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Influence Structures in a Tongan Village: 'Every Villager is not the Same!'


Tatau, tatau pé, katoa tatau ‘the same, just the same, all the same,’ is the phrase most Tongan villagers used when asked if any person within the village groups they had just mentioned was mahu'inga taha ‘most important.’ Such forceful insistence on equality among villagers seems incongruous in the context of a monarchial political system, the Kingdom of Tonga, the only surviving Polynesian monarchy.

At the head of this highly stratified society is King George Tupou V, heir of a dynasty that goes back at least a millennium. How can we reconcile the stated lack of local stratification with the overt positive feelings toward a monarchy and its aristocracy?

We used social network analysis to investigate the structure and sources of influence in this Tongan village. The results of the analysis reveals a nuanced local influence structure generated by a combination of traditional kinship status characteristics as well as some based in the emerging cash economy. Thus, the descriptive statements used by villagers, ‘we are all the same’, do not adequately represent the empirical nature of the local influence structure.

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