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Reviewed by:
  • Tongans Overseas: Between Two Shores, and: Saili Matagi: Samoan Migrants in Australia
  • Cluny Macpherson
Tongans Overseas: Between Two Shores, by Helen Morton Lee. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2003. ISBN cloth, 0-8248-2615-0; paper 0-8248-2654-X; viv + 327 pages, tables, figures, photographs, appendixes, notes, bibliography, index. Cloth, US$55.00; paper, US$21.95.
Saili Matagi: Samoan Migrants in Australia, by Leulu Felise Va'a. Suva: Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific; Apia: Iunivesite Aoao o Sāmoa (National University of Sāmoa), 2001. ISBN 982-02-0325-2; 298 pages, tables, figure, maps, photographs, appendixes, glossary, notes, bibliography, index. US$30.00.

The publication of two major empirical studies of the Tongan and Samoan communities in Australia is a milestone in the study of the Pacific diaspora. The studies have certain things in common, as one would expect of studies by two anthropologists concerned with the dynamics of social change in migrant enclaves, but they differ in other, crucial respects. This review focuses first on the similarities and then on the differences.

Each has at its center an ethnographic study. These are all the more valuable because both authors are experienced ethnographers with both extended experience of the "migrant" populations with whom they have worked, and knowledge of the "source" communities. Helen Morton Lee's study focuses on the activities, attitudes, and experiences of a group of some 430 first-, second-, and third-generation Tongans, and 49 associated non-Tongan persons, living in one hundred households in Melbourne, Victoria. The survey was conducted by the author between 1995 and July 1999, and between 1997 and 1999 by a research assistant, Meliame Tauali'i. Leulu Felise Va'a's study, an extended and edited version of his doctoral thesis, focuses on a similar range of attitudes in a group of some 735 first- and second-generation Samoans living in one hundred thirty-seven households in Sydney, New South Wales, between 1992 and 1993. It contains a brief postscript that adds material collected during a short visit in mid-1999 and updates some aspects of the earlier picture. Va'a carried out his own fieldwork. Both books use material from these studies effectively; the pictures created are rich, and the voices of those who make up the communities are clearly heard.

Both authors draw on additional material from secondary sources to extend and clarify their survey data. Examining the extent to which the experiences and views of Melbourne Tongans coincide with those of Tongans in Tonga and in other migrant enclaves, Morton Lee uses a significant amount of verbatim material from Tongan Internet "chat rooms," including "unsolicited" material excerpted from discussions between unidentified Tongan (and some non-Tongan) "posters," as well as e-mail interviews with some of the regular contributors to those chat-room discussions. This material adds considerably to the data and provides extremely interesting insights into the ways Tongans talk to other Tongans about a range of issues. However, the [End Page 455] use of the chat-room material raises some ethical and methodological issues about the use of such comments that, for me at least, were not adequately resolved.

Va'a's account draws on a significant amount of material from accounts of the Samoan "source" community, and of migrant church and community leaders having long-standing experience of the history of the enclaves. This is used to illustrate parallels and differences between processes in the source and migrant "communities," and then within the enclaves. This detailed field data again adds considerably to the argument.

Each author seeks to understand the ways in which culture and cultural identity are transformed in the diaspora. Each study shows persuasively that the cultures that are changed—the anga fakatonga (Tongan culture) and the fa'a Sāmoa (Samoan culture) —are not singular worldviews and associated lifestyles, but rather more loosely defined sets of understandings. Each study illustrates the difficulties in identifying what was supposed to be at the core of anga fakatonga and fa'a Sāmoa, respectively, and how these translated into identities. These sections of the accounts are important and serve as valuable antidotes to tendencies to simply...


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