Influence of Christianity in Tongan Society before and after European Contact

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The need to possess an in depth analysis of the Tongan historiography was overdue before Christine Gailey’s attempt. The Tongan Kingdom may be a Polynesian state that’s pleased with its distinct cultural heritage which is primarily related to the very fact that it had been never colonized by any of the imperial powers (Gailey 3). However, the place has been influenced politically and religiously by Christianity from Europe. The contact of European Union in Tonga led to the emergence of sophistication stratification that has since then changed many of their socio-cultural aspects. thanks to intense pride in cultural heritage and custom, historians are ready to “historians have been able to record and publish the Tongan history with oral and slightly well-known vernacular materials. That caution that Tonga exhibits on its traditional history has made historians have a great responsibility in tackling historiography problems. This essay looks at the work of Christine Gailey’s Kinship to Kingship-Gender Hierarchy and State Formation in the Tongan Islands which party covers gender relations before and after contact with Europeans and the consequential emergence of stratification.

Gender Relations in the Pre-contact

Most accounts of the pre-European Tonga show that gender-based distinctions were essential to some notable aspects of Tongan’s social order. Gender tends to take an ambiguous and elusive place in historical analyses. Rank and authority in kainga (‘kinsmen’) which was the traditional ruling system was dominantly attached to gender in and personal kin (Geily 31). The hierarchical rankings were similarly attached to political change, attrition, and natural reproduction. A ‘domestic’ kinship was formed from a union between the god and earthly woman to establish a fundamental model of the Tongan social order which was defined with gender distinctions as the basis for creating and transmitting secular and mythical power and authority. The model was a hierarchical classification that offered templates for reckoning gender relations.

The Tongan people were ranked as either superior or inferior based on age and gender, but the latter played the higher privilege. Old, males and brothers were superior to young ones, females, and sisters respectively (Gailey 41). Although the most elderly held the highest rank in the kinship, the older men were superior to their female age mates. Gailey explains that men had a higher authority than women in the same age bracket. Kainga, which formed a core element of the society was customarily headed by men (p. 64). Women were acknowledged for complementing men through marriage. The author also points out that they formed a crucial part of the society especially in child upbringing and taking care of the family. During the pre-contact period, both girls and boys were supposed to obey their parent’s prearranged marriages. Love was never a consideration for marriage. Royal families embraced such arrangements mostly for economic and political advantages.

Division of labor was to a large extent based on gender. Women were mostly concerned with gardening chores which entailed crop farming on a substance scale (Gailey 123). On the other hand, men were responsible for the defense of their families and community, fishing and engaging in trading. In times of war, it was the responsibility of males to fight while females could provide the fighting warriors with food. Work was also assigned to men and women according to the period of the life cycles. The time periods were mainly determined when an individual was about to become a parent as well as on the rearing of children. However, Gailey (p.24) notes that such divisions of labor were not relevant when distinctions of gender were transcended.

Gender hierarchy did not exist in areas where women had unquestionable subordination to men. However, tension existed between places where the female gender had some authority over men and those areas where such cases never existed. For instance, a woman could have power as a sister but lose it to submit to her husband. Sisterhood in the Tongan society had higher authority than any other privilege a woman could enjoy. For example, they could determine the fate of their brothers’ marriage. Such scenarios created tension among people. Monogamous marriages were widely practiced although there were a few exceptions. The term oanna which referred to a spouse did not distinguish husband and wife (p. 142). The language chosen was supposed to reflect the society, and it was assumed that lack of gender distinction among spouses was a perfect choice to reflect the nature of the relationship. Marital relationships were showed a higher level of equality between married couples than any other society including Europe. Partners were equally supposed to stay faithful. Although couples were allowed to divorce and remarry, husbands had the discretion to call for divorce.

Gender Relations after Contact

The entry of foreign influence in Tonga such as Christianity from Europe shaped the history of this society to a significant extent. The impact of Christian teachings brought ambivalent changes to the society. The teachings promoted oppressive morality on tribal lines just the same way they elevated values such as submissiveness, loyalty, obedience and egalitarian ethic that influences national politics and public opinion. The education and technology that was brought by the same Europeans have also reshaped the traditional culture. For instance, prearranged marriages are rarely practiced in the present Tonga. After the contact, marriages shifted to be based on love rather than clan interests. However, the majority of top-ranking chiefs and royal families maintained prearranged marriages for political and economic convenience. Marriage between noble families and commoners began to emerge after the contact.

Modernity, which was associated with the Europeans and their Christianity also influenced other changes such strengthening of nuclear families and weakening the significance of kainga. The contact influenced women to break the customary domestic-private harboring. Segregation of women from men was abolished by female leaders such as Queen Salofe to embrace equality among people of different sexes. Gailey notes that it was Salofe who encouraged women to break away from their traditional roles such production of Koloa and to begin engaging in entrepreneurial activities that were exclusively reserved for men. Before contact with Europeans, women were recognized for farm activities while men practiced trading. It marked the beginning of women who are empowered just like in Europe and reduce their overdependence on men especially their husbands.

Professional fields were exclusively spared for men during the early years of contact with the Europeans. However, the number of women in professions such as business, medicine, and law continued to increase in the post-contact years. The perception of working couples to strengthening the growing middle class emerged as the bargaining chip for men to support women in education to take up professional careers (p. 175). Inheritance traditions changed to accommodate the modern legal procedures where women are allowed to inherit properties of their parents and husbands. Despite the many changes that have taken place in the Tongan society after the contact with Europe, there are specific roles which have remained resistant to embrace both genders. They are known as sex-specific such as priest (faifekau), poet (punake), and ceremonial officer of the chief (matapule) (p.142). Some roles such as ceremonial officer are regarded too physical, public and stressful to be entrusted to a woman.

The revolution in Tonga is believed to have been orchestrated by young people who found it hard to abide by the old traditions when the rest of the world was changing. Women earned the freedom from the control of their brothers, fathers, and husbands as an effect of European education and Christianity. Feminism did not play a big part in creating the modern Tonga. The concept of feminism did not have an impact in Tonga since some women were already elevated above men. Kainga was the only constraint that forced women to indulge in sex that was very much politicized.

Conclusion

The development of Tonga into a capitalist society shows how the emergence of social classes influences sexuality. Infringement of the rights and authority of women can impact the growth of a community negatively. Gailey highlights the role of women before and after the contact with an advanced world. The outcomes of gender hierarchy can be disadvantageous to other members of the society and women have always been the one affected by such a social stratification. European contact in Tonga had a significant impact just like in other places around the world.

Work Cited

Gailey, Christine Ward. Kinship to kingship: gender hierarchy and state formation in the Tongan Islands. Vol. 14. University of Texas Press, 1987.

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