What Were Gender Relations Like in Tongan Society Before Contact With Europeans and the Emergence of Class Stratification?
If we are to accept the view held by many sympathetic historians, either of European or indigenous descent, we are committing ourselves to treating mythology as real history.
This article seeks to address these diffi culties in the context of one Pacifi c Island society, Tonga. The problem is particularly acute when one deals with the middle classes, as opposed to the working or elite classes—those who are betwixtand-between, caught in a liminal position that, like other forms of liminality, are supposed to go one way or another, while in fact they remain in suspension. This suspension is particularly pertinent to the “middleness” of the middle classes and renders their very nature unstable, in contrast to the solidity that Marx attributed to both the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, groups whose self-consciousness is fi rmly ingrained in their identities, and who theoretically have little trouble fi nding a common “enemy”.
An increasingly market-oriented economy and an expanding bureaucracy have recently added a middle class that runs the gamut from commoners to chiefs (Ferdon, E. N., 1987). Newly acquired wealth, however, does not easily overcome social barriers rooted in history. Often claims to higher social status are established by claiming kinship to holders of aristocratic titles.
In past populations, social status can be inferred by examining dietary differences with regard to access to certain foods, especially those considered ‘high status’ by a particular community.
Campbell, I. C. Island Kingdom: Tongan Ancient and Modern , 1992.
Ferdon, E. N. Early Tonga: As the Explorers Saw It 1616– 1810 , 1987.
Gailey, C. W. Kinship to Kinship: Gender Hierarchy and State Formation in the Tongan Islands , 1987.