- The Future of Tokelau: Decolonizing Agendas 1975–2006
The Future of Tokelau is an important and challenging study of the recent history of Tokelau and its relationship with New Zealand as a colonial and decolonizing power. The book is important because it covers a very critical phase in Tokelau's recent history, potentially of interest to a wide readership. It documents in great detail the consequences of increased interaction between various village institutions, the growing communities of Tokelauans living overseas (mainly in New Zealand), the New Zealand Foreign Service, and the United Nations, to mention some of the major actors in this transnational social field. The text is challenging because for the most part it unashamedly argues against any outside involvement in Tokelau affairs, despite occasional mention of pleas from Tokelau authorities to the contrary. While the book cannot, however, be said to romanticize tradition against the workings of modernity, the authors seem to view nationhood as inherently contrary to the Tokelau way of life (faka-Tokelau). The reason for this stance can be traced to the historical relationships between the three atolls Fakaofo, Nukunonu, and Atafu, which are competitive and at times antagonistic—hardly an ideal model for establishing nationhood.
Readers with an interest in the precolonial aspects of Tokelau's past, and the dynamics of atoll politics and village life, can favorably read the present work in company with the comprehensive volume Tokelau: A Historical Ethnography by Judith Huntsman and Antony Hooper (1997). Huntsman and Hooper have conducted anthropological research on and in relation to Tokelau since 1967. The seriousness and extent of their engagement with Tokelau provides an example for other scholars to follow. Their early work concentrated on traditional anthropological issues of social organization such as kinship, gender, land tenure, and subsistence economy to mention some, and used the standard method of participant observation as their tool. But the more recent publications have a decidedly historical orientation, and are based on a combination of observational data, earlier field notes, interviews, and material gained from archival studies.
Whereas this approach, called historical ethnography by Huntsman and Hooper, and continued by Huntsman with Kalolo, provides rich and very valuable information about aspects of [End Page 392] life in Tokelau in "the days gone by" (na aho kua teka), to place so much of the interpretative burden of a study of contemporary social processes on archival and secondary sources is at best a daring venture. It is a fundamental tenet in social anthropology that any ethnographic information should be related to the social context of its production in order to ensure the comparative validity of our interpretations—hence the common insistence on participant observation as constituting a cornerstone of anthropological practice. In parts of Huntsman and Kalolo's work, however, strong statements about individual actors' actions and intentions are presented on the basis of material that is of unclear origins. The resulting impression shares a good resemblance to village gossip in Tokelau, which tends to draw everyone in to engaging in (and reproducing) this kind of discourse. In particular, prescribing points for behavior to papalagi and Tokelauan participants equally is a serious weakness in an otherwise ethnographically solid publication. The book is argumentative, and clearly takes sides—for and against those central to the development of a Tokelau response to its macro-political situation. The criteria for positive or negative mention are not explicitly described, but it seems that being in touch with Tokelau values of collective participation (maopoopo), loving generosity (alofa), and, not the least important according to Kalolo, having proficiency in bilingual translation, certainly leads to a more positive valuation.
This volume is divided into three parts. The first part consists of a preamble describing the period from 1960 to approximately 1977, with the establishment of a national meeting forum, or what came to be called the General Fono, and the beginnings of the Tokelau Public Service. This part of the book presents a very...