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  • Changing Contexts, Shifting Meanings: Transformations of Cultural Traditions in Oceania ed. by Elfriede Hermann
  • Matt Tomlinson
Changing Contexts, Shifting Meanings: Transformations of Cultural Traditions in Oceania, edited by Elfriede Hermann. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-8248-3366-4; xiii + 365 pages, illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index. Cloth, US$58.00.

This volume, a deeply textured topography of the concept of tradition in the Pacific, emerged from a symposium in 2006 that complemented an exhibition of the Cook/Forster Collection of the Georg August University of Göttingen. Over twenty contributions range across Oceania, taking anthropological and historical perspectives on the complex, evolving articulations between pasts and presents and demonstrating that the work of making tradition appear unified and stable is fraught and sometimes contentious.

The volume begins with two introductory chapters, one by the editor, Elfriede Hermann, and one by Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin, describing the history of the Cook/Forster Collection. The book's first section then offers a group of six chapters linked by the theme of "Early Encounters." David Hanlon traces connections between the monumental sites of Nan Madol (Pohnpei) and Lelu (Kosrae), in Micronesia, and Margaret Jolly reenvisions the histories of Mai and Tupaia, men from Raiatea who sailed with Captain Cook. Both Hanlon and Jolly draw on the work of Greg Dening to motivate their stimulating comparisons of place and person. The next three chapters analyze constructions of race, sex, and violence, with Bronwen Douglas's and Anne Salmond's works harmonizing especially well. Douglas examines agency and authorship in 1820s French depictions of "racial" characteristics in Tahiti and New Ireland, concluding, "Indigenous presence pervades firsthand voyage materials and persistently disrupts the more remote, more racially charged genres of narrative and ethnography" (88). In a complementary fashion, Salmond argues in her chapter on myths of sexuality in early contact Tahiti, "The more . . . audiences are likely to be judgmental of what they read, the more the account is forged for their reception" (104). Gundolf Krüger then examines Georg Foster's continually shifting understandings of the significance of warfare in Aotearoa, Tahiti, and Tonga, and the section concludes with Serge Tcherkézoff's summary of developments in the definition of "Polynesia" that predated Dumont d'Urville's famous classification by seventy-five years.

Next comes an evocative trio of papers on the topic of "Memories." Lamont Lindstrom writes about practices of naming people and places in Tanna, Vanuatu, as projects of drawing history into eternity and vice versa; historical events and personae are commemorated and repeatedly represented, and, as Lindstrom quotes Maurice Leenhardt, "names return periodically, marking a rhythm of original personalities which are the group's strength" (148). Ton Otto extends Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger's well-worn (and now strongly qualified) argument about the invention of tradition, analyzing how Paliau Maloat's famous reform movement in Manus, Papua New Guinea, helped foster attention to the past as a distinct referent and resource. The [End Page 195] third chapter, by Wolfgang Kempf, shows how Banaban dance performances in Fiji represent a shared past. His chapter is notable as one of the few to place Christianity at the center of analysis, with close examination of a dance illustrating the arrival of the first missionaries to the Banaban homeland. Like many groups in Oceania, Banabans represent Christianity's arrival as the replacement of darkness with light, but unlike many other representations of the pivotal moment, Banabans focus on their ancestors' willingness to be gradually persuaded.

The following section, titled "Global and (Trans)local Processes," begins with two chapters on dance that complement Kempf's. Miriam Kahn traces the development of Tahitian dancing for touristic spectacle, describing how performances have been reshaped and recontextualized as recordable visual displays. Jacquelyn Lewis-Harris considers classic problems in theories of the gift (materiality, alienability, coercion), drawing especially on Marcel Mauss, Chris Gregory, and Simon Harrison as she analyzes dance performances of Solien Besena, a group from Papua New Guinea with significant presence in Australia. The two chapters that follow, by Martha Kaplan and John Kelly, examine polarizations of traditional categories in Fiji. Kaplan counterposes the ritual use of water by a nineteenth-century...


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