Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Professor M. Cooper
A number of recent works on Tonga have emphasised the growing salience of the cash economy in the lives of the people of Tonga. For many authors the growth of the cash economy seems to indicate a transparent transformation of Tongan society from a traditional one to some form of capitalist/class-based society. Based on work undertaken in the Ha'apai region, I argue that while the impact of merchant capital, the growth of remittances as a source of household income, and the growth of the aid/bureaucracy/government nexus have indeed monetized the Tongan economy, the significance of the cash economy is mediated, and perhaps even subsumed, by social relations formed and reproduced within a distinctly non-capitalist form of production and exchange.
In the relative absence of the penetration of capitalist relations of production, and in the presence of a vibrant and relatively autonomous subsistence economy, social relations of production and exchange continue to have a distinctly traditional (or perhaps neo-traditional) character. While some elements of these relations can be seen to have developed in articulation with the world system, the transformative potential has been mitigated and mediated by gift exchange ideology and practice. Key elements in the rather unique history of Tonga (most significantly the non-commoditization of land) have in fact actively inhibited the commoditization of village life. Overseas migration is one of the primary ways in which Tongan villagers are integrated into the world system today. The way that migration is shaped by village based ceremony and gift exchange serves as one example of the continuing salience of social ties extending from rural Tonga into the world.
Evans, Mike, "Gifts and Commodities on a Tongan Atoll: Understanding Intention and Action in a MIRAB Economy" (1996). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 2324.