What can fish stories tell us about how people live with the complexities of rapid environmental transformations and the local effects of national, globalized, and neoliberal desires for resources? To answer this, I take the Tä'atu fish harvesting ritual and accompanying oral narrative to be an "ecography" that addresses human intimacies and changes on a small atoll in Tonga. This type of analysis draws on traditional ecological, political, and sociological knowledge, as well as geography, history, and cultural symbols, to give a deeper understanding of place and the contemporary experience of people intimate with the local environment as source of food and livelihood. When examined in the light of today's drastically depleted stocks of Pacific pelagic fishes such as skipjack tuna, the ecography of the Tä'atu provides a benchmark for a shift in a human–fish relationship that provided Polynesians with practical and poetic sustenance for hundreds if not thousands of years. At the same time, the myth of the Tä'atu highlights the historic political importance of desire, beauty, and their confluence with bounty, in the production of generations of chiefly privilege and cultural practice. Imbricated with the shifts in human–fish and beauty–bounty relations are lessons for the contemporary chiefly–commoner relationship in Tonga, the last nation to claim status as an uninterrupted Polynesian kingdom, as well as laments for the loss of independence an important food resource offered. Today, as in the past, the Tä'atu is a fishy tale about the geopolitics of various desires.


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pp. 365-408
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