The Creative Voice: An Exploration of Tongan Women Using Creativity as a Vessel for Voice, Self-Identity, and Agency Through a TIWI (Tongan-Kiwi) Lens

The Creative Voice: An Exploration of Tongan Women Using Creativity as a Vessel for Voice, Self-Identity, and Agency Through a TIWI (Tongan-Kiwi) Lens

Janet Tupou
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 31
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4829-5.ch007
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This chapter analyses themes of hybrid diasporic Tongan identity in the individual talanoa shared by Tongan women that was captured in doctoral research, per the author. Special focus is put on issues of “individual freedom” and “the collective burden” of expressing voice in the “walk in two worlds” creatively and geographically between Tonga and New Zealand. Although the legal and cultural frameworks in Tonga are progressive and relatively liberal with regard to the promotion of gender equality, some laws and traditions discriminate against women, establishing gender inequalities. As this chapter demonstrates, these inequalities have had profound impacts on women and their agency. Tongan women have spearheaded efforts to bridge communal boundaries and challenge the increasing normalisation of male dominance by continuously expressing their voices, particularly through creativity. The following perspectives inform this exploration, which is deconstructed from the standpoint of a TIWI (Tongan Kiwi) woman.
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The Kingdom of Tonga is comprised of approximately 170 islands, of which just 36 are inhabited. The 2016 Census revealed a total population of 100,651 people, slightly lower than the 2011 Census, which revealed a population of 103,252 people: a decrease of 2.6 per cent. Tonga has a relatively young population, with a median age of 22 years, and almost four-in-ten people (39 per cent) are aged 15 years and younger, while a mere 9 per cent is 60 years and older (Government of Tonga, 2016). Most Tongans live in rural areas while 23 per cent of the population (23,221) lives in urban areas, including the villages of Kolofo’ou, Ma’ufanga and Kolomotu’a, which make up Nuku’alofa in Tongatapu. Although Tonga’s population density varies widely across island divisions and districts, its average population density is 155 people/km (Government of Tonga, 2016; 2018).

According to Lane and McNaught (2009), women have traditionally held high social status within Tongan society because of the ‘fahu’ system within families: the eldest sister (or another chosen sister) holds a place of honour and respect and plays an important role in family decision-making (Nishitani, 2014). Even though Tongan society is patriarchal, sisters are ranked higher than their brothers in certain contexts, providing that a woman has a brother and her brother (or brothers) has a child (Filihia, 2001). However, this traditional high regard of women (fahu system) or the ideology of sisters having a higher position than men, is discordant with the reality of women not having a voice in other areas of the Tongan culture, such as politics and in other public arenas (Akolo, 2018).

It could be postulated, that because of the fahu system, Tongan women that have been brought up in Tonga do not see the need to engage in western models of decision making and leadership, because of their traditional status. Thus, women feel that their voices and agency have already been bounded by this traditional reverence and often feel displaced in areas where their voices are not taken into account or heard (Lee, 2016). For the purpose of this chapter, ‘Tongan women’ are considered those who were brought up in the Kingdom of Tonga and abide by ‘traditional Tongan’ ways of being, which is different to that of Tongan women born in New Zealand (TIWI or Tongan Kiwi). Many scholars have written about ‘traditional’ Tonga (Campbell, 1992; Farmer, 1855; Moulten, 1921; Rutherford, 1996; Wood, 1972; Wood-Ellem, 1999) and others have written about ‘contemporary’ Tonga examining the adaptation problems individuals encounter when they have to make the transition from a traditional collectivist way of life to a modern, individualist way of being (Campbell, 1992; Wood-Ellem, 1999). No one else, however, has questioned how Tongan creativity can be seen as a vessel of voice and agency for Tongan women to bridge communal boundaries and challenge the gender inequalities and the status-quo.

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