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The ANU scholars’ picture of Pacific history as a two-sided process has become dominant in the academy, but Moorehead’s viewpoint still has its advocates. In New Zealand the charismatic Maori politician Hone Harawira often argues that Maori lived in a peaceful paradise before being losing their power and agency to European invaders. The Tongan academic Linita Manu’atu sees her country as a victim of cultural colonisation, and wants to restore its pre-contact culture.
I argued against the ‘fatal impact’ view of Pacific history, and suggested that it had echoes of the old notion of a noble savage doomed to destruction if his timeless paradise is disturbed by outsiders. I invited class members to consider the earlier contacts between Europeans and Pacific Islanders, and the stories of men like George Vason and Thomas Kendall, and decide for themselves whether Pacific cultures were as brittle as Moorehead and Manu’atu believe.
I argued that, rather than succumb tamely to the palangi newcomers, Pacific peoples constructed a series of ‘countermodernities’ during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, by appropriating and adapting the modern ideas, institutions, and economic practices that had emerged in Europe during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. These countermodernities soon came into conflict with European missionaries and colonists. 

Countermodernity and resistance: Aotearoa, Samoa, and Tonga
I used a series of lectures to discuss the countermodern societies that various Polynesian peoples constructed, and the ways that these societies came into conflict with European imperialists.
I described the life and work of Wiremu Tamihana, the Waikato chief who created the Kingitanga, or King movement, in an attempt to unite Maori against European settlers in the middle of the nineteenth century. I discussed the village called Peria which Tamihana established as a model for the Maori assimilation of European technology, ideas, and forms of organisation. Peria had a flour mill which was owned and operated collectively, a school which taught lessons in Maori, and a church which offered a version of Christianity that reflected Maori experiences. The Waikato Kingdom which grew around Tamihana in the 1850s and early ‘60s was a prosperous and independent nation which exported huge amounts of food to the impoverished colonial city of Auckland. It was invaded and conquered by colonists in 1863 and 1864.
We used another lecture to examine the life and work of Rua Kenana, a Maori prophet who tried to establish an independent state in the Urewera mountains of central Te Ika a Maui. I described Rua’s courage in facing up to persecution from the settler government of New Zealand, but also noted his claims to divine status, and his use of this claimed status to intimidate or deceive his followers. We watched some of Vincent Ward’s feature-length documentary film Rain of the Children, which shows the terrible poverty of Maori who had been robbed of their land by settlers, and the desperation which led them to Rua’s movement. When we discussed Rua Kenana’s place in history, several class members argued against judging him too harshly. Tevita argued that Rua “was a man who did what he had to do in his time.”
We used the work of the distinguished Samoan writer Albert Wendt as a route into the history of Samoa’s anti-colonial Mau movement, which brought New Zealand rule of the island of Upolu to a standstill in the late 1920s and early ‘30s with roadblocks and tax boycotts. The Mau established its own government in a village on the edge of Apia, and proclaimed the slogan Samoa mo Samoa (Samoa for the Samoans).
At the end of 1929 New Zealand police opened fire on a Mau protest march, and the movement’s leader was killed. This bloody act was followed by a de facto counterinsurgency campaign, during which Kiwi troops and police pursued Mau activists through the jungles of Upolu, and burned pro-Mau villages to the ground. Wendt’s parents were involved in the Mau, and some of his writings deal with the movement. We watched Shirley Horrocks’ documentary A New Oceania, which discusses Wendt’s life and work, and shows images from the Mau era.
I argued that Tonga’s first modern king, Tupou I, created a countermodern society in Tonga, by creating a modern state, complete with a constitution and a set of ministries, and abolishing the quasi-feudal system which had existed in his country for centuries, but at the same time turning down the demands of palangi capitalists for the opening of Tonga to foreign ownership. Tupou was successful in preserving Tonga from colonisation, and I argued that he succeeded partly because Tonga, unlike Aotearoa or Samoa, had a long tradition of centralised government and a national identity. 

Modernity and confusion: cargo cults considered
We devoted a lesson to cargo cults, which I defined as movements that aim to give their members material rewards associated with modernity through the use of magical rituals.
We discussed the most famous of all cargo cults, the John Frum movement from Tanna Island in Vanuatu, whose members believe that certain rituals – the raising of an American flag, for instance – will encourage an American soldier who served on Tanna during World War Two to return with a vast ‘cargo’ of modern goods and cash. We also considered a much more obscure cult which existed on Atiu Island in the Cooks shortly after World War Two, where a group of followers of a self-proclaimed prophetess cleared forest so that a ‘ghost ship’ could arrive carrying goods.
After giving a quick account of some of the main trends in the plentiful scholarly literature on cargo cults, I asked class members to consider how they felt about the phenomenon. One class member dismissed cargo cultists as fools. Tevita argued that cargo cults could be construed as countermodernities; I disagreed with this, because I think that cult leaders lacked the sort of understanding of how to appropriate and manipulate modernity that leaders like Wiremu Tamihana and Tupou I clearly showed.  

Antimodernity: the case of the Kwaio
For a century and a half, the Kwaio people of Malaita in the Solomon Islands have resisted modernity in almost all its forms. Today the Kwaio continue to live in semi-nomadic groups, shun most modern goods, and practice their traditional religion. Kwaio have forged a reputation as ferocious defenders of their autonomy. In the nineteenth century they frequently attacked the European boats which came to Malaita in search of sandalwood and slave labour, and in the 1920s they killed many of the members of a party of tax collectors sent by the British administration of the Solomon Islands.
The Kwaio were an important part of the Maasina Rule movement which challenged British control of the Solomons in the years after World War Two, and more recently they have been opponents of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, an Australian-led intervention in the Solomons. I talked about the work of the Marxist anthropologist Roger Keesing, who wrote extensively about the struggle of the Kwaio to preserve their traditional way of life. Keesing became so influential amongst the Kwaio that the Solomon Islands government banned him from visiting Malaita, on the grounds that he was stirring up protest there.
I asked class members to consider their attitudes to the Kwaio. Salise argued that the Kwaio ought to be allowed to live autonomously from the Solomon Islands state, though he considered their hostility to modernity “a little extreme”.  

A field trip to ‘Eua
Four days on the verdant and rugged island of ‘Eua gave us a chance to put some of the ideas we had been discussing in the classroom into practice. During our time on ‘Eua we talked with Richard Lauaki, a member of Tonga’s Niuan minority and an authority on the history of both Niuafo’ou and his adopted home. Richard’s two hour talk, which mixed historical insights with improbable claims, and included talk of divine intervention in human affairs, helped us to think about the problems that scholars like Roger Keesing must have faced when they collected oral history. We read Sione Latukefu’s essay ‘Oral Tradition and Tonga’ to help us with these problems.

We encountered more problems when we tramped to the highest point on ‘Eua, following a trail used by Cook, and found the grave of the New Zealand soldier Shorty Yealands there. ‘Euans told us five different stories about how Yealands died; each of these stories contradicted the official version of his death.
When we returned from ‘Eua we looked at Tonga's experiences in World War Two. Drawing on essays by George Weeks and Elizabeth Wood-Ellem, I described the influx of Americans and New Zealanders to Tonga, and the clashes which broke out due to the brutal racism of some Americans and the Tongan habit of ‘borrowing’ goods like tobacco and torches from American warehouses. The lecture was an attempt to put into context the killing of Shorty Yealands by a Tongan soldier placed on a demoralising punishment drill for theft. I argued that the Second World War marked the first great challenge to the system Tupou I had established in the nineteenth century. Tupou I and later Queen Salote had wanted to limit the influence of capitalism on Tonga, but the presence of twenty thousand free-spending Americans lured many Tongans off their plantations and into the cash economy.  

Papua New Guinea: a primitive exception, or a glimpse of the future?
We began our lesson on Papua New Guinea by examining a magazine article on the recent killings of women suspected of sorcery in the country’s highlands. The killings, which have prompted international condemnation and anguished debates in Papua New Guinea’s parliament, have been seen by some observers as confirmation of the inherent violence and backwardness of New Guinean society. Class members seemed to share this dim view of New Guinea. I argued that they were succumbing to the old stereotype of the ignoble savage, and suggested that sorcery killings might in some ways be an expression of the  failings of capitalism in Papua New Guinea.
Drawing on an essay by Michael A Rynkiewich, I discussed the ‘big man’ system which emerged in ancient New Guinea. Because they lacked central authority, the fragmented societies of New Guinea relied on ‘big men’, who had proved themselves by oratory or bravery in warfare, to knit them together temporarily. The big man specialised in attracting prestige and resources to his corner of New Guinea.
The big men were co-opted by the Australian colonisers of New Guinea, and after independence in 1975 they became MPs and local government officials, intent on winning state resources for their part of the country. These political big men lack any ideological vision or national consciousness, and are prepared to see one region deprived of funding so that they can reward their followers. They pillage the state and jump from one party and coalition to another in search of short-term advantage.
Citing the remarkable journal published by a senior Papuan military intelligence officer, I described how big man politics saw Papua New Guinea lose its war against the secessionist province of Bougainville, despite a massive advantage in troops and materiel. I suggested that today big man politics makes a reasoned response to the sorcery killings difficult. I argued that the sorcery killings might be compared to the Rwandan genocide of 1994, in the sense that they are motivated more by impoverished people’s desire to steal land from their victims than by some primordial savagery. I suggested that, with its huge population and mineral-rich economy, Papua New Guinea would be crucial to the future of the Pacific, and thus needed careful study. 

Andy Leleisi’uao and Pacific identity

We finished the course by returning to the question of Pacific identity. I described the career of Andy Leleisi’uao, an artist born in the Auckland suburb of Mangere to Samoan parents.
Leleisi’uao is a self-taught artist, and many of his early paintings dealt with controversial issues in Samoan society. He condemned the influence of greedy churches on Samoans, and lamented the effects of alcohol on Samoan men. In his later works Leleisi’uao has constructed an elaborate fantasy world, where UFOs sit on tropical Polynesian islands and hybrid creatures wander landscapes covered in glowing ruins.
Several years ago Leleisi’uao became involved in a dispute with some members of Mangere’s Pacific community, after he had painted a mural full of strange horned creatures for the Mangere community centre. Conservative Pacific Islanders, including influential religious leaders, campaigned successfully against the mural. Leleisi’uao was infuriated by their claims that he had lost touch with his culture.
Perhaps partly in response to criticism of his work from within the Samoan community, Leleisi’uao created a manifesto in which he defines himself as Kamoan – the word is a mixture of ‘Kiwi’ and ‘Samoan’ - and invited anyone to share this new identity. We discussed Leleisi’uao’s dispute with the Mangere community, and his bold attempt to create a new identity for himself. Class members were strongly supportive of Leleisi’uao in his struggle with the Mangere community, feeling that nobody should be allowed to make a definitive judgment about what is and isn’t part of a Pacific culture.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

From Fakatava to Swingman


In his 1924 book Tongan Society the scholar EW Gifford described a duel between two poets, or punake, from the island of Tongatapu. Tupou II, the profligate, pleasure-loving king of early twentieth century Tonga, had been so delighted by the composition of a punake named Fakatava that he gifted the young man Kalau, an islet that sits just south of 'Eua, Tonga's southernmost inhabited island.

Excited by this reward, Fakatava wrote a boastful challenge to Malukava, a much older and more famous poet. Fakatava's poem dismissed the ancient capital of Mu'a, where Malukava and many other punake lived and worked, as passé, and announced that tiny, rocky Kalau was about to become 'the performing ground for all things traditional' in Tonga. Malukava replied with a poem mocking Fakatava's pretensions. Fakatava failed to make Kalau the new hub of Tongan culture, but his descendants still own the island today.

The confrontation between Fakatava and Malukava was not an unusual event. Tongan poets liked lobbing challenges at each other, challenges which were given extra piquancy by the fact that their poems were always performed in public by dancers and singers, rather than distributed between the covers of books or magazines.

Futa Helu, the legendary founder of the 'Atenisi Institute, frowned at hip hop, and indeed all forms of contemporary popular music. It is hard, though, to read accounts of the duels between traditional Tongan poets without thinking of modern-day rappers, with their spicy put-downs and confrontational live performances.

Twenty-first century Tongatapu teems with talented rappers, the most prominent of whom is probably Jimmy the Great. Jimmy's track 'Pacific Conqueror' has been played repeatedly on state television over recent weeks, and can be heard shaking the walls of tattoo parlours and fried chicken diners in Nuku'alofa.

The sound of 'Island Conqueror' is generic, but the lyrics, with their celebration of the maritime empire Tonga built in the western and central Pacific five hundred or so years ago, are more original, and potentially more controversial. My students insist that Jimmy is not some Tongan ultra-nationalist, bent on reconquering renegade imperial provinces like 'Uvea, Niue, and Samoa, but an opportunist trading on the vague but fierce affection Tongans feel for their country's glorious past. 'Pacific Conqueror', they say, is the aural equivalent of the Tongan Empire clothing label established recently in Auckland.

Two of my students are beginning work on a documentary film about another Tongan rapper, Siua Ongosia, who often records under the name Swingman. Siua's tracks (you can find one here) are a strange mixture of twitchy electronics, spaced-out rapping and soaring choruses.

Ongosia always had a reputation as an eccentric - during one notorious performance in a hall somewhere in the Tongatapu bush he decided against either singing or rapping, and instead made a series of enigmatic hand signals as his DJ laid down beats. In recent years his eccentricity has been exacerbated by heavy drug use, and he now often makes the streets of central Nuku'alofa his home. I hope that Miko and Ulu's film project will be a catalyst for a new and happier chapter in the career of this talented artist. One Syd Barrett is enough.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Friday, June 07, 2013

The new battle for the Pacific

A lot of Westerners see the Pacific as a region isolated and insulated from the major dramas of our era. It can be argued, though, that the Pacific is a frontline in one of the most important conflicts of the twenty-first century. The Pacific lies midway between the United States and China, the world’s increasingly antagonistic superpowers. Pacific nations like Papua New Guinea and Kanaky sit on huge reserves of coveted minerals, and isolated islands like Guam, Wake, and Tuitila are home to airports and naval bases that allow armed forces to move between the Americas and Asia.
In the decades since World War Two the United States has dominated the Pacific. The Americans have been so confident of their hegemony in the region that they have often been content to let their close but subordinate partners Australia and New Zealand take responsibility for imposing their will there. In Tonga and a number of other South Pacific nations, the United States does not even bother to operate an embassy, and the Aussies and Kiwis are responsible for organising joint exercises with local armies and pressuring local governments into adopting the sort of neo-liberal economic policies that will benefit big Western corporations.
Over the past decade, though, China has mounted a challenge to the influence the US and its allies exert over the Pacific. China has made huge loans to a series of impoverished Pacific nations, befriended Fiji after its government was scorned by Australia and New Zealand, encouraged its citizens to set up businesses in places like Vanuatu, the Solomons and Tonga, and sent warships to visit a number of Pacific ports. Chinese warships are welcome in Tonga, much to the discomfort of the Western powers. Tonga’s debt to China now stands at one hundred and twenty million dollars, and nobody is quite sure how such a sum can ever be repaid. 
In the past, many small Pacific states had to accept the economic and military policies laid down in Washington, Canberra, and Wellington, or face losing access to aid funds and security; now they can scorn the West and turn to China for help, or attempt to play the superpowers against each other. Pacific capitals teem with diplomats, advisors and aid workers, as China and the West compete for influence. Here in Nuku’alofa, the capital of the little Kingdom of Tonga, convoys of white SUVs with diplomatic numberplates chase chickens and pigs off the roads, and Chinese and Australian money men sit talking with corpulent nobles over stacks of documents and money in air-conditioned cafes. 
Aware of the need to present a united front against the new superpower, Australia and New Zealand have drawn much closer to France over the past several years. In the 1980s, Australasian governments regularly denounced France for clinging to its colonies in the Pacific; today Kiwi and Aussies diplomats bloc with the French imperialists to try to keep the issue off the agenda of the United Nations. Last week a French naval vessel docked at Nuku’alofa; its crew were welcomed by Australian naval officers who have based themselves in the city. Uniformed Aussie, Kiwi, American and French troops are a common sight in Nuku’alofa’s bars and cafes. 

The US-led bloc and China are competing for the Pacific using cultural as well as economic and diplomatic weapons. China has gone to some trouble to make sure that CCTV, its international English-language television news channel, is broadcast free to air in Tonga. An English-language Chinese radio station also broadcasts continually. Chinese educationalists have flown to Tonga and lobbied for the inclusion of Mandarin in the curricula of primary and secondary schools.  Scholarships make sure that some of Tonga’s best young students head overseas to Chinese universities.
The US-led bloc of Pacific powers isn’t taking China’s push for cultural hegemony lying down. Residents of Nuku’alofa and the rest of Tongatapu can now listen to the ABC, Australia's public radio station.
It is instructive to compare the emphases and lacunae of the missionary arms of the Chinese and Australian media.

The Chinese report conscientiously on the Middle East, and are happy to note the messes that America and its allies have made in Afghanistan and Iraq. CCTV’s talking heads become very defensive, though, when they turn their attention to Xinjiang, where most of China’s oppressed Muslim population lives, and Tibet, where state-sponsored migration is making the indigenous population a minority. The riots and assassinations which periodically disturb Xinjiang are, we are told, the work of a handful of crazed terrorists, who have no support amongst the general population. Tibetans are a jolly rustic people, who like nothing better than serving ox meat soup to wealthy Han Chinese customers at newly-established five star resorts on the moonscape plateaux which surround Lhasa. 
Australia’s national radio station has its own enthusiasms and oversights. In an essay published in the New Zealand Journal of History back in 2000, Kerry Howe argued that Australians had a cliché-ridden and contradictory view of the Pacific. For Aussies the word ‘Pacific’ conjured up images of friendly Polynesians strumming guitars under coconut trees, but also of the ‘dark malarial jungles' of Melanesia, where savages with spears, Japanese with rifles, and pythons with poisoned fangs waited to strike. If the ‘brown’ Pacific of Polynesian was a paradise populated by noble savages, then the ‘black’ Pacific of Melanesia was a violent labyrinth. Howe’s essay affirms the durability of the sort of stereotypes that came to the Pacific with the likes of Bougainville and Bligh more than two centuries ago.

Far too much of the material on ABC’s regular Pacific Beat news programme is distorted by myths about noble brown savages and ignoble black savages.  Geraldine Coutts, a host of the Pacific Beat, often makes these prejudices alarmingly clear.

Recently Coutts called Oscar Temaru, the long-serving and widely respected leader of ‘French’ Polynesia’s pro-independence movement, to get his response to the United Nation’s historic decision to place his homeland on its list of territories due for decolonisation. When Temaru tried to explain the background to the decision, by describing France’s history of exploding bombs in the Pacific and locking up or ‘disappearing’ nationalist journalists, Coutts cut him short by insisting that "we already know" this history. Coutts ridiculed the UN’s decision, suggesting that it was merely a matter of symbolism, and asked, in an appallingly patronising voice, whether Temaru thought that the Pacific people under French rule understood what decolonisation might mean for them. What, after all, could a simple-minded brown chap smiling and strumming his guitar under a coconut tree possibly now about politics?
If Coutts treats Polynesians as noble savages, then she sometimes gives Melanesians the role of black barbarians. In recent months ABC radio has repeatedly reported on the high crime rate in Papua New Guinea, and in particular on the mob killings of suspected sorcerers in the country's highlands. Too often, the ABC’s coverage of this important issue has been contaminated by an unexamined belief in the inherent savagery of traditional New Guinean society.
Several scholars have put forward complex, historically grounded, materialist explanations of Papua New Guinea’s epidemic of violence. These scholars link tragedies like the sorcery slayings to shortages of land in the Papua New Guinea hill districts and the failure of the capitalist sector of the country’s economy to absorb a generation of young men. Such subtlety seems lost on Coutts, who last week ran a story on the growth of Islam in Papua New Guinea since 9/11.

Scott Flower, an Australian academic who has recorded a five hundred percent rise in Papuan converts to Islam since the attacks on the Twin Towers, told Coutts that before 9/11 many of the people living in remote parts of Papua New Guinea had not known there was any foreign religious alternative to Christianity. The publicity Islam received after 9/11 made them curious, and led them to the mosques that have existed in their country since the 1980s. For Coutts, though, such an explanation seemed inadequate. Explaining that “Papua New Guinea is a very violent country”, she asked whether its people might have become Muslims because they were impressed by Osama bin Laden’s attacks on America. What else could you expect, Coutts seemed to imply, from a bunch of savages? Flower hurriedly dismissed Coutts' enquiries.
Australia may be a combatant in a new battle for the Pacific, but some of its footsoldiers are using very old clichés.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Kiwi legend heads for Tonga

I'm typing this on a laptop in the open air, because the 'Atenisi Institute library, where I often lurk at this time of day, has been appropriated by an Aussie cameraman making an TV clip to advertise Murray Edmond's upcoming visit to Tonga. As this press release shows, Murray's stay at the 'Atenisi Institute should be plenty of fun. Murray seems to be looking forward to his jaunt into the tropics as much as us: the last e mail he sent me was full of complaints about New Zealand's winter. We're saving you a seat at the kava bowl, Murray.
Press Release by the ‘Atenisi Institute
Issued on 06/06/13

Kiwi theatre legend to make ‘Atenisi his stage in June

The acclaimed New Zealand writer, actor, theatre director and academic Murray Edmond will visit Tonga during the second week of June.

Edmond, who is a senior member of The University of Auckland’s English Department, will be the guest of the ‘Atenisi Institute. He will give a public lecture and run a theatre workshop.

“We’re very excited to be hosting Murray Edmond,” says Dr ‘Opeti Taliai, Dean of ‘Atenisi. “For the last forty years he has been one of the movers and shakers of New Zealand culture. He has published many books, but he is also passionate about live performance.”
Edmond has been a part of some of New Zealand’s most famous plays, and has helped stage numerous works by Shakespeare.

“Last year he even directed an opera!” says Dr Taliai. “Tongan culture is rooted in live performance, and Murray can help young Tongans who want to be better dancers or actors or singers to express themselves on stage.”

‘Atenisi’s Associate Dean Dr Scott Hamilton is a friend of Murray Edmond and helped organise his visit to Tonga. “Murray has always been very interested in the Pacific,” Hamilton says. “Over the years he has worked with many Auckland-based Pacific Island theatre students, and has followed the work of Tongan intellectuals like Epeli Hau’ofa and Futa Helu, the founder of ‘Atenisi.”

Hamilton explains that Murray Edmond is coming to Tonga to share his knowledge, but also to learn more about local culture. “We look forward to introducing Murray to the members of ‘Atenisi’s performing arts group,” say Hamilton, “and to taking him to see some of the ancient cultural treasures of Tongatapu, like the langi of Mu’a”.

Murray Edmond is the first of a series of distinguished visitors that the ‘Atenisi Institute will host this year. In the third week of July a group of Auckland-based artists, including the internationally famous sculptor Filipe Tohi and the painter Dagmar Dyck, will be staging an exhibition of their work at ‘Atenisi. And at the beginning of October the writer, actor and movie-maker Richard Von Sturmer will be visiting ‘Atenisi to give a guest lecture and run a workshop.

“Atenisi has always believed in the importance of bringing different cultures together – of introducing Tonga to the world and the world to Tonga,” says Dr Taliai. “We have a tradition of bringing important overseas intellectuals to our campus, and sending our graduates abroad to do advanced study. We’re carrying on that tradition in 2013.”
Murray Edmond will deliver his public lecture at 7pm, on the 10th of June, and will hold his theatre workshop at 1pm on Tuesday the 11th of June.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Celebrating freedom of speech at 'Atenisi

Along with other staff and students from the 'Atenisi Institute, I spent a very enjoyable Friday night drinking kava with teachers from the Ocean of Light, a primary and high school run on a secular and pro-science basis by members of the Tonga's burgeoning Baha'i movement. Between knocking back the kava and singing, members of the 'Atenisi and Ocean of Light communities swapped stories about encounters with Tonga's  powerful brigade of religious fundamentalists. As 'Atenisians listened and sighed, Bahai educators described visits from demented Free Wesleyan Ministers convinced that the theory of evolution and sex education classes are both claws of Satan.

It is not only Tonga's religious conservatives who have sometimes posed a threat to the Baha'i movement: in the 1950s and '60s, when the religion was establishing itself in the Pacific, colonial administrators often persecuted its members for their belief in racial equality. On the New Guinea island of Rabaul, which had the misfortune to be governed by emissaries of Australia, that ferociously racist nation, a white Baha'i teacher was first assaulted and then arrested by a drunken mob of colonists. After being found guilty of living in what was supposed to be an 'all-black village, she was deported from the country she'd made home.

In the following press release, which has been doing the rounds in Tongatapu over the last week, 'Atenisi makes clear that it support the right of the Baha'i movement and every other religion to freedom of expression, and looks forward to a discussion with one of Tonga's leading Baha'i thinkers.

'Atenisi to welcome Baha'i educationalist, and celebrate freedom of speech

The 'Atenisi Institute will host a public lecture by Nadia Fifita, the director of Tongatapu's popular Ocean of Light school,  on Monday the 3rd of June from seven o'clock. Fifita will use her lecture, which will be followed by an open discussion, to explain both the Baha'i faith and the work of her school.

"We are delighted to include Nadia Fifita in our programme of public lectures for 2013," says Dr Scott Hamilton, the Associate Dean of 'Atenisi.

The Baha'i religion is one of the fastest growing in the world, but its members are persecuted in many countries.

The Baha'i faith was founded in Iran, but today that country's Islamic fundamentalist government bans Baha'is from practicing their faith, and imprisons or kills their leaders.

"Atenisi has always stood for freedom of speech and freedom of religion. By hosting  Nadia Fifita we are staying true to those values", says Dr Hamilton.

'Atenisi Dean Dr 'Opeti Taliai says that his institution and the Ocean of Light school have some important things in common.

"Atenisi and Ocean of Light share a commitment to internationalism. We are both eager to expose young Tongans to the richness of overseas cultures, as well as to the richness of their own traditional culture", says Dr Taliai.

Dr Taliai explained that he wasn't a Bahai and didn't expect to agree with everything that Nadia Fifita said in her lecture, but added that disagreement was normal at 'Atenisi. "Our school is founded on debate" he said. "I hope members of the public come along, hear Nadia, and join the debate".