Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry

, Volume 27, Issue 1, pp 29–48 | Cite as

A View from the Other Side: The Place of Spirits in the Tongan Social Field

  • Barbara Burns McGrath
Article

Abstract

Spirits are part of everyday life in the Kingdom of Tonga. This study explores beliefs about the supernatural by analyzing discourse on spirits and death and by examining two examples of contemporary cultural practice related to spirits and death. The anthropological concepts of the body and its cultural construction and of thirdspace as a landscape of the Tongan islands that emerges out of the physical and the perceived provide the framework for this investigation. Research findings suggest that spirits participate in the natural order of Tongan society and thus serve to help maintain cultural identity in the face of uncertain social change and a popular but contested prodemocracy movement. Spirits also function as a system of representation, mirroring an image of an ideal self, something that is continually under negotiation. Encounters between spirits of ancestors and their living descendants suggest an uneasy acceptance of death and a sense of irony about its inevitability.

body culture change death healing Polynesia religion spirits Tonga 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

REFERENCES

  1. Barker, John 1985 Missionaries and Mourning: Continuity and Change in the Death Ceremonies of a Melanesian People. In Missionaries, Anthropologists and Cultural Change. Darrel L. Whiteman, ed., pp. 263–294. Williamsburg, VA: College of William and Mary, Department of Anthropology.Google Scholar
  2. Bastien, Joseph W. 1985 Mountain of the Condor: Metaphor and Ritual in an Andean Ayllu. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press.Google Scholar
  3. Becker, Anne E. 1995 Body, Self, and Society: The View From Fiji. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  4. Becker, Gay 1997 Disrupted Lives: How People Create Meaning in a Chaotic World. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bordo, Susan R. 1989 The Body and the Reproduction of Femininity: A Feminist Appropriation of Foucault. In Gender/Body/Knowledge: Feminist Reconstructions of Being and Knowing. Alison M., Jaggar and Susan R. Bordo, eds., pp. 13–33. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Bourdieu, Pierre 1977 Outline of a Theory of Practice. Richard Nice, trans. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Bowlby, John 1969 Attachment and Loss. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  8. Campbell, I.C. 1992 Island Kingdom: Tonga Ancient and Modern. Christchurch: Canterbury University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Collocott, Ernest 1923 Sickness, Ghosts and Medicine in Tonga. The Journal of the Polynesian Society 32(3): 136–142.Google Scholar
  10. Comaroff, Jean 1985 Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  11. Csordas, Thomas 1990 Embodiment as a Paradigm for Anthropology. Ethos 18(1): 5–47.Google Scholar
  12. Douglas, Mary 1966 Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. New York: Praeger.Google Scholar
  13. Ferdon, E. 1987 Early Tonga. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.Google Scholar
  14. Filihia, M. 2001 Men Are From Maama, Women Are From Pulotu: Female Status in Tongan Society. Journal of the Polynesian Society 110(4): 377–390.Google Scholar
  15. Foliaki, Siale 1999 Mental Health Among Tongan Migrants. Pacific Health Dialog 6(2): 288–294.Google Scholar
  16. Foucault, Michel 1979 Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage.Google Scholar
  17. Foucault, Michel 1980 Questions on Geography. In Power/Knowledge. Colin Gordon, ed., pp. 63–77. New York: Pantheon.Google Scholar
  18. Fulton, Robert 1976 Death and Identity. Bowie, MD: Charles Press.Google Scholar
  19. Gifford, Edward W. 1929 Tongan Society. Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin 61.Google Scholar
  20. Gordon, T. 1996 They Loved Her Too Much: Interpreting Spirit Possession in Tonga. In Spirits in Culture, History and Mind. J.M. Mageo and A. Howard, eds., pp. 55–74. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  21. Kaeppler, Adrienne L. 1993 Poetics and Politics of Tongan Laments and Eulogies. American Ethnologist 20(3): 474–501.Google Scholar
  22. Kahn, Miriam 2000 Tahiti Intertwined: Ancestral Land, Tourist Postcard, and Nuclear Test Site. American Anthropologist 102(1): 7–26.Google Scholar
  23. Ka'ili, Tevita 2002 Personal communication with the author, September.Google Scholar
  24. Kleinman, Arthur 1988 The Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing, and the Human Condition. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  25. Knauft, Bruce M. 1989 Bodily Images in Melanesia: Cultural Substances and Natural Metaphors. In Fragments for a History of the Human Body, Vol. 3. M. Feher, R. Naddaff, and N. Tazi, eds., pp. 199–270. New York: Zone.Google Scholar
  26. Lambek, Michael 1998 Body and Mind in Mind, Body and Mind in Body: Some Anthropological Interventions in a Long Conversation. In Bodies and Persons: Comparative Perspectives From Africa and Melanesia. Michael Lambek and Andrew Strathern, eds., pp. 103–123. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Latukefu, S. 1974 Church and State in Tonga: The Wesleyan Methodist Missionaries and Political Development 1822–1875. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii.Google Scholar
  28. Lefebvre, Henri 1991 The Production of Space. Donald Nicholson-Smith, trans. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  29. Levy, Robert 1973 Tahitians: Mind and Experience in the Society Islands. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  30. Linde, Charlotte 1993 Life Stories: The Creation of Coherence. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Lock, Margaret 1993 Cultivating the Body: Anthropology and Epistemologies of Bodily Practice and Knowledge. Annual Reviews in Anthropology 22: 133–155.Google Scholar
  32. Lutz, Catherine 1988 Unnatural Emotions: Everyday Sentiments on a Micronesian Atoll and Their Challenge to Western Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  33. Mageo, Jeannette 1998 Theorizing Self in Samoa: Emotions, Genders and Sexualities. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  34. Mageo, Jeannette, and Alan Howard, eds. 1996 Spirits in Culture, History and Mind. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  35. Martin, Emily 1987 The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysis of Reproduction. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  36. Martin, Emily 1994 Flexible Bodies. Tracking Immunity in American Culture From the Days of Polio to the Age of AIDS. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  37. Martin, John 1991[1817] Tonga Islands: William Mariner's Account, 5th ed. Neiafu, Tonga: Vava'u Press.Google Scholar
  38. McGrath, Barbara Burns 1993 Making Meaning of Illness, Dying and Death in the Kingdom of Tonga. Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Washington, Seattle.Google Scholar
  39. McGrath, Barbara Burns 2000 Swimming From Island to Island: Healing Practice in Tonga. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 13(4): 483–505.Google Scholar
  40. Morris, Brian 2000 Animals and Ancestors: An Ethnography. Oxford: Berg.Google Scholar
  41. Parkes, C. Murray 1971 Psycho-Social Transitions: A Field for Study. Social Science and Medicine 5: 101–115.Google Scholar
  42. Poltorak, M. 2002 Aspersions of Agency: Ghosts, Love and Sickness in Tonga. Unpublished dissertation, University College, London.Google Scholar
  43. Puloka, Mapa Ha'ano 1999 'Avanga: Tongan Concepts of Mental Illness. Pacific Health Dialog 6(2): 268–275.Google Scholar
  44. Radcliffe-Brown, A.R. 1952 Structure and Function in Primitive Society: Essays and Addresses. London: Cohen and West.Google Scholar
  45. Radcliffe-Brown, A.R. 1979 Taboo. In Reader in Comparative Religion: An Anthropological Approach. William A. Lessa and Evon Z. Vogt, eds., pp. 46–56. New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
  46. Scheper-Hughes, Nancy, and Margaret, Lock 1987 The Mindful Body: A Prolegomenon to Future Work in Medical Anthropology. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 1: 6–41.Google Scholar
  47. Shore, Bradd 1989 Mana and Tapu. In Developments in Polynesian Ethnology. Alan Howard and Robert Borofsky, eds. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.Google Scholar
  48. Small, Cathy A. 1997 Voyages: From Tongan Villages to American Suburbs. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Soja, Edward M. 1989 Postmodern Geography. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  50. Soja, Edward M. 1996 Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  51. Sontag, Susan. 1990 Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors. New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  52. Strathern, Andrew J. 1996 Body Thoughts. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  53. Teillat-Fisk, Jehanne 1990 Tongan Grave Art. In Art and Identity in Oceania. Allan Hanson and Louise Hanson, eds., pp. 222–243. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.Google Scholar
  54. Toafa, Viliami, Losa, Moata'ane, and Barbara, Guthrie 1999 Belief and Trust: Health Caring for Migrant Tongan Healers and Patients in New Zealand. Pacific Health Dialog 6(2):160–167.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Barbara Burns McGrath
    • 1
  1. 1.School of NursingUniversity of WashingtonSeattle

Personalised recommendations