Why does a Samoan villager buy a Chinese polypropylene mat rather than weave a pandanus one? When do Pacific emigrants stop sending money to their home village? Do villagers stop giving away fish when they get a refrigerator? How do cellphones change villages? These are everyday issues that Cluny and La'avasa Macpherson examine in this accessible sociological study of the impact of globalisation on pacific societies.
Global culture has had a powerful impact on the flora and fauna, the people, economies, languages and cultures of the Pacific for many centuries. But in Samoa these earlier changes were largely controlled by strong family, village, church and secular structures that 'managed' the incorporation of new people, ideas and technologies into traditional culture. Contemporary changes are presenting a more profound challenge to Samoan social institutions and society than at any time in the past.
Drawing on findings from a 40-year research partnership, the Macphersons illustrate the effects of globalisation from the perspective of a typical Samoan village, documenting the country's shift from baskets to buckets, from chiefly and religious authority to a questioning democracy, from in-kind work to a cash economy. The Warm Winds of Change is essential reading for anyone interested in the way global forces are shaping change in small Pacific nations.
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About the Author
Cluny Macpherson is professor in the School of Social and Cultural Studies at Massey University in New Zealand. He the author of Oceania: An Introduction to the Cultures and Identities of Pacific Islanders and a contributor to the Encyclopaedia of the Pacific. La'avasa Macpherson is a researcher at Massey University. They are the coauthors of Samoan Medical Belief and Practice.
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The Warm Winds of Change
Globalisation in Contemporary Samoa
By Cluny Macpherson, La'avasa Macpherson
Auckland University PressCopyright © 2009 Cluny and La'avasa Macpherson
All rights reserved.
Warm winds of change
Samoa is a small, independent state in the southwest Pacific Ocean. Its 185,000 citizens, descendants of Austronesian explorers who settled in the islands some 3000 years ago (Irwin 2006: 64), live in two port towns and some 360 villages on two large, well-endowed high islands and eight smaller islands with a total land area of 2934 square kilometres. Only 23 per cent of the population live in urban areas; the remainder live in mainly coastal villages. Situated in the central Pacific, between 171° and 172° west longitude and 13° and 14° south latitude, and some 1200 km from Suva, 2890 km from Auckland, 4400 km from Sydney and 8400 km from Los Angeles, Samoa is relatively geographically isolated. Yet despite its distance from other land masses, Samoa is not, and has not been, as isolated as one might expect.
Since the Samoans' ancestors settled in the archipelago, influences from beyond their shores have periodically reshaped Samoan society. These were, initially, the consequences of linkages within the Pacific regional system and, more recently, Samoa's incorporation into the global political economy. This process commenced with contact with agents of the west over 200 years ago, gained momentum in the latter part of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries, and has intensified over the 47 years since independence on 1 January 1962. Samoa has become increasingly integrated into the international community. Successive Samoan governments have taken the country into 34 international organisations, and have made it a party to a number of significant international agreements that now influence Samoa in various ways. Samoa also plays an increasingly active role in Pacific regional politics and in the politics of the ACP bloc.
Over the same period, the population of Samoa has become increasingly dispersed. Significant Samoan enclaves are now well-established in New Zealand, Hawai'i and the US west coast, Australia, American Samoa and Fiji. Smaller Samoan populations are now growing in cities throughout the world (Sutter 1995). This process seems set to continue: each year Samoa is estimated to lose some 8.81 persons per 1000 to other countries, and Samoans routinely move between and beyond enclaves. Over 200,000 people of Samoan descent are believed to live outside Samoa, with 131,100 in New Zealand alone. Those emigrants and their children move freely between their homes and Samoa, bringing with them ideas, capital and technology, and making up a significant part of Samoa's 122,000 visitors each year.
Samoa's small open economy has also become increasingly integrated with the global economy. The pace of change increased after independence as migrants left to work abroad and their remittances flowed back into the domestic economy, and has intensified since the 1990s as the government has pursued a comprehensive programme of macroeconomic reform that has led to the opening and restructuring of the Samoan economy. At independence, Samoa exported small amounts of mainly primary production and was almost solely dependent on export income. Its economy is now more complex, and while it continues to rely on exports of primary and some manufactured products, it is increasingly dependent on revenue from provision of services including offshore banking, remittances from migrants, assistance from development partners and tourism. These parallel processes, diversification of the domestic economy and integration into the global economy, have, as we will argue, been a significant force in the transformation of Samoan society.
While Samoan society has confronted, and engaged with, significant external influences, it has not passively accepted all the external forces to which it has been exposed, even when these were wielded by much larger and more powerful agencies. In incorporating some of these influences while resisting others, Samoan society has sought to 'manage' the impact of the movement of people, ideas and technologies over time. In the early twentieth century, a European administrator, frustrated by his inability to bring about social change in Samoa, likened the resistance of Samoan society to external forces to the ability of bamboo to withstand high winds. In each case, a combination of inherent strength and flexibility makes it possible for significant forces to be resisted without serious damage to the structural integrity of the entity subject to those forces.
This book explores contemporary Samoan engagement with, and reaction to, three rapidly intensifying globalising forces: the increasing movement of people to and from Samoa, the influence of new ideas and ideologies, and the impact of a range of new technologies. While acknowledging the power and pervasiveness of external forces, this account resists the tendency to depict global influences as large and compelling 'new' forces that must inevitably remake the lives of those exposed to them. Instead, Samoa is presented as a site where global forces confront local ones, and Samoans are assumed to be active agents in the transformation of their society in the early twenty-first century.
Earlier responses to the influences of the outside world are compared with contemporary ones to establish whether, and how, these differ. The comparisons are used to illustrate and explain differences in the capacity and willingness of Samoan society to manage innovation at different times in its history, and have led us to the conclusion that the elements of Samoan social organisation that allowed it to engage with and manage external influences in the past have lost some of their resilience and flexibility. This conclusion rests on two observations: the range of globalising forces is increasing and their influence is intensifying, while at the same time Samoan society is becoming increasingly plural and less able, or willing, to agree on how to confront and manage these forces. It is our contention that a combination of intensifying winds of change and fundamental shifts in the organisation of contemporary Samoan society has reduced its capacity to resist the external forces as effectively as it once did.
In the following chapters, we explore how the movement of people, ideas and technologies has transformed Samoan society throughout history, and how each of these movements has changed, and is changing, life on a daily basis for families and villages in Samoa. The winds of change that Samoans have managed for centuries are intensifying and it remains to be seen whether they will develop into a storm that will transform Samoa more radically than ever before. Before we do this, it may be helpful to explain two key methodological decisions – to focus on process rather than trends and to focus on the village rather than the nation – that frame our discussion and analysis.
The focus on process
Studies of global influences on the organisation of societies often focus on national 'indices of change' that are used to 'measure' and 'quantify' these 'impacts' in 'objective' ways that allow 'cross-national comparisons'. Studies of the impact of globalisation typically begin with reviews of selected 'indices of globalisation' that reflect levels of 'global connectedness' such as migration flows, international trade volumes and patterns, telecommunications and internet usage. The data and indices from a number of nations are then collated to create models that allow their modellers to compare the differential impacts of globalisation on societies. Since this account concentrates instead on the processes that produce these indices, and focuses on the 'local' rather than 'national' manifestations of globalisation, we owe the reader an explanation of our preference for this approach.
The value of an approach based on indices that can be clearly defined, measured, collated and used to chart the progress of nations in ways that allow both nations and international agencies to compare their development trajectories is not disputed. The apparently 'scientific' and 'objective' nature of the 'measures' may, however, mask a number of problems with these approaches. Indices are reflections of the results of globalisation processes and offer little insight into the social processes that produce them. Declines in the numbers of children born to women in any society are readily measured and compared, but they cannot tell us whether this trend is the consequence of higher levels of education, conscious decisions by women to limit family size, access to better family planning facilities, or falling standards of living resulting in declining standards of women's health and a reduced capacity to conceive. The indices that point to the same trend in two nations may reflect very different processes.
But there are also often problems that stem from the national data on which indices rest. Firstly, the national statistics from which indices are derived are not, despite their apparent quantitative authority, always reliable. They are as likely to reflect the cultural and logistical difficulties of collecting them as clearly as they reflect trends in the society. Suicide in Samoa, for instance, is under-reported for cultural reasons (Macpherson and Macpherson 1987), and yet it is routinely used as an 'index' of social transformation in ways that ignore this reality. With limited human and financial resources available for data collection, governments are often not in a position to consider, or control for, the social processes that may influence the quality of the data gathered, or, in this particular case, the implications for the accuracy of the incidence and rates of suicide derived from them. It is sufficient to calculate a 'national' rate based on 'reported' cases. The national data, which may understate both the real incidence and rates of suicide, are provided to regional and international health agencies and are then incorporated in a series of regional and international data sets. The consolidated datasets, which may now contain similarly flawed data from a number of nations, are then used to derive age-specific rates of suicide, to compare rates of youth suicide and to develop models that relate these to other indices of development.
Secondly, in an attempt to create indices for which cross-national data are available, the measures conflate apparently similar activities where closer examination would show that they are quite different. The resulting 'indices' reflect the desire to construct indices more clearly than they reflect the social reality that underlies them. In the case of suicide, it is presented, in many studies, as if it were a singular phenomenon and a consequence of the anomie that is supposed to accompany social transformation. In fact, only some suicides in Samoa are anomic and reflect the influences of social transformation; others are altruistic and reflect cultural values that relate to the protection of the reputation of the collectivity (Macpherson and Macpherson 1987). Indices that cannot or do not make these distinctions create elaborate, superficially attractive and authoritative 'measures' that rest ultimately on defective foundations.
Thirdly, the choice of indices, and the ways in which they are used, often reflect narrow disciplinary interests. Economists have, for instance, selected and combined a number of economic indices to demonstrate connections between the pursuit of structural adjustment programmes and Samoa's recent economic growth. These economic models use economic indices selectively to draw attention to economic patterns. Repeated use and citation of these disciplinary formulae and models eventually create the appearance of authority. But, like all disciplinary models, they draw attention to selected relationships and away from other equally significant ones between, for example, economic and social trends. A more critical inter-disciplinary approach to modelling would combine a wider range of indices to explore both the 'benefits' and the 'costs' of growth strategies. A more comprehensive approach may well demonstrate that 'economic' benefits are offset by parallel 'social' and 'environmental' costs.
Finally, these problems are compounded where data sets are used, by people who have little or no understanding of their limitations, to build increasingly elaborate models that produce still further indices of relationships between indices. The apparent clarity and 'authority' of indices lead readers and researchers to overlook some important shortcomings and either to ignore, or conflate, significant differences. The cross-national models cannot tell us whether, for instance, similar trends in different places are produced by the same social processes.
This study focuses instead on the processes that lie behind such indices. It seeks to link observed changes by showing how global forces are seen and embraced, and how their consequences, both intended and unintended, are then 'managed' by people in villages. If this study does nothing but clarify some of the benefits of focusing on the social processes that produce indices of change, and the risks of depending entirely on crude numerical indices, it will have served a useful purpose.
The focus on family and village
There are both substantive and strategic reasons for placing family and village at the centre in this account: they are the principle and overlapping sources of social identity in Samoan society. Family and village frame and define people's social worlds, and their lives and identities. They are also the sites where processes of globalisation and change become apparent before they are reflected in national indices.
Family, or aiga, is a foundation of Samoan society. Extended families, aiga potopoto, comprise a series of households, fuaifale, that act independently in some matters and collectively in others. Within families, children learn to understand and model the relationships that constitute the social universe Samoans refer to as the va fealoa'i. For instance, children in families learn how a number of central principles of Samoan society – gerontocracy, kinship, respect, reciprocity, order, power and authority – are embodied in social life. These principles are encapsulated and reflected in a series of social roles that are central to each person's ability to function in the family and in Samoan society more generally. Families are also political entities in which children learn the fundamental elements of political power and authority and the processes and roles in which these are embodied. Families are headed by one or more chiefs, or matai, who have traditionally been elected to the position on the basis of demonstrated energy, ability and service, tautua, to the family. The family discussions that precede these appointments clarify and restate the linkages between these attributes and power. Matai articulate and represent the family's interests in various political forums. Families are also micro-economies that hold and manage the family estate, which typically comprises agricultural land and house sites in a village, and periodically raise and invest funds usually in sociopolitical activity on behalf of their members. Within the family, children thus learn how the principles of social and political life apply in and structure economic activity and relations.
Villages, or nu'u, are also fundamental elements of Samoa's social, political (Va'ai 1999) and economic organisation (Pitt 1970; Lockwood 1971), and important sources of individual social identity. Social life is lived in the many social entities that comprise the village and through which individuals pass in the course of their lives. Secular education for most Samoans occurs within schools built and maintained by the village, while religious and moral education and life occur in and around the village church to which villagers go throughout their lives. Political education is also imparted within the nu'u as people come to understand the sources of authority and the dynamics of power within the village polity. The matai of the village families meet regularly in council, as the fono a matai, to deliberate on and regulate a range of moral, political and economic matters within the village. The council's authority over these activities derives from a period when villages were autonomous polities with exclusive jurisdiction over all activities within their boundaries. This authority has been confirmed more recently by the Samoan government in the Village Fono Act (1990) that, while curtailing some rights formerly exercised by the village polity, has confirmed its powers to act in a number of matters on the basis of 'tradition and usage'. This legislation acknowledged the historical reality and recognised the significant role that villages play in the maintenance of law and order, the management of community development, the provision of secular education and the organisation of primary production within the nation.
Excerpted from The Warm Winds of Change by Cluny Macpherson, La'avasa Macpherson. Copyright © 2009 Cluny and La'avasa Macpherson. Excerpted by permission of Auckland University Press.
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Table of Contents
1. Warm winds of change,
2. A brief history of Samoa's engagement with global forces,
3. Migration and social transformation,
4. Ideas and social transformation,
5. Technology and social transformation,
6. Warm winds of change or gathering storm?,
About the Author,