- Living Kinship in the Pacific ed. by Christina Toren
Edited by Christina Toren and Simonne Pauwels, the collected works that make up Living Kinship in the Pacific offer case studies that examine kinship practices throughout the Pacific across both space and time. As Toren and Pauwels explain, “The book’s objective is straightforward: to provide case studies of contemporary Pacific kinship, and in so doing arrive at an understanding of what is currently happening to kinship in an area where deep historical links provide for close and useful comparison” (1). More provocatively, the collection [End Page 624] does not merely aspire to compare and document kinship in the region. Rather, there is an expressed intent to situate kinship practices within a larger understanding of history as living and integral to contemporary practices and kinship-related worldviews. In Toren and Pauwel’s estimation, “What is under discussion here is not history as something external to us, confined to the past, nor history as it is known or generally understood, nor history as it is written nor the personal history we can recollect and tell to others, but rather history as it is lived” (3).
This volume’s endorsement of history as lived and fundamental to kinship practices of the past and present aligns with wider calls among Pacific scholars to listen to and engage deeply with stories, for it is through the stories of community that history truly comes to life. Living Kinship in the Pacific brings together just a few of the many stories of the Pacific. The eleven chapters, divided into three sections, weave together both academic and practical aspects of research through the experiences of its scholars, clearly illustrating the diversity in kinship practices in the Pacific. They primarily employ ethnographic approaches to kinship and related issues in Fiji, Tonga, Sāmoa, Tokelau, Papua New Guinea, and Taiwan.
Anthropologists Unaisi Nabobo-Baba and Jara Hulkenberg do well in exploring communal kinship in their respective contributions, which focus specifically on Fiji and explore kinship through “gifting.” Drawing on the classic anthropological concept of “the gift,” the contributors advocate for understanding and appreciating gifting practices as more than just birthday or Christmas presents that will ultimately go to waste. In the context of Pacific kinship, it encompasses far more. As Nabobo-Baba describes, gifting represents veikauwaitaki (mutual concern and empathy), which is the foundation of Fijian kinship. She recounts the story of the gifting of a tabua (whale tooth) from one chief to another as a means of solidifying veidinadininati vakavanua vakaturaga (his chiefly promise). Though this kind of promise and the gifting associated with it are replete with complex layers of meaning, veikauwaitaki lies at the core. This demonstrates concern for the welfare of kin and others, as well as empathy for others’ troubles (23). Nabobo-Baba thus shows that gifting in the context of kinship is ingrained into societal values that are practiced by the community as a whole. Veikauwaitaki is more than just a word; rather, it guides social actions that are acknowledged by all levels of the community.
Hulkenberg’s chapter explores the ways in which practices of exchange extend past the homeland and into foreign lands through the processes of migration. As migration occurs, kinship becomes transnational and transformative in many different ways. Because resources may differin foreign places, so too do the gifts that are presented or exchanged. For example, in looking at Fijians in the United Kingdom, Hulkenberg illustrates that money has become prominent in acts of gifting (76). Though it is important to acknowledge that items frequently gifted in the home-land, such as tabua, are often replaced by items available in foreign lands, [End Page 625] Hulkenberg makes it clear that the obligations and significance of kinship and gifting remain. She argues that people must know themselves through retaining their virtue...