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The Contemporary Pacific 16.1 (2004) 219-223

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Kau Faito'o: Traditional Healers of Tonga.27 minutes, VHS, color, 2001. Directed by Melinda Ostraff; produced by Melinda Ostraff, Joseph Ostraff, Brian Wilcox, and Wendy Wilcox, with research assistance from Amelia Niumeitolu and Ashley Knudsen; written by Michael Van Wagener, Melinda Ostraff, Joseph Ostraff, and Loa Niumeitolu Saafi; English narration by Loa Niumeitolu Saafi, with English subtitles for Tongan interviews. Distributed by Documentary Educational Resources, Watertown, MA.<> Sale US$145.00, RENTAL US$50.00.

Kau Faito'o is a descriptive ethnographic film depicting a variety of healers (kau faito'o), and healing methods (faito'o fakatonga) as practiced at the turn of the millennium in Tonga. Viewers get a clear sense of Tongan culture as well as insights about specialists in birth, fertility and infancy, massage and bonesetting, and medical plant knowledge.What makesthis filma little different is the production crew, which includes Tongans doing writing, narration, and research, under the sympathetic direction of Melinda Ostraff. Filmed entirely in Tonga, the production values are very good. Clear sound quality, good lighting, and visuals are augmented with clean editing, eloquent narration, and subtitles providing adequate translations without distracting from the events occurring on the screen. The film is engaging and enjoyable to watch.

The scene opens at the blowholes of Tongatapu, with narrator Loa Niumeitolu Saafi describing the story of Maui who, with his magical hook and great strength, fished the islands of Tonga up from the bottom of the sea before the first Tongans arrived some 3,500 years ago. Of her people she says: "Tongans are a proud people with familial bonds to the land. We believe that through loyalty to kinship and the mercy of God we will continue to retain and own our sovereignty. Our independence has helped us maintain and nurture sacred practices." The opening description of Tonga as a place with a turbulent history but also protective cultural attributes offers the standardized image of Tonga that was cultivated and honed during the long twentieth-century reign of Queen Salote. Social practices grounded in Tongan notions of kinship and respect for elders and the "old ways" enabled the small nation to survive challenges ranging from ocean voyaging, battles between chiefly factions, and the arrival of trade ships and Christian missionaries in the seventeenth century, to exposure to outside commerce and rapid monetization in the twentieth century. Images of people reef fishing, beating barkcloth, and making plant medicines are contrasted with scenes of Tongan soldiers on parade, traffic in the capital, and rap music on car radios. The theme of traditional [End Page 219] healing as ancient art under siege from modernity is clear and persistent.

Seven healers (Kiu Anitoni, Kolo Tonga, Lamona Tongia, Faleata Vea, Viliama Ate Maile, Mele Mahi, and Amelia Kane) are shown in action. Three midwives demonstrate massage techniques and talk about how they determine position and predict the sex of a child, manage a labor, diagnose problems such as fonua momoko (cold uterus), and balance their advice with that of hospital-based clinicians. Afertility specialistlistens toa mother whose son and daughter-in-law have been unable to conceive. She describes how she can determine the cause of infertility by massaging the stomach and body. For example, if the body is warm, and the stomach is not, the woman has fonua momoko. The fertility specialist makes an herbal drink to be taken orally for five days, in conjunction with daily bathing, applications of coconut oil, and dressing warmly. A maker of traditional medicines tours his garden, identifying some eleven plants and their applications, including children's upset stomach, cankers, and disturbed spirits. A man harvesting bark for medicine is shown to be doing so in a manner that protects the tree for future harvesting, and men and women both are shown making medicines. An infant specialist is shown checking the fontanelle, umbilicus, and breasts, and administering a tonic. In what is likely to be the most uncomfortable segment of the film, a massage and bonesetting...