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  • Marking Indigeneity: The Tongan Art of Sociospatial Relations by Tēvita O Ka'ili
  • Maggie Wander
Marking Indigeneity: The Tongan Art of Sociospatial Relations, by Tēvita O Ka'ili. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2017. isbn 978-0-8165-3056-4, 180 pages, illustrations, appendix, notes, glossary, references, index. Cloth, us$50.00.

In Marking Indigeneity: The Tongan Art of Sociospatial Relations, Tēvita O Ka'ili theorizes the practice of tauhi vā, or "mediating sociospatial conflicts," in the Tongan diaspora of Maui, Hawai'i. Ka'ili is an associate professor of cultural anthropology and Pacific Island studies at Brigham Young University-Hawai'i. His research engages with tensions between the fields of anthropology [End Page 554] and Indigenous studies, exploring potential contributions that both discourses can have on one another (see, for example, his essay in Anthropologists, Indigenous Scholars, and the Research Endeavour, edited by Joy Hendry and Laara Fitznor, 2012). Marking Indigeneity is an excellent example of his vision because it combines anthropological methods with Tongan methodologies and theoretical frameworks grounded in Pacific studies. In this way, it is an important contribution to decolonizing research methodologies espoused by scholars such as Linda Tuhiwai Smith (Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, 2012).

Ka'ili uses the tā-vā theory of reality, introduced by anthropologist 'Ōkusitino Māhina, as a theoretical framework for understanding how Tongans negotiate life in Hawai'i. Using Māhina's theory, Ka'ili defines tā as "the beating of space," through "tempo, beat, pace, rhythm, and frequency" (25). Vā is the "relational space between two time markers" (26). The relationships that result from this intersection between tā and vā are made "harmonious" and "beautiful" when they are reciprocal, balanced, or symmetrical. In the case of Tongans on Maui, Ka'ili argues this symmetry is achieved by tauhi vā, "the art of creating and maintaining beautiful sociospatial relations (vā) through the mutual performances of social duties (fatongia)" (159). Maintaining these relationships, Ka'ili argues, is a way of "marking indigeneity" in the context of migration.

The first chapter, "Mediating the Conflicting Times-Spaces of Maui," describes how "the beating of work-time often conflicts with the Tongan practice of marking time through the mutual performance of fatongia" (16). To combat the tensions between work-time and social duties (fatongia), Ka'ili argues Tongans in Maui "reconfigure" time-space by extending cultural events and gatherings into the night, often until the next morning. In this way, the time dedicated to tauhi vā is made symmetrical to the time dedicated to working, and Ka'ili argues this balance is integral to the harmony and beauty of sociospatial relationships.

In later chapters, Ka'ili provides specific examples of how tauhi vā is enacted. Vahe, or the sharing of food, illustrates tauhi vā because "the mutual sharing of small but equal portions of food produces a beautiful kupesi" (91). Kupesi here indicates social patterns, and this beauty creates balance and social harmony. Another example is kaitaha, or eating gatherings, in which individuals share resources with one another. Celebrations such as birthdays and faka'osiako (graduation celebrations) are also instances of tauhi vā because they involve the reciprocal gifting of food, money, and koloa (treasured goods). The performance of fatongia at funerals is another type of tauhi vā because a person's presence at failotu (prayer vigils) and 'āpō (funeral wakes) shows mutual support for members of the community.

All of these examples support Ka'ili's argument that tauhi vā can be understood as a performative art form. He likens the practice of tauhi vā to other Tongan arts such as tapa making, weaving, or singing. This is one of the book's most original [End Page 555] contributions because it complicates the distinction between artistic and social practices. We can understand tauhi vā, the mediation of social relationships, as a performative art that is as aesthetic as much as it is functional. In fact, these two qualities go hand in hand in the tā-vā theory of reality, in which the symmetrical marking of time in space creates beautiful social patterns.

Chapter 4, "Researching as a Communal Concept and Practice," discusses Ka'ili's research method...


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