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Identity and Development: Tongan Culture, Agriculture, and the Perenniality of the Gift (review)

From: The Contemporary Pacific
Volume 17, Number 2, Fall 2005
pp. 499-501 | 10.1353/cp.2005.0049

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Reviewed by
Identity and Development: Tongan Culture, Agriculture, and the Perenniality of the Gift, by Paul van der Grijp. Leiden: KITLV Press, 2004. ISBN 90-6718-215-X; X + 225 pages, tables, figures, maps, notes, bibliography, index. €35.00.

Paul van der Grijp's Identity and Development is an important contribution to the growing literature on the incorporation of world-system institutions into Tongan culture and economy. It is a significant monograph-length treatment of cash crop production and its results over the last ten years (for squash pumpkin) totwenty years (for vanilla and bananas). To a lesser extent the book also deals with migration, aid, and remittances, the other key elements of the monetized parts of the contemporary Tongan economy. The work explicitly emphasizes the value of ethnographic and empirical work in these areas, goes some way to contributing ethnographic data to the literature, and uses a number of case studies to critically appraise the utility of a number of other works.

Two major themes animate the monograph. First, van der Grijp is concerned to undermine the use and abuse of the MIRAB (Migration, Remittances, Aid, and Bureaucracy) model currently in vogue for describing Tonga and many other Pacific Island economies. The author also seeks to challenge the notions that Tongan culture is either an unchanged and unchanging product of tradition, or a simple reproduction of capitalist ideology and practice. The vehicle for accomplishing these ends is, oddly, a protracted discussion of the role of [End Page 499] the middle and entrepreneurial "classes" in relation to both economy and culture.

Although van der Grijp makes a bit of a straw man of MIRAB theory, his insistence on exploring the impact of cash crop production is helpful in rounding out existing anthropological treatments of contemporary Tonga. Indeed, consistent with the intentions of the author, the strongest elements of the work are its care and attention to detailed descriptions of people working in cash crop production. Having worked on similar issues elsewhere in Tonga, I very much appreciated learning about the multiple ways in which people have attempted to produce cash crops and the stresses that they have negotiated. Van der Grijp demonstrates empirically his theoretical claim—that Tongan identity and practice emerge in a dialectical fashion, from operating within the strains of producing and marketing via capitalist structures while still embedded in noncapitalist relations ofproduction. To his credit, van der Grijp maintains a relatively even hand in his description of this dialectic, illuminating the ways that people have negotiated change without necessarily assuming the direction or overdetermining outcomes of these negotiations. These are the best aspects of the book. There are some questionable empirical statements about decreasing remittances (64), and the amount of land in cash crop production (145), but overall the data mobilized here make a lasting contribution to the literature.

I also found the book's focuses on the middle and entrepreneurial classes warranted and useful in ethnographic terms, but problematic in theoretical ones. In spite of appearances to the contrary, entrepreneurs are primarily defined in cultural rather than economic terms; the analysis is thus plagued by liberal economics. Having established that entrepreneurs are not easily understood in traditional political economy (read Marxist) terms, the author goes on to argue that the middle classes are culturally and economically innovative and have used cash cropping as a vehicle for challenging entrenched elites. This point has been made a few times over the years and I am not sure we learn too much more here. Nowhere does the author deal systematically with the differing ramifications of the introduction of capitalist markets versus the use of capitalist social relations of production; in fact at times he appears to confuse the two (121, 189). This is important not so much from the point of view of how entrepreneurs are capable of innovation, as in terms of the capacity of others to resist, deflect, or modify bourgeois attempts to commodify previously noncommodified relationships. Given that the effects of a moral economy appear significant in van der Grijp's descriptions of nominally market-oriented behavior (137, 157), there is some question whether fully commoditized relationships are prevalent even in the case studies...