An institute for critical education in the South Pacific

A ʻAtenisi picture

Meʻetuʻupaki (2009)

Electronic Encounter

Electronic Encounter is an online dialogue regarding regional research in progress.
EE assumes that those posting entries welcome participation and/or criticism by other scholars of the Pacific.

To post, email maikolo@atenisi.edu.to

In defense of recursive ontology, Amiria Salmond (University of Cambridge) — 15 September 2014

Ontological Anthropology and the Problem of Belief

(authorised excerpt from ASAO post, 14 September 2014)

One point that is perhaps less clear is just how the extrapolation of ontological principles through ethnography (“ontography”) is intended to address the problem of belief … The ontologists maintain that referring to other people’s understandings as “beliefs” inevitably summons distinctions between “knowledge” (the intellectual artefact of empirical experience and/or logic, i.e. demonstrable facts about the world as it really is) and “beliefs” (matters of faith, claims that cannot be subjected to measures of proof accepted by those who define it as such, which indeed may be proven wrong when held to account against those measures). To call a claim a “belief,” then, registers its departure from the secure ontological ground of the world as it really is, casting it out into the realms of the paranormal, the metaphysical, the supernatural: luck, chance and fate at best; at worst error, superstition and nonsense.

The recursive ontologists (among others) thus note the casual ontic violence entailed in dismissing others’ understandings as “mere beliefs” or “cultural perspectives” and attempt to address this by taking a different slice altogether through empirical material generated ethnographically. Refusing on principle to discriminate between their interlocutors’ “beliefs” and “knowledge”, they endeavour to adopt a position of methodological agnosticism when it comes to what really is, “bracketing out” questions of whether or not, e.g. “twins [really] are birds” in favour of questions such as “what might a ‘bird' be if it is also a ‘twin’?” and “do I really understand what’s going on?” The aim is to temporarily entertain (“take seriously”) propositions that might initially appear to the analyst as at best counterintuitive and at worst nonsensical, but which appear to present no such difficulties, logical or otherwise, to their interlocutors. Such attempts (“thought experiments”) are made on the basis that it is more likely that the anthropologist has not properly grasped what is going on than that their interlocutors are speaking metaphorically, are simply wrong, or are the victims of an ideological mystification that only we can see. In this sense the recursive ontologists see themselves as promoting a greater degree of ontological humility … their aim is emphatically not to establish a new animistic ontology revolving around the fetishisation of powerful things. On the contrary, the point is to hold the questions addressed by ontology productively open, as a means of devising new ways of addressing the kinds of difficulties (including material inequalities) that cultural relativism and historical materialism, among other theories, have by and large failed, so far, to resolve.

… [One] really must read [those] ontologists … who mobilise … arguments in ways that are deeply engaged in things like the conflict and its aftermath, indigenous projects of cultural and economic revitalisation, and efforts to halt and reverse environmental degradation, etc. – here “uneven ownership of property, the control of violence, the ownership and control of the means for reproducing culture” and so on come to the fore. What unites them is a view that it is not anthropology’s job to arbitrate on what really is, and how things really are (despite what our interlocutors might think and believe). Our job is to elucidate how problems, identities, differences and commonalities can appear differently when approached along different analytic trajectories, and to mobilise these ethnographic insights in developing novel ways of addressing the full range of issues that are grouped under the rubric anthropology.

Amiria Salmond
[Currently based in Brazil, Dr Salmond heads the University of Cambridge's Artefacts of Encounter project. The above excerpt replies to a recent critique of ontological anthropology by Prof Lucas Bessire and Dr David Bond in American Ethnologist (see PUBLICATION: GUEST PUBLICATIONS on this website).]

Response Salmond's prudent compromise, Michael Horowitz ('Atenisi Institute) — 9 October 2014


The debate regarding ontological anthropology may be reduced to the following query: is the wisdom of non-modern perspective fundamentally – or only randomly – wiser than the knowledge of modern perspective?

There is no question non-modern perspective is occasionally wiser. Take, for example, New Spain’s encounter with Apache natives around 1600 during an expedition led by the notorious conquistador Juan de Oñate. There’s no record of Oñate witnessing the medical practise of applying mud to wounds ... but had he witnessed it, he would have likely derogated the practise as unsanitary. In the event, he would have been wrong: Apache medicine far anticipated Fleming’s discovery of penicillin in 1928. The example confirms Salmond’s contention that “problems … can appear differently when approached along different analytic trajectories …"

Yet the quelling of the fascist insurgency of the 1930s teaches a complementary lesson: that to insure global justice, the methodology of critical rationality must remain hegemonic – e.g., no power can be permitted to globally replace Locke’s logical “consent of the governed” with a völkisch notion of herrenrassen.

Relevant here is Bessire & Bond’s resistance to ontological anthropology’s “… centrifugal displacement of … critical capacities to those sacred contents that ostensibly remain beyond modernity” [see their article on this website’s Publication page]. And Michael Scott’s concern (cited in B&B's article) that the “eschatological” quality of ontological anthropology “abolishes history”.

But Salmond offers a prudent compromise: that rather than “arbitrate” epistemology, anthropologists ought “mobilise … ethnographic insights in developing novel ways of addressing the full range of issues ...” My reading of her proposal is that anthropology will not subvert sceptical enquiry, but rather expand its horizon. Such resolution promises to give social science the best of both worlds: critical perception … with mud in the eye.

Michael Horowitz ('Atenisi Institute)
[Dr Horowitz coordinates Inquiry Oceania.]

Response Ontological U-turn?, Hal Levine (Victoria University) — 22 October 2014


The ontological turn. It’s hard to avoid, harder to make sense of. Even here in remote Oceania the tendrils of our supposed new saviour (Bessire and Bond on the Publication page of this website) reach out to soothe the furrowed brows of cultural anthropologists contemplating the apparent disintegration of our project to understand humanity. I/O, Savage Minds, the 2013 AAA meetings, the ASAO listserv, and journals like Cultural Anthropology are full of it. Even in the corridor of my School (where Cultural Anthropology is reduced to a mere “programme” sharing a floor with Sociology – we were once a Department with our own HQ, dammit!), one hears the name Deleuze invoked with a frequency formerly reserved for other incomprehensible French theorists who seem to have fallen off the end of our flat world.

So what’s it all about? The clearest summary I’ve found – and I speak as someone unwilling to delve more deeply than the prize seems to warrant – comes via a review of a book about shamanism in Mongolia (Morten Axel Pedersen's Not Quite Shamans: Spirit Worlds and Political Lives in Northern Mongolia) by J Laidlaw, and Pedersen's response.

Laidlaw liked the book but was very sceptical about the ontology. The gist of Pedersen’s approach is that Mongolian shamans, people of Amazonia and Melanesia etc., do not live differently in our world but inhabit different realities. The use of the term ontology here refers to the different worlds. If it were merely a matter of these people having unique ideas about things (the usual anthropological picture of cultural variation), we would be discussing their epistemologies. We are to take this incommensurability very seriously indeed, and also accept it as more than just a gussied up version of plain old cultural relativism. You see, since the discrepant realties are not variable takes on the same thing, the relativism just disappears. After all, relativism requires a common meta-concept, and that is just gone. Using Deleuze we can craft an anthropology capable of (?) … well, saving us from the morass of what passes for theory in our discipline. Laidlaw is unconvinced this really amounts to much, and I agree.

Pedersen is gracious in his reply, for it was, all in all, a complimentary review. He admits that the picture drawn by the ontological turn is of a “bloated universe” (think of a multiverse of cultural realities), and that the approach is no longer new nor much more than an notion devised by a group of Cambridge trained anthropologists that has probably reached the end of its useful life. He concludes: “What matters is the commitment to an anthropological vision, which insists that a viable answer can only be found through still more ethnographic explorations and experimentations. To be sure, it is hard to imagine Laidlaw or any other critic of the ontological turn disagreeing”. Oh, but I do! (The “experimentations” are concepts like ontology, not actual experiments, by the way.)

The ontological seems to be a turn down the road our discipline has been taking towards “studious irrelevancy”, as Pascal Boyer put it in 2011. (From Studious Irrelevancy to Consilient Knowledge: Modes of Scholarship and Cultural Anthropology, pp. 113-139 In: Slingerland and Collard (eds), Creating Consilience, Oxford). The problem as he sees it is the field’s renunciation of any concern with human nature or science.

We have a huge corpus of ethnographic description and along comes an “experimentation” that takes what we already know and offers to connect the dots via the notion of different worlds. (Remind anyone of the startlingly similar “strong version” of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis? What happened there?) A few people find the “turn” intriguing, but what we really require to get anthropology back on track is scientific analysis of what we’ve got: more reductionism, synthesis and generalisation, and rather less new ethnographic fashion.

Hal Levine, Victoria University
[Dr Levine is anthropology referee at Inquiry Oceania.]

Differentiating Polynesia and Micronesia: a proposed guideline, Barbara Wavell — 1 April 2014


The division between Polynesia and Micronesia is a somewhat random geographic distinction. We all know that in general Polynesian islands are larger in size and also had larger and more expressive carving traditions, possibly due to the greater availability of wood. However, when we look at other types of material culture such as, for example, adzes (either stone or shell depending on the availability of stone) or containers (including coconuts, gourds where available, and wooden bowls carved in larger and more diverse styles where the right trees are available) – and we take into account variation in the size of the island – material culture can be quite similar.

There is a tradition amongst art historians to value Polynesian culture and cultural artifacts while dismissing those from Micronesia. No one can deny, for example, that the Maori produced amazing detailed carvings in a distinctive style or that the Hawaiian or Easter Island statues are an artistic and cultural triumph … but I think it would be helpful to develop a point by point examination of different components of both areas to really assess the valid distinctions.

1. Language – there are many language groups throughout Micronesia and Polynesia. Does anyone know how to access a chart illustrating where the different language groups throughout the region can be found? For example, one reason for Nukuoro to be considered a Polynesian outlier is language, but I contend that this not sufficient to define the classification of a culture.

2. Kinship systems – how are they similar or different on different islands and do these distinctions adhere to the Micronesia/Polynesia divide?

3. Political systems – based on historic accounts, were they organized differently based on the Micronesia/Polynesia separation?

4. Material culture – in some cases, amazingly different; in others, remarkably the same. One reason for the differences is the fact that Micronesian islands were discovered and missionized much earlier, and details of their original cultures were often not recorded. Guam is a good example of this trend.

In conclusion, there are many topics here which could form the basis for research and discussion. I would love some feedback from Pacific scholars.

Barbara Wavell
[Wavell holds an M.A. in cultural anthropology from State University of New York at Binghamton, and is the author, among other studies, of Arts and Crafts in Micronesia (Honolulu: Bess Press, 2010)]

Response Micronesian canoes, Firitia Velt (Vava'u Academy) — 3 April 2014


When the European explorers roamed the Pacific in the 19th century, they quickly discovered that the people in the southwest were dark skinned, and so their islands were grouped together as Melanesia. Those in the east and northwest were lighter, in fact almost alike, but the former at times appeared European, whilst the latter at times appeared Asian. In their obsession to label, Europeans differentiated the island groups as Polynesia and Micronesia respectively. (The latter largely a misnomer, as many of Micronesia’s islands aren’t small.)

But as Micronesians and Polynesians are, in fact, nearly similar in appearance – in fact, when variations among the two groups can at times be larger than the differences between their average – might not their cultures be similar as well? I think Wavell is justified in advancing this hypothesis. Yet in some cases, the proposal doesn’t hold true.

Take, for example, canoe development, as described by Haddon & Hornell (Canoes of Oceania, 1936). There were two types of double-hulled canoes in the Pacific: those where the two hulls were equal in size, and those where one hull (hama in Tongan; ama elsewhere) was decidedly smaller than the other (katea; ʻatea, ʻākea). The former enabled a clear for and aft, but the latter didn’t, as the katea had always to be kept leeward.

With respect to long oceangoing vessels, the unequal hulls were decidedly Micronesian, whilst in Polynesia the equal ones proliferated. (Paʻumotu was an exception). But through Kiribati and Tūvalu, the Micronesian design reached Fiji in the 18th century, became known as the waqa drua, then spread to Tongan and Sāmoa. Indeed, if European invasion had not interfered, this superior design would have likely been adopted throughout Polynesia.

In the case of canoe development, then, Micronesia was integral ... and discrete from Polynesia.

Firitia Velt (Vava'u Academy)
[Velt now referees technology research at Inquiry Oceania]

Response Haole arbitration, Michael Horowitz (Vava'u Academy) — 4 April 2014


On the other hand, Mau Piailug - a traditional canoe navigator of Satawal (Yap, FSM) - views Micronesia and Polynesia comprehensively. Once, when asked to differentiate, he shrugged: "The haole drew a line ..." ("Mau's Canoe", Kathryn Wilder, Hana Hou! [Hawaiian Airlines inflight magazine], September 2006). Piailug navigated the traditional canoe, Hōkūleʻa, in a maiden voyage from Maui to Pape'ete that was sponsored by the Polynesian Voyaging Society in 1976.

Michael Horowitz (Vava'u Academy)
[Dr Horowitz now coordinates Inquiry Oceania]

"Floating to Elysium", Scott Hamilton ('Atenisi Institute) — 19 October 2013

Floating to Elysium

In most parts of the world Neill Blomkamp's Elysium can still only be viewed on the big screen. Blomkamp released his futuristic shoot 'em up in August, and good box office sales mean that a DVD version isn't due to hit the shops until the Christmas shopping season.

Today, though, I bought a copy of Elysium on DVD for three pa'anga here in Nuku'alofa. I have never seen a legitimate, properly packaged DVD on sale in Nuku'alofa, but I have bought dozens of films – festival documentaries and cult oldies as well as Hollywood blockbusters like Elysium - from shops with names like Dataline DVDs and Sam's Videos.

My favourite Nuku'alofa DVD store offers patrons folders to flick through. On each page of each folder, a film is advertised by a smudged reproduction of a promotional poster or a couple of paragraphs cut out of a review. A patron points to a page and the man or woman behind the counter reaches for a blank DVD, retires to the back of the shop, and makes a copy of the appropriate film. In New Zealand such an insouciant breach of copyright laws would earn a visit from police and a date in court: in Tonga, though, government-issued business licenses hang proudly from the walls of some of the DVD shops, and cops turn up with cash for movies rather than warrants for arrests.

With its German subtitles and the occasional slurred shouts of 'Ja' and 'Nicht' on its soundtrack, my version of Elysium obviously originated in a cinema far from the South Pacific. I don't know whether excitement or boredom was responsible, but the bootlegger must have lost concentration and control of his or her camcorder during the film's frequent fight scenes, when Matt Damon's shining torso, swinging fist and ejaculating rifle all tend to dissolve into a bright blur. Tongans keen to watch Elysium have little choice but to accept these eccentricities: Nuku'alofa's movie theatre burned down during the riot that destroyed a third of the city's business district in 2006.

Blomkamp's movie is set in the year 2054, when pollution and mass unemployment have turned the earth into a series of arenose shantytowns. The super-wealthy have made their homes on Elysium, a miniature planet orbiting the earth where robots serve them champagne as they lie beside swimming pools or wander absent-mindedly through meticulously landscaped parks. Healthcare on earth is crude and scarce, but on Elysium every home has a machine that can detect and cure even the most serious disease in a few seconds. Earthlings pay people smugglers to fly them towards the orbiting heaven in sputtering spacecraft; Elysium's border police respond with missiles.

Elysium may be located in the middle of the twenty-second century, but many reviewers have seen it as a satire of the world of the twenty-first century. Writing in the Irish Times, Donald Clark called the movie a ‘115 million Marxist polemic’; commenters at Free Republic, a website where the most paranoid members of the America’s Republican Party gather, have denounced Blomkamp as a propagandist for free public health care and Hispanic ‘illegals’, and urged a boycott of his film.

Blomkamp's contrast between the green and pleasant world of Elysium and a dry, crowded earth seems ironic in a Pacific context. Tonga is a nation of small, green islands, which sit in the deep blue of the tropical Pacific like planets in the calm of space, but today the most popular destinations for Tongan emigrés are the dry and crowded cities of Australia and California. New Zealand is often seen as a route to Sydney or Melbourne or Los Angeles.

Tonga looks like a paradise, but many young Tongans feel imprisoned. On my first visit to the country I spent a few hours propping up the bar at a beach resort, and had the gall to tell the young woman serving me drinks how lucky she was to live amidst such picturesque coconut groves. “I don't want to be here”, she snapped. “I am trapped on Tongatapu.” She told me how she took drove minivans filled with tourists around the island, using coastal roads. “I go round and round”, she said, “orbiting Tongatapu, but I never get off.”

In his famous essay “Our Sea of Islands”, Epeli Hau'ofa celebrated the Pacific, which he renamed Oceania, as a highway over which peoples like the Tongans travelled and traded, defying the strictures of colonialists and neo-colonialists. For many young Tongans, though, the sea symbolises confinement rather than freedom. Like the trains that tormented early blues musicians by steaming through the countryside of the segregated south without stopping to pick up passengers, the sea simultaneously reminds young Tongans of the outside world and emphasises the distance and indifference of that world.

Last year Kalisolaite ‘Uhila, who grew up in Tonga but now lives in West Auckland, locked himself into a metal crate on a gentrified stretch of Wellington's waterfront for four days and nights. ‘Uhila lived only on coconuts, and shat and pissed in a small bucket. A CCTV camera monitored him, transmitting its footage to a large screen which stood near his crate.

‘Uhila had been invited to contribute to the Wellington Arts Festival, and his performance was intended as a tribute to his uncle, who was one of the hundreds of Tongans who stowed away to New Zealand inside metal crates in the 1970s and ’80s. “It was hard being separated from my family, being locked in that small space”, the artist told me, when we sat around a kava bowl in Auckland. “One night there was a storm, and the waves and wind were very loud, and I began to think I was lost on the high seas.” In an earlier performance in Auckland's Aotea Square, ‘Uhila had shared a straw-filled crate with a pig for days on end.

One of Kalisolaite ‘Uhila's mentors is Filipe Tohi, the Tongan sculptor who emigrated to New Zealand as a young man, learned his trade from stonemasons and Maori woodcarvers in the Taranaki, and later returned to his homeland to master the ancient and endangered art of building with coconut fibres. Today Filipe spends most of his time in Auckland, and he has for some years been amassing material for a documentary film about the Tongan stowaways of the ’70s and ’80s.

In a series of interviews with Filipe, veteran members of Auckland's Tongan community have remembered how they would gather in the Schooner Tavern, across the road from Auckland's docks, and cheer as their compatriots arrived, dripping and grinning, through the pub's big glass door. As his ship eased through the inner Waitemata harbour towards the docks a stowaway would cut a hole in his crate, crawl out and creep across the deck of his ship, leap into the harbour's polluted waters, and swim for the bright lights of Auckland. A jug of Lion Red in the Schooner would help the new arrival recover from his journey.

Today CCTV cameras and foot patrols make ships much harder work for Nuku'alofa's would-be stowaways, and a flight to Auckland or Sydney still costs as much as many Tongans earn in a month. Even if they can afford a plane ticket, many young people are unable to get Australian or New Zealand visas. A single criminal conviction, no matter how minor, is enough to close the doors of both countries.

Some young Tongans try to escape the prison of their homeland imaginatively rather than physically. Recently a couple of ‘Atenisi students led me down Railway Road, a series of kava clubs, rickety houses, and burnt-out lots in central Nuku'alofa, and showed me how some of the city's youth spend a hot weekday afternoon. In a dark and cramped room behind a barber's shop, a circle of boys sat amidst clouds of smoke, watching what looked like an episode of Star Trek.

A few metres down the road we found Siua Ongosia, aka Swingman, a brilliant and once-popular rapper who has not performed in public for several years, and now spends almost all his time on Nuku'alofa streetcorners. He often looks drunk, or stoned, or both, and complains of a spinal injury.

Swingman has never set foot outside Tonga, but his mind moves easily around the world. As one of the ‘Atenisians aimed a camera at him, the retired rapper pulled a document from his pocket and unfolded it carefully. “This is the Amazon”, he smiled, showing us the map. “I always carry it with me. The Amazon is full of oxygen, and warm and moist all the time. I think my spine would be cured there. I want to go there – and I want to go to America, to see the technology.” Swingman showed us half a dozen pages covered with tiny handwriting. “This is a poem”, he explained, “about the Amazon”.

When I told him that ‘Atenisi's peforming arts groups was about to tour America, Swingman was impressed. “They are very lucky”, he said. “America has the highest technology in the world.”

"Patterns of Parity", Lorenz Gonschor (University of Hawai'i) — 6 May 2013

Patterns of Parity

The Emergence of Hybrid States in 19th Century Oceania

While most of the world was colonised by Western powers in the 19th century, a few non-Western societies formed hybrid states, meaning states that were grounded in traditional polities and lead by native rulers while adapting forms and styles of a modern Western nation-state. This enabled them to achieve recognition by the Western powers as co-equals in a pattern of parity, and thus saved them from becoming subject to colonisation. The most widely known examples of such hybrid states are Japan, Siam (Thailand) and Ethiopia, which due to their political modernisation efforts, never became colonies. It is generally less known, however, that the first non-western state to achieve recognition as a co-equal member of the Western “Family of Nations” was none of the three aforementioned, but the tiny kingdom of Hawaiʻi in northern Oceania. Hawaiʻi’s remarkable political transformation from what anthropologists have termed either “complex chiefdoms” or “archaic states” to the most advanced “modern state” outside of Europe and the Americas within half a century is virtually unique in world history, but it has been all but erased from historiography, obscured by the on-going prolonged occupation of Hawaiʻi by the United States since 1898. Later in the 19th century, Hawaiʻi’s successful political modernisation was emulated by the leaders of other Pacific Islands, particularly of Fiji, Sāmoa and Tonga, and actively promoted among them by Hawaiian Diplomats. While most archipelagos of Oceania succumbed to Western imperialism around the turn of the twentieth century, the Hawaiian model proved most durable in the Kingdom of Tonga, since a modified version of the nineteenth century Hawaiian constitution is still serving as the fundamental legal framework of that country today. I argue that the historiography of nineteenth century Oceania needs to be critically re-examined and challenge the notions of “colonial preludes” and “missionary kingdoms” common in Pacific historiography while focusing instead on the agency of Polynesian leaders in transforming and modernising their countries.

Lorenz Gonschor (University of Hawai'i)
[Gonschor now referees history at Inquiry Oceania]

“Interaction between Animal and Cultural Rights in the Pacific", Hal Levine (Victoria University of Wellington) — 2 May 2013

Interaction between Animal and Cultural Rights in the Pacific

“Interaction between Animal and Cultural Rights in the Pacific", Hal Levine (Victoria University at Wellington) — 2 May 2013

Are animal and cultural rights doomed to conflict? In his recent book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker discusses the “rights revolutions”. These movements, propelled by the increased global mixing of peoples and ideas, have increased protections of formerly powerless and persecuted individuals worldwide. Graphing the use of terms “civil rights”, “women’s rights”, “children’s rights”, “gay rights”, and “animal rights”, Pinker shows that these terms appear in English language books between 1948 and 2000 with dramatically increasing frequency (1). Putting the phrase of another revolution, “cultural rights”, into Google ngram, we see a similar frequency pattern. The expression hardly appears before the mid-1980s and then rises dramatically. Pinker says he doubts that the animal rights movement will recapitulate the successes of the civil rights and sexual equality movements because humans are carnivores. Although he doesn’t mention cultural rights, there are also good reasons to doubt that they will follow the well-trodden path of the other causes (2-10).

Cultural claims can conflict with other rights, undermine national unity, assume a collective consensus on beliefs and values that may not exist, and be shallowly rather than deeply held. Most interestingly for this project, animal rights and cultural rights often directly confront one another. I intend to examine this conflict comparatively and in-depth through a number of case studies aimed at uncovering the dynamics of these contending rights revolutions and their interaction, both with each other and with exogenous factors, such as trade, international relations and ecological activism. The project will build on two investigations, one completed and one on-going.

In a forthcoming paper I analyse the factors that led the New Zealand government to prohibit kosher slaughter, supposedly on animal welfare grounds, and then rescind the ban after being sued by Wellington and Auckland’s Orthodox Jewish congregations. To briefly summarise that case, religious Jews will only eat meat that is kosher. Kosher processing of animals does not accept stunning prior to death. New Zealand's National Animal Welfare Committee, a body that meets periodically to advise the government about humane animal handling practices, came to the conclusion that animals killed in this way suffer more than those that are stunned first. In 2010 the Minister of agriculture, citing his great concern for the welfare of animals, prohibited slaughter without stunning. When the Jewish community presented evidence that he acted improperly and that its cultural rights had been denied, the government withdrew from the case.

My current research explores parallel conditions limiting Maori use of marine mammals. Whales, dolphins and seals are endangered animals whose populations are slowly recovering from past overexploitation. Whales are widely seen in New Zealand as majestic and important animals who suffer greatly from the measures that are used to hunt them. Some Maori (who did not traditionally hunt whales) maintain that they have a Treaty right to exclusive use of whales, including stranded animals (such strandings are common in the country), for food, bone and tooth carving. The right to hunt seals is also claimed to be appropriate on cultural grounds (12). Such claims conflict with those who defend the rights of animals and with animal rights legislation.

My examination of these situations has used the qualitative data gathering and analysis procedures typical of ethnographic research (participant observation – e.g. assisting at a kosher slaughter in Whanganui, interviewing of key participants, and analysis of documents). I plan to widen the research considerably. The additional case studies will enable me to better assess whether the similarities I have noticed in New Zealand, that these disputes unfold in similar sequence with a correspondence of events and activities across them, holds more broadly. Such a wide range of case data would, more importantly, enable me to more accurately understand the current significance and trajectories of two “rights revolutions” of global significance, animal and cultural rights.

Hal Levine
Victoria University of Wellington

“Responses to Natural Disasters as Climate Change Adaptation in the South Pacific", Ingrid Johnston (University of Tasmania) — 1 May 2013

Responses to Natural Disasters as Climate Change Adaptation in the South Pacific

The Role of Expectations

Developing countries in the South Pacific are among the most vulnerable in the world to the effects of tropical cyclones, and the region faces them every year. Climate change is likely to make these cyclones and consequent flooding more intense and perhaps more frequent. Cyclones may also change location, impacting on places without a history of them, and already 1 in 5 people in the world lives in an area at risk from natural disasters and rising sea levels.

The connection between climate change and disaster risk management is gaining momentum, and there is an increasing focus within the region towards integration these areas, with Tonga being the first country to produce a Joint National Action Plan. It remains to be seen how this will translate to changes on the ground before, during and after disasters occur.

This research is being conducted for a PhD looking at the role and impact of expectations in relation to disaster response in developing countries, in the context of climate change and climate change adaptation. The research uses case studies in Fiji and Tonga to examine the expectations and views of the future, of affected remote island communities, non-government and civil society organisations involved in disaster response, and Governments.

The degree of alignment of the 3 different perspectives is a focus of the analysis, in order to give voice to the affected communities, who are often left out of research of this kind.

The role of aid and the expectations built up around aid is a key element, and will be used as a link between climate change adaptation and disaster response. The increasing aid ‘industry’ does not always support resilience and self-help at a community level, and fosters corruption and distrust. The impacts of climate change are already exacerbating the impacts of natural disasters, and thus the urgency of looking at the sustainability of the current response system is increased. With dependence on aid after disasters, traditional knowledge around coping with the changing climate is being lost as expectations of aid overtake self-help. However the experience on remote island communities, where the wait for help after a disaster is more realistically measured in weeks than days, may be different.


The aim is to investigate how disaster responses need to and are able to adapt to a changing climate.

To identify:

Research questions


Fieldwork in Tonga will be conducted in June-August 2013, with about 1 month on a remote island community in Ha’apai, followed by time in Pangai and Nuku’alofa. Similar fieldwork in Fiji was completed during 2012.

Ingrid Johnston
University of Tasmania

Response Tongatapu Witchcraft


From CathNews/New Zealand, 20 November 2012:

In Tonga, the ancient ritual of “Uiui Tevolo” which means “calling up the dead”, or more literally “calling up the devil”, has been regarded as something of pagan origin unacceptable to churches and Christians in general. However, in recent weeks there has been a sort of revival of this ancient ritual among some villagers in Tongatapu, and even church people have been involved. It is so serious that last week the police were called on to investigate. The practice, which is a form of witchcraft, has been used to defame relatives and “enemies” of the practitioners.

Posted by: Scott Hamilton ('Atenisi Institute) — 21 October 2013