TUVALU

NANUMEA
FAMILY MATTERS AND COMMUNITY

         

Nanumeans think of their community as divided into two utterly different categories of people. Some are kano or kataiga, "relatives" and "family," people to be trusted and cared for. These are the ones who work to put on weddings, mourn at funerals, sit together at public festivities, gossip at the cistern, and support each other politically, socially, and economically. The rest of the community are nonrelatives: people to gossip about, to compete against, to marry. The common identity that relatives share through land rights, descent, and family reputation also leads them to care a great deal about each other's behaviour. If someone is lazy, stingy, or bad tempered, relatives who interact with him or her everyday, year after year, will suffer. Perhaps even worse, the whole family may be stereotyped as being that way, too.

At a personal level, kinship creates wide networks of support for individuals. Spread throughout the wider community, these relationships also create a hidden web of overlapping loyalties, a network of relatedness that crosscuts the structured groupings that dominate public life. The village sides, women's clubs, choirs, feast-related groups, chiefly groups, and other groups all rely on competition to inspire their members' participation. Without the influence of supportive obligations between relatives, intergroup rivalries easily could degenerate into factional conflict and threaten community unity.

NETWORKS OF KIN

The Nanumean ideal is to have many relatives. People connect themselves to both their mother's and father's families, tracing ties to cousins of their grandparents - and beyond. Personal kinship networks of several hundred people are common. While relationships among past generations partly determine the extent of kin ties today, contemporary residence choices, disputes, and romantic liaisons are also important in strengthening some potential ties and weakening others. Most people see themselves as related to a large proportion of the community. When they use the word kaaiga, "family," Nanumeans primarily mean the wide networks of kinship that include close and distant relatives alike.

Fourth or fifth cousins are definite "relatives" even though these people are usually not seen as "close kin." Because this is true in every generation, the cohesion of a kinship network depends especially on relationships among its elderly members. Grandparents of one's own fourth or fifth cousins are themselves second or third cousins. The great-grandparents of one's fourth cousins are first cousins. As long as some of these elderly relatives remain alive, they will expect their descendant to behave as close relatives should. typically, they will find it impossible to think happily of their own grandchildren marrying the descendent of a relative whom they themselves have helped and cared about their whole lives. In the Nanumean view of kinship, no definite boundaries exist for relatedness. Relatives are potentially everyone to whom a genealogical or adoptive connection can be traced, a vast network of diffuse and specific relationships.

Only the sober realities of daily living pare this ideal down to a manageable group of kin. Maintaining supportive relationships over generations can be difficult. Personal dislikes or unresolved arguments can weaken relatives' involvement with each other. Land disputes, especially, can make it awkward to interact. On the other hand, many specific obligations (some of which will be described later) encourage relatives to defer to the ideology of kin solidarity, putting aside any negative feelings they might have. Ultimately the basic rule governing Nanumean family life is clear and simple: To be a relative, one must act like one. Weddings, funerals, squabbles, and daily village life itself all provide situations that test relatedness. Everyone knows that a relative who refuses akai requests, who does not contribute mats and root crops to a wedding, or who gives public support to the other side in a dispute is tangibly demonstrating where his or her loyalties lie. Relatives should enact the value they place on relatedness through caring behaviour.

Knowing this, people judge the extent of their relatives' reciprocal feelings by their actions. This reciprocal attachment between kin is called fia kano, literally, "wanting to be related." Love, compassion, and sympathy, the complex of positive emotions that Nanumeans term alofa, prompt gifts and assistance, proving that a desire for relatedness is really there. But a sad fact remains. Only some of a person's many potential kin relationships can ever be fully recognized. Against the background of Nanumea's boundless universe of kinship, fia kano presents an elusive ideal that will escape some relationships. Interaction by interaction, some distant kin are defined as relatives - and some are shown to be no longer kin at all.

CLUES ABOUT FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS

In every society, the words used to name relatives provide clues about kin relationships. Which relatives are basically similar? Which relationships are distinctive and likely to be marked by special responsibilities or behaviour? Patterns in the terms that are used reveal the cultural expectations of relationships. As Figure 6 shows, the kinship terms used by Nanumeans are based on a "generational" or "classificatory" logic. The same term is typically applied to relatives across a particular generation, effectively classifying them as "the same" even though their genealogical links to the given focus of the kin group (usually termed ego) may be different. Thus, a granduncle or grandaunt is referred to by the same term as one's grandmother or grandfather. The terms for siblings embrace cousins equally, just as the words for one's own children or grandchildren are applied to the children or grandchildren of one's cousins or siblings, too. Within these generational grouping, gender differences (not genealogical distance) provide the only basis for regular distinctions. Fathers are differentiated from mothers. Siblings and cousins of the same sex are referred to differently from those of the opposite sex. Relative age (older/younger) is not differentiated in Nanumean (or Tuvaluan) kinship terminology. The numbering of kin terms in figure 6 is designed to show the patterns through which generation and gender define Nanumean kin relationships.

A classificatory kinship system like this emphasizes the social equivalency of whole generations of people and masks differences in their biological relationships. English kinship terminology systematically distinguished nuclear family relationships from more distant ones. By contrast, Nanumean kin terms supporting a wide circle of relatedness do just the opposite. They create a structure obliterating differences based on distance. Of course, being able to distinguish biologically closer relatives from more distant ones is sometimes important. People need the ability to refer to a sibling as different from a cousin, for instance, or to differentiate their mother from their aunt. They do this by adding tonu  ("real," "true") to the classificatory term. Many times at weddings to funerals when we were clarifying who was related to whom, we would be told that an older relative was a tupuna, a term denoting a kinperson to the generation above father or mother. Since this term could refer either to a manor a woman, and could be an actual grandmother or grandfather as well as one of their brother, sisters, or distant cousins, we quickly learned to inquire further, using he qualifier tonu. "Is it her tupuna tonu ("real tupuna"), or her faka tupuna ("classificatory tupuna")?" The relationship would then be explained. We would be told, "My mother's mother was her sister" or some other specification.   

Exceptions to this classificatory pattern point like neon signs to special relationships and distinctive obligations. The tuaatina bond between a mother's brother and sister's child (term number 5 in fig. 6) has this relationships, tuaatina owe each other great respect and commitment. They are expected to help each other as needed or requested, regardless of the hardship or danger involved. An older tuaatina, for example, might be asked to supply the costly gold ring a groom needs to wed, or to provide refuge should his nephew or niece quarrel with other family members. Traditionally, tuaatina fought for each other if arguments escalated to a fight, and gave support for marriages that went against parental plans. In one celebrated example from 1970, just a few years before our first stay in Nanumea, two despairing lovers made the ultimate protest against their families' refusals to allow them to marry. They stole a canoe and put out to sea. The young man's tuaatina accompanied them on this voyage to almost-certain death. In Nanumea, tuaatina relationships are privileged like no others.

We couldn't help but wonder what social pressures encouraged the tuaatina relationship to develop as an institutionalized part of Nanumean culture. Dies this relationship solve some structural problem in the local kinship system? We puzzled over possible answers to this question. In traditional times, could close links with mother's male relatives have counterbalanced the patrilineal emphasis of the kopiti system? Would help from men of another kopiti provide an extra buffer of safety in an emergency? Might violent confrontations between kopiti have been debated by crosscutting tuaatina obligations among their members? By connecting people closely to their mother's family, did tuaatina relationships allow the cognatic ideal of Nanumean kinship to be realized despite the patrilateral slant provided by other aspects of island kinship? Answers to questions like these are tantalizing - though functional explanations can never be proven definitively true. But an institution receiving as much cultural emphasis as tuaatina must serve some social function, we thought.

British anthropologist A. R. Radcliffe-Brown's classic analysis of the structural logic behind the mother's brother institution proposed one answer. Drawing on cultural information from several African societies as well as from Fiji and tTnga in the Pacific, he suggested that institutionalizing a relationship with maternal relatives (especially where these relatives' nurturing role was stressed) would complement the influence of powerful patrilateral groupings, reinforcing the bilateral structure important in kingship-based societies. But this explanation assumed that a complementary linkage with the father's sister would be needed to balance the institutionalized relationship with the mother's brother. Though formal respect relationships with the father's sister are indeed found in some other western Polynesian societies (notably the high islands of Samoa and Tonga), such a relationship is not distinguished to Nanumea. Here a person's father's sister is classed as a "mother," no different from any of the other women in the generation above oneself. But Nanumean kinship does demarcate a special relationship with one particular type of very distant "father's sister," the matua ofo. This special relationship involves a complementary balance between matrilateral and patrilateral kin relationships that is exactly what Radcliffe-Brown's analysis would expect.

The maatua ofo or "volunteer mother" bond connects a woman with the child of one of her distant male cousins, giving a close tie to people who otherwise would be only distant kin and intensifying economic relationships among relatives who are connected patrilaterally. (This kinship term does not appear on figure 6 because the relationship is much more distant than the diagram includes) Nanumeans say that the maatua ofo relationship is unique even within Tuvalu, and that the customs associated with it contribute to their distinctive cultural identity. Just as its name implies, a woman voluntarily initiates the maatua ofo relationship herself by bringing gifts to the newborn, customarily a bottle of kerosene to a baby's birth to heat the newborn's first bath water. Often another small gift such as a towel, some diapers, baby soap or oil is given, too. Young unmarried women are most suited to take on the volunteer mother role because they are responsible and knowledgeable caretakers but have not yet become preoccupied with their own children or running a household. Older women and even school girls may offer their services as well.

If the infant is a much-awaited first child, several women may gather at the birth in implicit competition for the role. Island regulations limit maatua ofo to just one, but when two or three women eagerly show up at the birth to volunteer, the baby's relatives will sometimes decide to let all the "mothers" share the role, each taking a week in turn, so that no offer will have to be refused. Even if no maatua ofo rush with kerosene to attend the birth, the relationship is so important later life that someone will offer her services eventually even if her connection to the child differs from the ideal. An unusual case, in which the infant's birth severely embarrassed its father's relatives, illustrates how important Nanumeans feet it is for each child to have a maatua ofo. When the nurse attending the birth realized that no relatives of the child's father were going to come to volunteer, she declared that her own daughter would be the maatua ofo. Although no one present could trace the exact genealogical connection, the nurse knew herself to be a distantly related "mother" to the child's father. Her own daughter was thus a distant cousin of the baby's father and therefore eligible - but since she was only three years old, the nurse herself performed the daily duties involved in the role. The nurse told us that pity for the newborn prompted her offer, which was gratefully accepted. Had she not volunteered, someone else probably would have done so eventually since leaving a child without maatua ofo support for life is unthinkable.

A maatua ofo carries her "child" home from the birth clinic. The mother is second from right (1974)

Maatua ofo relationships create economic links among distant patrilateral kin. In contrast to the diffuse expectations of help-as-needed among most relatives, volunteer mothers and their children's families have specific and balanced exchange connections. The maatua ofo role can thus offer economic benefits to the "mother" - though there are costs to her, too. The economic value of the maatua ofo role becomes apparent in the eager attention paid to creating these ties with children born overseas. On our return to Nanumea in 1984, before we could even set foot on shore, our daughters were swooped up by "volunteer mothers" as soon as the ship's boat neared the beach. They were taken home by them for a meal and presented with sleeping mats. This is the usual reception for the returning children of overseas workers. Since establishing a link with these resource-rich families can result in economic spin-offs, competition for the maatua ofo role can be intense, even to the point where contenders argue among themselves about who is most suited to take on the relationship.

Especially during the first year of an infant's life, exchanges of food and labor create a dense web of reciprocity. The volunteer mother visits the baby once or twice a day, helping with its care and washing its soiled clothing. The baby's father, assisted by other men in his household, devotes extra effort to fishing so that the maatua ofo can be given daily gifts of fish. Eventually the maatua ofo carries the baby out for its first church service. As it gets older, she takes it visiting to her own household each afternoon, taking with her a large bowl of starchy food prepared by the baby's father's relatives, ostensibly to feed the baby. Specific food gifts also pass between the volunteer mother and her "child" at family feasts marking the child's birth, its first tooth, either person's wedding, and on Children's Day each October. By the time they reach middle age, most women have taken on half a dozen maatua ofo relationships.

Few can easily specify the exact kinship connections with their volunteer children, since these involve distant genealogical ties. However, the regular interaction that volunteer mothers have with the child's family strengthens relationships among all these relatives, making the patrilateral kin group less susceptible to the inroads of marriage. Marriage into the family of a "volunteer child" seems incongruous even though these distant relationships might otherwise offer a reasonable marriage possibility. Of course, given the realities of daily life in a small community contradictions sometimes do develop between marriage and maatua ofo responsibilities. If a maatua ofo or her close relative marries into her volunteer child's family, she will delegate her role to a classificatory sister whose relationship is not at odds with the marriage. Nanumea's classificatory kinship system makes "sisters" natural substitutes for each other in role obligations and life crisis festivities anyway, so this is not a problem.

BALANCING RESPECT AND CARING

As is common in families around the world, children owe respect, obedience, and assistance to their elder-generation relatives. Care is usually focused ohn the parents and grandparents with whom a person lives, but formal respect is hard to maintain with these people, given constant household interaction. Alone together, siblings may joke about a parent's mistakes or complain about annoying habits, something they would never do in public. The more distant a relationship is, the more important obedience and respectful behavior become. We saw this principle clearly at one of the weddings we attended. After the noontime feast and speeches, a string band began to play and an afternoon of dancing started. Sitting with her entourage on the mound of newly plaited epa fine mats at one end of the house, the bride watched the dancing. In an aside, her father directed her to invite an older male relative to dance. She sat still, ignoring him. Her grandmother repeated the command but still the bride made no response. When her father's distant cousin made the request again a few minutes later, she acquiesced immediately and was soon dancing. This relative's instruction could not be ignored. 

Balance between caring and respect is especially evident in sibling relationships, which are pivotal in Nanumean (and Tuvaluan) life, as they are in Polynesia generally. While sibling terms in English are determined by the gender of the individual referred to (e.g., "brother" or "sister"), Nanumean terms depend on the gender "equation" between the individuals involved (similar or different). Siblings or cousins of the same sex as oneself (the specified "ego"), whether male or female, are taina. Those of the opposite sex are tuagane. Relationships between same sex siblings and cousins should be warm and supportive. These people work closely together, relax in each other's company, and joke casually. Taina can discuss any topic. They are expected to help each other meet obligations and overcome difficulties. An especially notable taina role is to provide formal support at funerals. People in the core family of the deceased (for example, on a man's death, his wife and children) will receive a taina supporter to serve as a companion during the mourning period. A same sex cousin for each bereaved family member comes forward, offering whatever comfort and help he or she can provide. This involves staying with the mourner during the first few weeks of grief, usually until the placement of the gravestone in the cemetery ends the formal mourning period. Attending taina sit with the mourners at the wake, assist with changes of clothing, visit and help decorate the grave, sleeping and eating with the bereaved to provide ongoing comfort and support. Taina support in times of great stress such as this underscores the key position that taina play in Nanumean society. Taina should be, and generally are, there for each other throughout life.  

By contrast, opposite sex siblings and cousins, tuagane, must be polite and reserved toward each other, taking special care to avoid any topic or action with a sexual connotation. Caring and respect even beyond that owed to parents and grandparents. Nanumean say, is obligatory between siblings and cousins of the opposite sex. But relationships between opposite sex siblings or cousins also involve inherent tension because of contradictory values love and compassion, on one hand, and respect and avoidance on the other. Opposite sex siblings who share kin ties and rights to land often grow u together in the same household and are expected to be caring and protective of each other. On the other hand, they must also be respectful to the point of deference. People say that "tuagane are more venerated than siblings of the same sex." They must not be provoked or embarrassed since "it is forbidden to spill the tears of a tuagane - in particular, sexual connotations must be avoided in interactions with opposite sex siblings. Menstruation, love affairs, and bodily functions must be dealt with discretely so as not to cause embarrassment. On account of such precautions, opposite sex siblings and cousins normally are reserved, protective, and extremely careful toward each other. They try to show aava, "respect."

Special care is required for more distant (i.e. fourth or fifth) cousins. People say that if distantly related tuagane see each other approaching on a path, one should change course to avoid their meeting. In gossiping and joking, people must also be careful not to relate critical, embarrassing, or sexually orientated accounts of someone's behavior in the presence of his or her tuagane. Hearing such things of a tuagane causes both embarrassment and anger and is regarded as an affront. The ambiguous boundary between relatedness and marriage is the issue here. Though distant tuagane are regarded as kin, they are also potential marriage partners, though their kinship relationship would necessarily be severed should they marry. These conflicting possibilities make distant tuagane relationships problematic. Attraction is tempered with reticence and the threat of incest.

Because they are regarded as the "pillars" of the family, men are also expected to protect the honour of their sisters. If their brother is present, women will avoid any contact with a potential suitor out of pity for the brother's potential embarrassment. Brothers thus constitute effective chaperones, and younger brothers are often sent along with a daughter who must go on an errand after dark. Women say that the potential anger of their older brothers (especially if they are locally resident) is something they explicitly consider when deciding whether to have an affair. As one young woman commented to us, "I have four older brothers, I have to take care!" The utter seriousness of these respect rules became clear during our first village census when we realized that the presence of a tuagane could cause people purposely to misrepresent (or avoid mentioning) socially awkward facts. As we walked home one morning after visiting a helpful and gracious household, Sunema reminded us to be sure to correct the name given for the mother of one of the household's children. Another woman, she said, was really the child's mother. The presence of his tuagane had apparently prompted the father to name his current wife as the child's mother, even though all present (except us) knew this was not the case. In other households, too, we found that women would often choose not to mention their own out-of-marriage children if a brother or male cousin was present. Talking about children born outside marriage raises connotations of sexuality that violate the respect and avoidance required between tuagane. 

Given these respect rules, we began to wonder, how can opposite sex siblings ever manage to share the same household? How do tuagane participate in the chores of daily life without infringing on these obligations? Maintaining a properly circumspect relationship between sibling tuagane actually turns out to be less of a problem than it might seem. After all, subsistence chores are generally sex-segregated. Men and boys fish, climb for coconuts, and take the main responsibility for cultivating root crops. Women and girls cook, weave mats, and care for children. People socialize in these same work groups, too. Furthermore, as in relationships with other relatives, respect is expected to increase with kinship distance. Sibling tuagane must take care not to embarrass or provoke each other as they share household life - but distant tuagane must be so much more careful that avoidance becomes the best strategy.

Given the Nanumean emphasis on widespread kinship, perhaps it is not surprising that Nenumeans do not regard people connected through marriage (in-laws or affines) as relatives. Spouses and their in-laws may develop close, supportive relationships, but these people have been brought together by marriage, and loyalty to their respective kin groups remains most important. Since relatives cannot marry by definition, in-laws must be classified as "not kin." Nanumeans say that in-laws need to be careful in their interactions, since without explicit kinship support to fall back on, there are endless possibilities for conflict. In this context, the lack of terms for affinal relationships makes cultural sense. Parents can refer to their child's spouse (a son- or daughter-in-law to an English speaker) as fugao (see term number 11 in fig. 6). There is no reciprocal term for parents-in-law, so people in this relationship simply use first names.

But a close look at the kin terms in figure 6 reveals a mystery that seems to contradict all the rules of Nanumean kin terminology. Notice that the term applied to a woman married to a man's brother is the same one he uses for his own brothers and same sex-cousins. Why would an in-law married to your same sex sibling or cousin (your taina) also be referred to as a taina? don't Nanumean feel that relationships with in-laws are problematic? The lack of terms for most other affines shows the distance at which people in these relationships are kept. While your own taina are vitally important, why should someone married to one of them be singled out with a special term? What about people married to your tuagane? How are they referred to? And most puzzling of all: If kin terms symbolically group relatives together as similar, how could an affine ever be even remotely like a taina? Taina, we were told so many times, are just like each other. The same generation, the same gender. The person married to your taina would have to be the opposite gender from yourself. How could such an affine be like a taina?

The answer to this mystery, we gradually realized, probably lies back in time, in the family dynamics of the kopiti era. As Raymond Firth has pointed out, a kin term pattern like this implies that "spouses are sociologically one person." In Nanumea, identity between spouses makes perfect sense from the viewpoint of kopiti relatives. Imagine how a new wife would be received by her husband's siblings. She would enter the family "on the body of her husband," as Nanumeans say, her relationship to kopiti members having no basis other than through being his wife. To the rest of the kopiti, she is identified with her husband to the point that her gender difference becomes insignificant by comparison. Referring to the new spouse as a taina emphasizes the willingness of kopiti members to include the new bride in the family's easy, supportive interaction, providing acceptance that is essential if people are to cooperate in daily household tasks. In the same way, sisters married into different kopiti still need to visit and rely on each other. Being able to relate familiarly to each other's husbands as taina would allow them to interact easily in each other's households, too.

This explanation receives additional support from the term used for the spouse of a man's opposite sex siblings or cousins (that is, his tuagane). These in-laws are referred to as maa, a term that combines connotations of shyness, embarrassment, and shame (see term number 9 in fig. 6). Relationships with maa require even greater restraint and avoidance than do those with tuagane. Since women typically go to live with their husband's family at marriage, there would have been very limited contact with maa in the precontact era when people lived in kopiti groups. The affines who normally would have interacted most closely would have been the in-marrying wives of the family's sons, the women termed taina by their husband's brothers and cousins. Their relating together warmly, it seems likely, would have contributed to family cohesiveness.

Widely extended taina relationships serve as a cohesive force throughout the community. Sunema, we found, had many taina throughout the village, some first cousins and a host of others more distant. Because Sunema considered herself Anne's "sister", Sunema's own taina should relate as taina to Keith as well, able to joke with him in a relaxed and carefree way. Early in our first stay on Nanumea, when we did not yet fully understood the great extent to which personal interactions are determined by kinship, we assumed that women enjoyed teasing Keith to test his developing language ability. One evening some of this joking turned toward explicit sexual repartee. Worried that Anne might not understand that the joking was culturally acceptable, even prescribed, Sunema's father, Rongorongo, reassured Anne: "You must not be offended, Ane. This is our custom, for your taina relatives to joke with Kiti." But at the times when Sunema's brother were present, all joking among taina stopped. 

With people's interaction so heavily determined by kinship ties, it is polite to avoid groups where one's presence will inhibit others. One afternoon, Anne was visiting with a newly married couple and some brothers of the groom, all of whom were taina to each other. Sunema needed Anne clarify something and had been looking through the village for her. As Sunema approached the wedding house, the new bride politely called out to invite Sunema to join the group. Sunema ignored the first invitation and responded to successive ones with excuses: she had to talk to someone next door, she had already eaten, and so forth. Sunema later told us that it would have been most inappropriate for her, as a tuagane (opposite sex cousin) of the groom, to sit with the group. Had she done so, all casual talk and joking would have stopped immediately. Given the cultural gulf between relatives and nonrelatives, enfolding outsiders within the web of kinship can be useful when other kin support is lacking. Take, for example, the situation of a family working away from Nanumea. Relatives are few but people still think of kinship as the proper basis for caring and support. Two coworkers might become friendly or the children in to nearby families might come to like each other and become constant playmates. The caring relationships that develop between such people are like those that would normally link relatives. By formally acknowledging this, people can be spareed the dilemma of treating nonrelatives with the care and concern due to kin. Perhaps because sibling relationships entail specific behavioral rules, these are most often used to formulize relationships with non-kin. Two male friends may decide to become taina "brothers," themselves - or they may proclaim their sons to be "brothers," becoming brothers, too, as an extension of their sons' relationship. Women friends can similarly unite (or two girls can be untied by their families) as taina. The relatives of each become involved in the appropriate kinship categories too. Creating kinship extensions like this is described as bai taina ("tying same sex siblings {together}). Family feasts involving exchanges of food and clothing mark these new relationships as serious undertakings. Some of these "tied sibling" relationships endure for generations while others may wither as situations change.

An even more powerful kin bond can be forged by linking opposite sex tuagane. We watched an instance of this developing in Nanumea between the families of two civil servants. One of the wives had gone to another island to give birth among relatives, and her husband had been misbehaving in her absence, visiting girls at night, sending love letters and getting drunk. Meeting the husband in passing one dayh, his wife's friend gently remonstrated with him. She told us that she talked "politely, like he was related to me" (he was not) because she felt compassion for his wife and for their coming baby. The next day, the man came to his wife's friend's house to speak to her husband, proposing that he and she become tuagane. After asking his wife, who then checked with her own father, the linkage was formalized by a small feast. When the man's wife returned to Nanumea several months later with the baby, this new tuagane of its father brought a mat to welcome the child just as his other sisters and cousins.

TO MARRY OR NOT TO MARRY

In all societies, marriage arrangements fit with wider social structures. In Western societies, as popular romantic fiction reminds us, individuals themselves bear the heavy responsibility of finding true love. The idea of having a spouse "arranged" by others is strongly resisted by many young people. But where the well-being of wider groupings of relatives is paramount, marriages provide a way to create supportive alliances with other family groups. Marriages may be entered into to gain resources, create politically useful ties, or build support networks beyond a single descent group. In these societies, affinal relationships are seen as valuable extensions of kinship ties. In Nanumea, however, it is useful to think of marriage in another way. Here, it serves to narrow extended families by paring away distant kin from the category of relatives. Marriage splits family chunks off the perimeter of extended families because Nanumeans conceptualize marriage and kinship as opposites. One cannot marry kin, however distant. By this definition, even remote relatives are not appropriate marriage choices. But can this be feasible to a society of just a thousand residents? Isn't the pool of marriageable partners so small that sometimes distant kin must marry? Precisely! The indefinite boundaries of the Nanumean kinship network allow revisions to be made as they are needed. When very distantly related families agree to marriage between their children, they sever their kinship link, too. Dozens of people then rearrange their thinking and behavior toward each other, and those who consider themselves relatedness to both families now maintain their relatedness to only one of them. 

Marriage is thus the dynamic element in Nanumean kinship, realigning social obligations and substituting specified affinal roles for the diffuse ones of distant kin. Marriage also narrows kinship responsibilities down through the generations. Families who intermarry replenish the category of nonrelatives as some of their members forego their distant genealogical connections. Since people remain related as long as they act related, weddings and other "life stage" festivities involving cooperations among large numbers of relatives provide watersheds that define kinship. At these events, kin ties are enacted (or conspicuously not enacted) publicly. As Sunema's explanation (see the vignette that starts this chapter) made clear to us when she contributed a mat to her tuagane's wedding, though some similarly related kin did not, behavior that is not tolerable among relatives breaks kinship bonds. The relationships that were adjusted in this particular case are diagrammed in figure 7.

Tuvalu law is interpreted to allow marriage between third cousins but not between closer kin. Nanumeans, however, continue to feel that it is preferable to marry more distantly than fourth cousins. Beyond a certain point, which varies among families and personal situations, very distant kin make tempting marriage choices. Parents often feel that a distant kin connection makes the relationship with in-laws seem safer and more predictable. They are less the unknown "other." Young people, of course, have a different perspective. Often they can hardly name their genealogical connections to sixth or even fifth cousins. They may not even be aware that connections exist. The people who really care about maintaining distant kin ties are the very old, who may fondly remember their lifelong cooperation with their third cousins. Thus the most polite way to decline a marriage proposal is always that of fia kano ("desire (to be) kin"): The family prefers to continue being related and therefore must decline the marriage offer. Fia kano is also sometimes involved to preserve a created kin tie, such as a taina relationship between coworkers.

 

Although young people are encouraged to state their preferences, most first marriages are arranged by the families concerned. The groom's family usually decides that the time has come for the young man to marry. His relatives hear his choices and evaluate these in relation to other possibilities (always a limited number), considering the women's reputations, their work habits and their temperaments, as well as the social and economic positions of their families. Though young men and women are attracted by personality and looks, they can usually comprehend how important these other considerations are. Possible partners for a first marriage in Nanumea are especially limited since "relatives," nonrelatives who have already been married, and the mothers (but not the fathers) of children born outside marriage are usually ruled out. Once a marriage does occur between former distant kin, the realignment of relationships makes it easy for other marriages and liaisons to follow.

A newly married couple usually comes to live in the groom's parents' household, following a pattern dating back to the kopiti era. This move is understandably difficult for the new bride. Perhaps in recognition of this, one of her close cousins serves as her uosili, attendant, staying at her side during the week-long wedding celebrations to ease her transition into her husband's family. The groom's relatives treat the new bride with great respect and politeness, too, and only gradually does she begin to participate in household chores alongside the groom's sisters and other women of the household. Despite their best intentions, though, these women may find it hard to see the bride as anyone but an outsider who now has access to private aspects of their family life. They might worry, for example, that when she visits her relatives, she will gossip about what family meals are like, how much money is spent for what, or reveal current domestic stresses. Because the village is densely populated and many houses are open-sided, people normally try to limit others' knowledge about them. The new bride might potentially deliver up to public scrutiny, purposely or accidentally, domestic secrets that could fuel the mills of gossip and possibly damage the family's reputation. Despite such worries about the loyalty of the new bride, she provides valuable labor power to her husband's household. From the bride's point of vies, joining the extended family of her in-laws allows her to get to know her husband gradually. In any case, the extended family orientation of Nanumean society makes it inconceivable for the new couple to set up a separate household of their own. after years of marriage and the birth of children stabilize a couple's relationship, they have greater freedom to move in with the bride's family, if resources are greater there, or establish a separate household of their own.

Women who are still unmarried by their late twenties commonly decide to have a child. Women say that they need a tausi (caregiver"), a child who can look after them in their declining years. Adopting a child from a sibling or close cousin is a more proper thing to do but this alternative is not always possible. Marriage chances decrease for women after a love-child is born, since marriage to a man not previously married will usually be impossible. her reputation (and that of her family) may be somewhat tarnished, too. Since young men are expected to be sexually adventurous before marriage, fathering an extramarital child does not reflect badly on a man's character. However, Nanumean law requires that all children must have an officially recognized father so that they can inherit his land. Should no man claim a child as his own, the Land Court will hear evidence and make a binding paternity decision. The patrilateral bias in local family structure gives the father's family the right to claim the child and to raise it. As a result, despite her hopes, an unmarried mother may not be able to raise her tausi herself. In deciding who should have guardianship of a child in the rare event of a dispute, the court is bound to maximize "the child's best interests," a stricture that allows wide interpretation.

Although marriage is the career traditionally expected for women, there has been a scarcity of marriageable men in Nanumea for decades. Men leave home to work more often than women do and some of them marry overseas or while visiting other Tuvalu islands. Men are also older when they marry, and thus able to choose spouses from a larger pool of women. When relatives do not agree to the marriage plans of sweethearts, or a lover's promises are not supported by his family, women usually are the more vulnerable ones. However, Nanumean women usually do not romanticize marriage. Some single women value being able to look nostalgically back to their youth, remembering that they worked hard as young women but enjoyed cooperating with their own relatives. Single women, those who never married as well as those who have divorced, are the most active participants in women's club activities. Many club members contrast their current "freedom" with the restrictions they would face as wives and assert that they are happy not to be married.  

CHILDREN AS A BLESSING

For Nanumean parents and relatives, children are important beyond the largely personal significance they have come to have in Western industrial societies. They ensure a family's social and economic well-being and its power and the family's continuation through time, family size and composition are matters about which most people hold strong opinions. If a topic as complex and personal as ideal family size can be simplified into a single number, the "magic number" in Nanumea is mot often four: two boys and two girls. This frequently mentioned ideal hinges on two main considerations. First, people are concerned that their children not exceed the family resources available for their care. This leads most couples to consider limiting their natural fertility. Secondly, Nanumeans want to have children of each sex. This consideration is so important that ideal family size ultimately becomes not so much "four children" as it is "two children of each sex." there are several reasons for wanting both boys and girls. Men need sisters and women need brothers, that is, each child needs an opposite sex sibling (tuagane). Both men and women also need a sibling of the same sex, a taina, just as each parent needs a "replacement" (bui) to take over gender-appropriate subsistence chores. Given the importance of money income to family well-being and men's greater employment opportunities, one son is needed to work overseas and send home remittances and the other is needed to stay home to fish, garden, and provide help locally.

Having an opposite sex sibling is particularly important for women because men are the foundation of the family, providing for subsistence goods as well as family leadership. A woman without a brother lacks a secure social and economic basis from which to function in the community. One woman told us that "the problem about not having a tuagane is that there is no one to rely on once your parents are dead. No one to act for your family." Since married women usually use their husband's family's resources rather than their own, and their children will usually inherit mainly from this source, too, a mother's lack of tuagane has no economic disadvantage for married women in the short term. However, should her marriage fail or difficulties develop with in-laws, a woman will have no strong base of moral support or household to return to. One widowed woman with two daughters explained that she had felt compelled to conceive a subsequent child outside a marriage for exactly this reason. 

I wanted to give my girls a tuagane. They have no father (he is deceased) and even I myself wasn't raised with my father. I wanted them to have a lace to live always, someone to look after them and to provide men's things like coconut sap and fish.

With a brother, women have "some to help them in life." Sons take over a subsistence and leadership roles from their father, and a woman's children should look to her brother (their tuaatina) to help them in strife or an emergency. Even though the male cousins of their mother will help out, too, her actual brothers are most important as tuaatina. Lack of a sister has fewer economic effects for men. They might sometimes lack mats or other woven objects, but they can get these things without too much difficulty from their classificatory "sisters."

Both men and women also need a same sex sibling since taina re the persons to whom one first turns for help and support. Usually there is no need to seek further. One woman told us:

real taina have compassion (alofa) for each other. First cousins may have compassion or they may not. When their parents grow old and die, in their taina children will have someone they know is willing to help them.

Another woman aptly described the characteristic relationship between taina as "reciprocated love" (alofa feaalofani). Nanumeans especially want their taina to help with large work projects where cooperation from many relatives is needed. Since sibling taina share identical genealogical relationships, they have the same role obligations and can substitute for each other in life crisis events. Men have fishing and taro cultivating companions in their taina, and women have partners in cooking and mat weaving. Not only is the responsibility and labor of each individual lessened, but work also goes much more pleasantly when taina share it. Parents rely on their children to look after them in old age though the help children give their parents begins well before this. Daughters assist their mothers with child care and household chores, at least until they marry and "go to care for their husband's families." But even after marriage, daughters should show alofa to their parents by paying attention to their parents' needs. Having sons or daughters as economic "replacements" for themselves, older people can turn their attention away from family subsistence and focus more energy on community affairs. But, as one woman said about her only son, "One is not enough. If he goes away to work, there is no one to look after me here. If he stays and cares for me, no one earns any money overseas." Another woman described how wise her husband had been to insist that they needed more children than just a single replacement for each of them.

My husband said no, we need more children than that. he said that if we had many children, we might have a smart one who could go on to school and get good work. he will be our "road to money." It isn't as though we can only raise a limited number of children. Our livelihood comes from our hands. If we are hardworking we can easily get more fish, breadfruit and coconuts to feed more children.

Accepting this argument, his wife went on to have several children to retrospect, she was glad she did. Most Nanumeans would agree that this strategy increases family options. But other parents are concerned that their resources will not be adequate to met their children's needs. The island environment is limited and there is little hope for agricultural development or diversification. Especially if the many Nanumeans who live away from the atoll are considered, population reassure could rise to extreme heights in the future. One woman with eight living children commented that her children would be lucky to get a single piece of land each if the family estate were divided among them all. Another woman (herself an only child) described how her husband, coming from a land-poor family, was pleased that their marriage would allow their children access to her family's land. (her husband's own parents carefully explained to us, however, that such calculations did not always work out in the long term and that it was better to choose marriage partners on a noneconomic basis.) Nonetheless, concern about the long-term availability of local resources is widespread in Nanumea. One family with three sons told us that they would try to arrange a separate niche for each son, one overseas, one on another Tuvalu island, and one on Nanumea so that their descendants would not have to compete for the family's scarce local lands. 

In this situation, the flexibility inherent in cognatic descent moderates the influence of patrilocal residence after marriage. children of daughters are typically "gone" (galo) from their mother's family, but they can use their father's land. They may gain access to some share of their mother's family estate eventually, if they need it, depending on the needs of other descendents. Daughters' children will be primary members of their father's land corporation. Though all children normally "eat from the lands of their father," it will be sons who normally pass primary rights in this estate on to their children. In the short term, however, access to local produce rather than actual title is emphasized for everyone. People always mention the industriousness of a family's members as the key to its well-being. Parents who are maalosi ("strong," i.e., hardworking) can provide for more children (and do this more adequately) than those who are paiee ("lazy"). As one woman phrased it, "if you are hardworking, your life will be good. Of you are lazy, it will bad." From this point of view, families with limited land resources simply here to work harder to develop skills that will effectively enlarge their resource base. These can include fishing and cultivation prowess, educational success, and diligence in paid employment. A family reputation for being hardworking will attract desirable marriage proposals, too.

Most people believe that large families are also inherently stronger families. Many children ensure that there will always be people to help with family projects such as house building or preparation for life-crisis with family projects such as house building or preparation for life-crisis feasts. Individuals can rely on their taina and tuagane for support, and parents can be sure of having adequate help without imposing heavily on any one child. "If each child gives just one fish," explained one mother, "the parents will have a lot." People are also explicitly aware that large families have greater possibilities for developing a range of skills among their members. At least one of the children, people say, in likely to be successful in landing a long-term job overseas, and at least one will do well at school. Large families can play vigorous roles in local affairs, too, both because of their labor and voting power and because of the support siblings give each other. Not all couples approach parenthood with firm goals in mind, and many develop opinions about the most advantageous number of children only after many have been born. In general, however, fertility decision making is optimistic. While people recognize that land resources impose basic limits, they also believe that diligence, resourcefulness, and effort by those who are "strong" (maalosi) can effectively counter these limitations. In addition, because extended families are the basic social unit, a couple's children are neither solely their responsibility nor solely their delight.

Western methods of contraception have been widely available in Tuvalu since the mid-1960s and the nation currently has one of the lowest population growth rates in the Pacific region. Birth control ills, Depo Provera injections, and condoms are currently given out by nurses in the village dispensary. IUDs were heavily promoted in the first decade of the family planning program but are used infrequently today because of their high rates of complications. National family planning efforts emphasize child spacing, using the effective metaphor of well-spaced coconut seedlings. Most couples have used contraception to space some births but further reductions in population growth rates to the level envisioned by current policy will require a more intensive commitment. Specifically, the growth rates from 1.7 percent to below 1 percent by the year 2004 and to reduce the total fertility rate from 3.6 (1991) to below 3.0 in 2004. These fertility reductions are to be achieved by continued promotion of voluntary fertility regulation methods, encouraged by further decreases in infant mortality, by support for education, housing equity, and status improvements for women.

Ironically, until missionaries and administrators banned the practice as barbaric, Tuvaluans enforced strict limits on family size. Nanunean couples were reportedly allowed to have only two children (accounts differ on whether the limit was simply two children or one child of each sex). Additional infants were reportedly suffocated by a relative at birth. Though the severe droughts that periodically threatened the survival of the community would seem to be enough of a rationale for these restrictions, Nanumeans insist instead that the limits were politically motivated. By equalizing the size of families, no group could easily gain a dominant political position. People say that in traditional times before missionary and government influence put an end to "the days of darkness," interfamily feuding continually threatened personal security and community stability. Though the chiefly lineages drew support from a wide power base, strong warriors sometimes played violent roles. Remember how the taro pit wars erupted over a difference of opinion about the location of root crops and how Kalihi was set adrift in a leaky canoe. Large families could wield power and influence denied to small or less cohesive families. Family rivalry must have always been a concern, perhaps especially when years of low rainfall or storm devastation reduced food supplies and the community hovered on the brink of declaring a vaelua division, splitting the community into two parts to conserve resources.  

Because traditional limitations on family size were enacted through infanticide, missionaries and administrators unanimously tried to halt the custom. Traditional population control practices, though reasonable at the time, are now seen as benighted and shameful - although the values on which they were based (e.g. community unity and survival, and equality between families) continue to be admired. While people realize the personal advantage of having a large family, most also recognize that their decisions have wider impacts. Maintaining the community's well-being has now become a matter of personal responsibility rather than cultural mandate, like so many other dimensions of life in a democratic society. Decisions supporting family well-being, too, no longer have the fixed reference point of a discrete extended family whose members live as a named kopiti and jointly use the family lands. Families clearly matter on Nanumea. But what forms do family groups now take? In what domestic groupings do people enact the obligations of relatives and make the countless small decisions that shape life today?

HOUSEHOLD DYNAMICS

The Nanumean term fale means both the family dwelling and the relatives who jointly inhabit it. With large kopiti groupings now a memory from the past, the relatives who live together in a household form the basic socioeconomic units of local life. Sometimes Nanumeans refer to households as matakaainga, "core family," a focused group of relatives who "eat together" not only in the sense of sharing meals but also in joint use of family lands. Within the intimacy of households, through days of work and days of festivity, people demonstrate (and test) their reciprocal commitment to each other as kin. Nanumeans typically talk about households as though they had an enduring social reality. Households are identified with particular family estates, especially with the land parcel on which the house is built. The stout forked posts that support the roofs of many houses have been used by the same family for generations, even as new foundations have come and gone. Households are referred to by the name of the oldest member, evoking the personal and family history connected to the life span of that person. It is difficult to leave a family house standing empty. When a worker and his family leave for overseas, usually relatives are asked to occupy their house, even if this diminishes an existing extended family household. In fact, as discussed further below, caretaking for absentees is probably the main reason why household numbers have steadily increased in Nanumea over the last thirty years or so despite the declining resident population.

Most households experience a constant (and often short-term) turn-over in their membership - a continual coming and going of people. during an eight-week survey period in 1973-1974, for example, 70 percent of households underwent some change in membership. About half of these changes involved the loss of addition of only one or two persons, but more substantial changes occurred for 30 percent of the households: movements of family groups of six or more persons, reoccupation of an empty house, or abandonment of an occupied one. These frequent movements between households made our first efforts at a community census difficult. In the early days when we knew only a few people personally, we sometimes enumerated the same people in different places. With the initial census taking many months to complete, moving slowly down one side of the village and up the other, we needed to find ways to maintain the accuracy of our count. We solved this problem by asking Sunema to inquire about the "usual" residents of each household when she arranged appointments for our census visits. Using this information, we could focus our inquiries on the household's core residents, but taking more of the temporary visitors who made their usual homes elsewhere and being careful to count them at their usual homes eventually. This technique resulted in an overly static view of household composition. We corrected for this by recording movements to and out of our sample village households and departures and returns to the island. We checked the accuracy of our censuses by conducting quick recounts of households and their members both in 1974 and 1984. Gradually, we were able to develop a more realistic understanding of household dynamics. 

The motives that lead Nanumeans to move between households epitomize the obligations among kin. Funerals, births, and weddings all call for cooperation among relatives, many of whom move in for the duration of the event. This is partly because the work is very intense. People often work long days and far into the night for several weeks weaving mats and preparing food. Socializing becomes an important part of this work. Older children, unmarried people, and elderly women are typically most free to come and care for a sick person, work on a special handicraft project, or cooperate in intensive gardening or fishing. Being able to move to another household also serves as a vital safety valve for personal relationships. Living elsewhere for a while can help people avoid major arguments and give disputes time to blow over. Live-in visits provide variety in domestic routine, too.

Composite figures like average household size are useful for comparative purposes but they mask the great range of variation in local household composition. In 1973-74, approximately 60 percent of households were composed of extended families. Their memberships ranged from three to twenty people and included as many as four generations. Another 30 percent had a nuclear composition, including only people who were actual or classificatory parents and children. The size of these nuclear households showed a large range, too - from three to twelve idiosyncratic groupings of distantly related individuals. This variation notwithstanding, census and head count data document a steady decline in average household size over the last three decades. As table 4 shows, Nanumea had ten more households in 1991 than in 1973 - even though 153 fewer people lived on the atoll. In 1996, our count found 175 occupied houses, suggesting that household proliferation is continuing. With local population decreasing average household size has dropped, too. While island households averaged 7.5 persons each in 1968, the average size had dropped to only 5.3 persons in 1991.

Table 4
Nanumean Residential Population and Households, 1931-1996

Year

Resident
Population

Households

Mean Household
Size
1931 770 103 7.48
1947 746 131 5.69
1963 1051 135 7.79
1968 1076 143 7.52
1973 977 145 6.74
1984 929 146 6.36
1991 824 155 5.32
1996 no accurate data 175 no accurate data

Sources: 1931 Government census (Maude 1932); 1947 Government census (Pusinelli 1947); 1963 Government census (McArthur and McCaig 1964); 1968 Government census (Zwart and Groenewegen 1970); 1973 Government census (Bailey 1975); 1991 Government census (Tuvalu Government 1991a, 1991b); 1973, 1984, 1996, authors' fieldwork data

Insofar as households are now the community's basic social and economic units, substantial changes in residence patterns must have repercussions on the organization of island society. Values and goals will be subtly colored in response to this altered social fabric, too. The 1991 census confirmed that a quarter of Nanumean households had only three residents or less. How can these tiny households contribute the goods and labor specified for community events? When a third of all local households are of the "nuclear" or "fragment" types, does the extended family ideal begin to have a hollow ring? Even though kinship loyalty may demand that people leave an extended family household to caretake a house for absent relatives, don't these smaller living units inevitably narrow kinship horizons? What changes are occurring in the overlapping responsibilities that people feel to distant relatives and to close ones, to family and community, to Nanumea and to wider Tuvalu? In the next chapter, we take a closer look at community organization and the juxtaposition of community and family loyalties. 

COMMUNITY

A most embarrassing mistake today! We were over visiting next door and conversation turned to the use of imported building materials like cement and roofing iron in place of local timber and thatch. I couldn't help but remember how hot it had felt when we spent the afternoon on another island in its refurbished, metal-roofed meeting house. That building offered a perfect example of the drawbacks of using imported materials instead of local ones, I thought.

Before I had even finished describing this problem, one of the young women interrupted angrily. She reminded me that she was from that community and objected to hearing anything derogatory said about it. I was aghast! I had never thought of her as an outsider on Nanumea and I had certainly never intended to criticize her home island. I was just meaning to praise the comfort and elegant beauty of the open sides, coral gravel floors and pandanus thatched roofs of traditional building styles. We apologized profusely.

Field Journal
October 1974

This incident reminded us how passionately devoted Tuvaluans are to their home communities. This devotion dwarfs the arguments and the petty jealousies that interrupt village life from time to time, encouraging community members to think of themselves as forming a single community, te fenua. Conventionally translated as "island," but having the emotional connotations of "homeland" as well, the term fenua evokes both an atoll's physical dimensions and its human residents. Attachment to fenua nurtures a sense of pride in community history, achievements, and culture. It encourages a collective determination to excel to build the most impressive church, to send many children on to education overseas, to maintain the village beautifully. Island loyalty also provides a sound basis for cooperation among community members away from home, as evidenced by the achievements of Naufuti, the community of Nanumeans living in the capital.

What is it about island life that prompts this depth of loyalty? What values encourage community cohesion into being? What groupings and institutional structures support the island's unity? Clearly thee are no simple answers to questions such as these Nanumea contends, as all societies must, with a tension between cultural ideals and practical realities, between decisions that support collective well-being and those that maximize benefit to individuals and family groups. Nonetheless, island life honors community to an extent found in few other societies. What socio-cultural qualities facilitate this? Our analysis points to four interdependent features: the community's overlapping organization, communal integration based on a single church and meeting house, service expectations for leaders, and values that stress getting along together, both tacitly and explicitly. 

COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION

In 1907, according to mission and government records, Nanumeans began to construct the first of their "new" villages. People moved from their old kopiti residential groups to a defined area centered around the church, community hall, and playing field. The houses built at that time were identical, small by today's standards, and arranged in a closely spaced grid that allowed little privacy. An imaginary line running from ocean to lagoon shore passed through the middle of the church and community hall, demarcating two village "sides" (feitu) which were named Lolua and Haumaefa. Placement of a family's house determined the side to which its members belonged. All households except the pastor's and, in recent years, non-Nanumean government employees, were affiliated with a village side. Gradually, the village sides became the focus of most island-wide activities, serving as moieties, units of complementary opposition.

As competitive halves of the village whole, the "sides" efficiently mobilized labor for village-wide projects, organized community festivities, hosted government visitors, and conducted a range of other activities involving the community as a whole. Ordinarily manifested as friendly competition, rivalry colored all village side interactions and added interest to daily affairs. In the 1970s and 1980s we saw the Island Council ratify its list of communal work projects at an island-wide meeting each year, and then the projects would be divided equally between the two sides. On each appointed workday, the able-bodied members of each village side would turn out in festive uniforms: clothing of a specified color accented with dancing skirts and scented wreaths. With some teasing and laughter thrown in for good measure, each side would then compete to out-build the other as members carried coral gravel for a foundation, helped thatch a building, or built a cistern. Similarly, at the "Big Days" festivities of the New Year, the sides competed at traditional ball games (ano) in a period of feasting and play that lasted several weeks in some years, several months in others.

Longstanding relationships usually link households with one particular village side. Changes can occur if household members have a falling out with side leaders or disagree with decisions about communal projects, but this happens infrequently. Though the households affiliated with a particular side have conventionally been located in its half of the residential area, changes in affiliation do not require a physical move to the other village side. As in so many other areas of island life, rules about side membership are flexible. People who move to another household to help out temporarily do not change their affiliation either. They simply pitch in to help their relatives meet whatever required contribution of labor or goods is needed and resume their normal affiliation when they return home. 

As people come and go from the island, the relative balance between the village sides can fluctuate markedly. In 1973-74, our community census showed that Haumaefa side had fourteen fewer households and ninety-eight fewer members than Lolua. A decade later, Haumaefa had come to have a majority by four households and fourteen members. This change was due mainly to the large number of overseas workers who had returned recently to Haumaefa, but a few Lolua households had shifted their affiliation due to dissatisfaction with building project decisions, too. Some differences in side memberships are inevitable, but the sides galvanize community energy most effectively when they are in approximate balance. For the sides' organization to work at all, their constant rivalry must be tempered by goodwill so that slights and irritations do not lead to factionalism. For nearly ninety years, Nanumea seems to have managed this fairly well. In fact, by the 1970s and 1980s, the sides were such an effective structure for village activities that we found it hard to imagine the island functioning without them. In 1994, however, two complicated disputes split the community and effectively crippled the village side organization.

Periods of intense community solidarity such as we witnessed ruing our earlier visits must be part of a longer cycle that includes less cohesive times, too. Disaffection and harmony have probably always alternated in community life. did similar contention mar solidarity in the late nineteenth century when a small traditionalist faction reduced to convert to Christianity? What about the debate that flared in the 1950s over the digging of a taro pit in Matagi? The community's ability to bring its vision of island unity into being has probably always waxed and waned. Only time can reveal whether the recent dispute will lead to new forms of social organization. It is possible that the village sides have outlived their usefulness and will be replaced by new forms that are somehow better adapted to community needs. But it is also possible that the village sides will weather the current dispute and endure intact. Perhaps the recent factionalism will strengthen Nanumean commitment to "unity of heart," at least for a while. Regardless of the dispute's ultimate effects, a formal reconciliation in May 1999 allowed the village to undertake successful cooperative work projects again, though full healing will inevitably take more time. In February 2000, we heard that Nanumeans had rebuilt one of the church outbuildings as a communal project, though, as Tagisia Kilei put it, "memories of the past four to five years' events are still hanging in the air, finding out slowly."

The tensions precipitating this recent controversy clearly derive in part from forces of modenization and social change important throughout Tuvalu. Personal choice in religion is increasingly emphasized, and younger men (and some women) are taking more active leadership roles in their communities, too,. But the current stresses are also fundamentally "traditional" in that they embody a basic tension between authority and egalitarianism that is characteristic of Polynesian culture. Nanumeans social life is intensively organized, structured by a vast array of groupings with overlapping memberships. As will become evident, the village sides are just one type of group. The dense social fabric of island life is complemented by a pervasive egalitarianism, especially in political domains. This is a society where high chiefs embody the community good, rather than their own merits, and where individual ambition traditionally has found appropriate expression in collective activity. From this perspective, the dispute's consistent focus on whether competing groups received equal treatment by figures of authority illustrates the inherent difficulty of balancing authority and equality. The community's persistent efforts to find a resolution demonstrate how committed Nanumeans are to the ideal of lotofenua, "community heartedness."

One of the enduring strengths of the village side organization is its integration with the local economic system through groups called fakaua. Usually composed of several related (but not necessarily neighboring) households, fakaua cooperate to provide whatever specified food contributions are needed for community-organized events. Until recently each fakaua was linked to one village side or the other. Side leaders would notify fakaua before each event about the type and amount of food each must contribute. Since the reinstatement of Nanumea's chiefly government in the mid-1980s, the reigning chief and his supporting council of elders have taken responsibility for directing fakaua contributions, bypassing the village sides. This system seemed to work well until recently. Each fakaua, regardless of its number of members or resources, is responsible for supplying whatever contribution of food and/or labor is specified. Most larger households can meet the requirement without undue difficulty, but smaller household usually join forces with relatives. In 1996, fifty-one fakaua contributed actively to community events. An additional forty-seven fakaua were listed in the records kept by the secretary of the chiefly council but were not active, typically because some or all of their members were overseas. A few of these latter households were withholding participation because of the recent factional disputes.

One of the enduring strengths of the village side organization is in integration with the local economic system through groups called fakaua. Usually composed of several related (but not necessarily neighbouring) household, fakaua cooperate to provide whatever specified food contributions are needed for community-organized events. Until recently, each fakaua was linked to one village side or the other. Side leaders would notify fakaua before each event about the type and amount of food each must contribute. Since the reinstatement of Nanumea's chiefly government in the mid-1980s, the reigning chief and his supporting council of elders have taken responsibility for directing fakaua contributions, bypassing the village sides. This system seemed to work well until recently. Each fakaua, regardless of its number of members or resources, is responsible for supplying whatever contribution of food and/or labor is specified. Most larger households can meet the requirement without undue difficulty, but smaller households usually join forces with relatives. In 1996, fifty-one fakaua contributed actively to community events. An additional forty-seven fakaua were listed in the records kept by the secretary of the chiefly council but were not active, typically because some or all of their members were overseas. A few of these latter households were withholding participation because of the recent factional disputes.

Nanumean groups commonly use structured competition as a way to motivate and organize their activities. This was apparent to us almost as soon as we began taking part in community events, because people showed such obvious disappointment if we did not balance our involvement with each group. But the extent to which the commuhnity consciously values structured competition as an organizing strategy became even clearer to us during meetings to discuss the planned closing of Nanumea's Catholic school in 1974. An education department officer from the central government had come to Nanumea in order to explain the Catholic school's closure and to reassure the community that its pupils would be accommodated in the government school. By that time, the Catholic school had been operating for about a decade. It had developed a reputation for academic rigor, mainly because one or two staff members initially had been members of religious orders sent down from Tarawa in the Gilbert islands by Catholic mission headquarters. The sole Catholic family on Nanumea had donated land for the school, but children's attendance was not based on their family's religious commitment. Since pupils from this school could attend the Catholic high school on Tarawa, the community's access to secondary education had doubled. The school had become an integral part of community organization. At the meeting, the education officer heard unanimous protests against the school's closure. One speaker argued eloquently:

We must have competition. That is why it would be bad to join the two schools together. Now we have the government school and the Catholic school. When it comes time for examinations, everyone concentrates. each school wants to do best in the exams, to send more students on to secondary school (off the island). If we had only one school, why would they try. We must have two schools. In everything we need two sides, two groups to join together and compete, to strengthen each other. 

The competition praised so fervently by Nanumeans (and other Tuvaluans) has an orientation quite different from the individualistic meanings that this word usually evokes for English speakers. In Tuvalu, paired community groups marshal their energies and resources to outdo their rivals, but the opposing units are emphatically social groups. Individual members' identities and contributions must be submerged within those of the group as a whole. Uniforms, processions through the village, collective work efforts - all declare the shared identity of participants. Structured competition is always yoked explicitly to larger community goals, rather than to the personal ambition of participants. Structured competition throughout all levels of village organization makes it difficult for any single group to dominate or for any single opposition to develop into enduring factions despite the deep emotional involvement people have with some groups. Two households might be members of different village sides, but some of their members will also be related and others will share membership in some of the same women's groups, service groups, or church-focused work groups. Since none of these groups are hierarchically organized, their crosscutting memberships create a dense web of connections in the community.

The increasing desire of many Nanumeans to live on their own land may pose some threat to community solidarity too. For most people, this means moving outside the village area and building a larger dwelling using imported materials, increasing household autonomy and privacy. People say that living outside the village makes it possible to get ahead economically. Away from the intense interaction demanded by village life, family members can spend more time and energy on projects benefiting their own household, such as raising pigs or chickens to sell. However, all the island's amenities and services are still located in the central village area. As the community's canoe fleet declines, households must increasingly rely on land transport to get about. Where formerly work canoes crossed the lagoon many times a day carrying people to the village or to their lands on the far side, the main transportation today is wheeled vehicles, which have increased markedly on the island since the 1970s. While only 5 percent of Nanumeans household owned a motorbike in 1973-74, 13 percent did by 1991. Similarly, bicycle ownership increased from half of the island's households in 1973-74 to three-quarters in 1991. Since households were becoming smaller and more numerous during this period, these percentage increases mean that significantly more bicycles and motor scooters now travel the island pathways. Indeed, in 1996 the Island Council expected to collect taxes on 39 motorbikes and 120 bicycles. Public enthusiasm was strong for building a causeway between Motu Foliki and Matagi so that the islet could be accessed overland and thus be available for house sites. While the increase in bicycle and motor scooter use illustrates the community's greater access to remittance income, it also highlights the abandonment of canoe-based transport.

the desire to live on family land so resonates with kinship expectations that Nanumeans have voiced little concern thus far about the disintegration of their tightly bounded traditional village. Whereas "the village" in 1973-74 meant the areas of Lolua and Haumaefa immediately adjacent to the church and meeting hall, this term refers today to the entire village peninsula - not only the old village area but also the government station at Mataluafatu and even households near the medical clinic at Hauma. Place names like Mataluafatu or Hauma are still used to pinpoint a household's location, but they no longer are conceptual contrasts with fakkai, "village." By contrast, households across the lagoon in Matagi or along the shore toward 'Tefaga are said to be located outside, in the vao or "bush." The recent conceptual expansion of village boundaries has allowed the proportion of households technically outside the village to hold steady over the last two decades. The village continues to be the center of community life, both ideologically and practically.

HEART OF THE COMMUNITY

Two other institutions bind Nanumeans together. Both have spiritual qualities, one overt, the other less obvious. Located at the heart of the main village, both symbolize the community feeling that Nanumeans call lotofenua. The Protestant Church is one of these unifying institutions, and the community hall is the other.

The Church

The whitewashed cement church with its red-roofed bell tower stands as a landmark on the island, its five stories visible from far out to sea. It is also tangible testimony to a century of religious unity. The church is Congregational Protestant, now a branch of the Church of Tuvalu, a product of nineteenth century endeavours by the London Missionary Society. Membership in this church has long been a requirement for full social acceptance. In 1991, 96 percent of the community considered themselves its members, a proportion that has held steady for decades. The remaining 4 percent adhere to "new religions," as they are termed locally, which include Bahai, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witness, and Catholic (listed in decreasing order of membership). Since the capitulation to Christianity in 1922 by the last Nanumean traditionalists, rejection of the community's dominant religion has been interpreted as a rejection of the community itself. People who join a "new" religion are regarded with suspicion by other villagers and find it difficult to be active in social and political affairs, though this chance now carries much less stigma than in the past. Tuvalu's Church leaders are increasingly advocating an ecumenical tolerance for other Christian religions. In the capital at least, religion is coming to be seen as a master of personal conscience and "new religions" there: The 1991 census indicated that 13 percent of Funafuti residents belongs to religions other than the Tuvalu church. Outer-island Nanumeans, however, continue to value their community's religious unity. In fact, the decision to limit proselytizing by a "new religion" was a precipitating cause of the recent dispute.

the organization of the Tuvalu Church is pyramidal. Each congregation is headed by the pastor, who has been a Tuvaluan since the 1960s (previously usually a Samoan), though seldom a native of the island on which he serves. The pastor is supported by his wife, a group of deacons (largely male but with an occasional female member), male lay preachers, and a "Women's Committee." Membership in these three groups carries substantial prestige and includes the most influential people in the community. Association with the church is expected to be a lifetime affair, beginning when infants are baptized and continuing on with Sunday school attendance, membership in youth activities, and, finally, membership in the adult church body (the Ekalesia). Ekalesia members also sing in the choir and teach Sunday school classes. The pastor's position is unique on the island. As a spokesman for an often-stern, moral point of view, he may comment obliquely from the pulpit on current events and issues, subtly linking these to Biblical themes and admonishing his congregation. On Nanumean, the pastor's elevated status and the expectation that he model decorum and moral rectitude limit his ability to socialize informally with the community. However, he plays a key role in most island festivities and officiates at weddings and funerals. The pastor is increasingly expected to remain apart from island politics, a contrast to his activities in the past.

Individual rights to freedom of religion, guaranteed in Tuvalu's constitution, are at odds with the value placed on group welfare and its expression in shared religious activities and beliefs. In the precontact era, religious practice was characterized by worship of island-wide gods and by the veneration of family deities, often the spirits of long-departed ancestors. In this period, so far as we know, there were few or no religious dissenters and competition between religious ideas was probably extremely rare. Though "troublemakers" did sometimes disrupt island tranquility, their contention probably had a sociopolitical focus rather than a religious one. Today, competition between  religious doctrines can create tension between expectations of community solidarity and individual human rights.. Most Tuvaluans, indeed, support the right to choose a religion that fits personal beliefs and needs. On the other hand, people are also wary of promoting religious factionalism, which is so common in other parts of the world. They worry that religious proselytizing, in the name of religious freedom, could undercut the solidarity that a dominant religion has long provided throughout Tuvalu.

The Meeting Hall

Nanumea's other force for solidarity, the ancient institution known as the aahiga, is embraced by all community members. The second largest building on Nanumea, the community hall stands in the village center adjacent to an open field, the village malae. Its name, "Nameana," is an archaic poetic version of the world "Nanumea." Nanumeans living in the capital have built a similar hall, named Seimeana, a name evocative of home because it combines the poetic name for Lakena Islet (Seilona) with that of Nanumea (Nameana).

Formerly an immense thatched-roof structure with low open sides surrounding a coral-gravel floor, today's aahiga has a silvery aluminum roof that glitters brightly in the equatorial sun, a cement floor, and low open walls. The Nanumean building measures 60 by 107 feet, its roof supported by cement pillars spaced at 12-foot intervals inset from the edge of the building. The meeting hall in the capital is similar in size and construction. As any given time, a few drooping ceiling panels might need replacing and some of the canvas covers that protect against penetrating wind and rain might need repair. To outsiders, the buildings appear empty, even a little neglected, for there are no furnishings, no internal walls, no chairs or benches, no stage, no podium. They are essentially roofs over raised cement foundations. But the physical simplicity of the aahiga belies its importance to the community.

Whenever Nanumeans meet for an event that involves the whole community, the fenua, they gather in this building. It is the venue for feasts on important occasions and for holiday festivities in December and January. Island meetings take place there, visiting dignitaries are feted there, people gather there for choir competitions, dances, and innumerable other social events "of the island." The aahiga is the gathering place, the eating place, the speech-making place, and the playing place for Nanumeans in the interaction as a secular community. "during events that are "of the island," traditional rules determine seating patterns and behavior. All events held there gain significance from the ancient meaning and sacred dignity of the hall. On public occasions, the hall is thought of as having three zones. The center-most area within the building's internal pillars is restricted, and no one normally sits or walks there. a speaker might venture a few feet into the area in the midst of a speech if he becomes excited and has "caught the wind" (poko te matagi), as people say. Generally, however, only activities involving the whole community (such as dances, choir competitions, or to other festivities) are located there. Small children or wandering dogs that enter the central area, especially during formal speech making, are quickly removed.

A second zone, the "front" seating and speaking area, is reserved for male elders, the chiefs, members of the Island Council, government officials, the pastor, and any visitors who are accorded dignitary status. elders sit cross-legged in front of the central pillars (or in the intervals between them), in places customarily assigned to their families. Everyone faces inward toward the center of the building. Except for visitors, front seating is reserved for family heads considered old enough (generally over sixty) to fill public roles - the community's rightful leaders and public speakers.

Finally, the "back" of the building comprises the area just inside the low outer wall surrounding the hall. This "off-stage" area is where families sit, where baskets of food are stored before and after a meal, and where younger children entertain themselves quietly. It is the domain of women and younger men. People can move freely within this area and even walk from one end of the hall to the other along the outer perimeter. Just as the village is divided into two halves, the aahiga also encloses two moieties. Haumaefa elders sit at posts toward the southeastern end, Lolua elders at the opposite end of the hall, with their respective families behind them. ach village side uses a small thatched building attached to its end of the aahiga as a work area to prepare food for community functions. In the days of great solidarity we observed in the 1970s and 1980s, feasts began with impressive lines of gaily costumed young women, all wearing dresses of the same color, streaming simultaneously in from the Lohua and Haumaefa work areas with trays of food to feed the elders and visitors on their side.

Referring to the aahiga as the "house of men" evokes the speeches that are made there and the hall's importance to the political life of the community. Women do use the building, sometimes taking it over for festive occasions of their own, and they are involved in community-wide events. However, women seldom sit at the posts or the "seats" of the house, and they are rarely speech makers themselves except at all-women gatherings. Rather, the elder men who head family groups are conceived as the supports, the strength, of the aahiga. These male elders are described as the "pillars of the house," its pou, fittingly occupying the seating positions at those pillars. Thus, when orators repeatedly invoke the "dignity and honor of the house and its pillars and its positions" in the community hall as a social institution. They also refer to the extended family corporations that, backed up by the chiefly descent groups, have long articulated political decisions. Traditionally, a family's oldest competent man represents the interests of its women, younger men, and children.

The metaphors used to describe Nanumea's aahiga illustrate the male-centered orientation of traditional society. But as the secular focus for community life meeting house protocol has undergone some changes to accommodate new political institutions. When the aahiga is used for activities "of the government," traditional seating and speaking patterns give way to a democratic style of interaction. People are free to sit wherever they enter at meetings led by members of parliament or touring government officials. Younger men join in debates and all present usually vote to decide the issues. Regular public meetings where matters are debated at length to the presence of a good part of the adult community are intrinsic to Nanumean unity. The function of such discussion is to clarify issues and crystallize the main opposing viewpoints. Discussion is often prolonged, allowing people to weigh pros and cons and to reach as enlightened a decision as possible, given the information available. This process gives participants time to reach consensus, building enough public support for a decision that it will be later be adhered to. Sometimes a more speedy resolution is needed and a vote may be called before a clear consensus has emerged. If the decision does not have public support, the issue will probably arise again for discussion at a future meeting and may even be voted on again. A prolonged process of consensus building about issues affecting the whole community has long unified Nanumea, as it has other islands of Tuvalu and small communities the world over. 

SERVICE-ORIENTED LEADERSHIP

Nanumea's political system today is a complex, dynamic, and somewhat contested blend of democratic and traditional institutions. Nanumeans elect many office holders, casting votes for island representatives to the national parliament, for members of the newly instituted Falekaupule, "Council," and for leaders of religious, social, and public service groups. In these contexts, the person with the most votes wins the right to fill the position. Nanumeans also acknowledge the legitimacy of other means of filling public office, including consensus-based appointments for "traditional" chiefly positions. Elders in the 1970s and 1980s, many of whom had themselves held chiefly roles, described traditional leadership to us as rotating between (or shared out among) a handful of chiefly descent groups whose obligation was to the well-being of the entire community. Using public office overtly to consolidate personal power and status is culturally unacceptable. Leaders, like everyone else, are expected to behave humbly, control their tempers, and cooperate with others. They attract a following through their active contribution to community affairs.

virtually any manor woman with time and energy available can find some group to lead - at one time or another. (Though most leadership roles are filled by elder men, Nanumean women have served on the Land Court, the Island council, and the nation al parliament from time to time.) In most people's thinking, power is a temporary attribute and leadership a temporary role. Nanumeans say their community is one composed of equals, with leadership an obligation that everyone must assume at some time, in whatever way they are best suited. Those who do a particularly competent job tend to serve longer terms, but they too, are eventually relieved of their duties. Especially with positions such as a member of parliament, which have a handsome salary, government housing, and elite urban lifestyle attached, Nanumean voters seldom retain an individual in office for successive terms. Traditional leadership roles were also characterized by similar turnover since high chiefs were expected to abdicate when conditions became adverse. Nanumeans expect their leaders to be fairly well in control of things and, if they are not, to step down and let someone else try. In keeping with the community's egalitarian orientation, people tend to be critical of those in power and place little value on experience gained by length of service.

To be someone of influence in Nanumea, ideally one should work hard, participate actively in community affairs, be morally upright, and be associated with a reputable family. In this way, gradually over a lifetime, it is possible to build a solid reputation and some political influence. Emphasizing close links to the community's founder also helps. People strive to present themselves as "true descendants of Tefolaha," thereby claiming insider status in a social system that is egalitarian yet also oriented by a descent-based hierarchy. To be descended from the founder is to be indigenous to Nanumea, from the land instead of "from the sea," having an ancient heritage instead of only a recent connection and, at least in former times, allied with the unseen powers of the universe. The chiefly lineages not only claim descent from Tefolaha but also the right to fill the special duties, pologa, associated with each lineage. The "facts" of one's ancestry are always subject to debate, of course, as is the structure of "tradition al" society itself. A person's claims may be subtly challenged by others. In the past, individuals' connection to the community could be dramatized (and legitimated) by "feeding" the entire island, contributing to the meeting house. Nanumea's master fishermen regularly did this. Those who were able to donate an entire canoe catch of large ocean-going fish on several occasions won prestige and fame for themselves, they were "talked-about" (takutakua) and acclaimed. Such a person could speak with authority in the aahiga.

Produce of the land can also be given in the community in a similar gesture, as is memorialized in a famous incident that happened a century ago. at the beginning of the severe 1890s drought, the island had begun to suffer as food resources were depleted. Many families had scarcely enough to eat, let alone extra food to give to others. An elder named Matakea, however, decided to "feed" the community in a magnificent display of generosity. He and his relatives collected a vast number of coconuts from their lands and donated them to provide a feast in the meeting house. In doing this, Matakea was said to lafo tona kaafaga, "donate his tree-climbing loop" (a fiber loop that ties the ankles together and makes it possible to more easily climb a coconut tree and then stand high up on the trunk to harvest nuts) to the community. People told us that Matakea's sons and grandsons have subsequently derived some authority in island affairs from their ancestor's memorable act of generosity. coming together for this feast must have given the community a welcome prelude to the process of vaelua division which soon followed. a commemorative song, a mako, is still sung today commemorating Matakea's deed.  

Nanumeans separate local politics into two conceptual spheres, what they term "affairs of the island" (faifaiga o te fenua), based on customary roles and institutions specific to Nanumea, and "affairs of the government" (faifaiga o te maaloo), based on the political system imposed by the colonial administration and continued in the national government of tuvalu. "Affairs of the island" include the wide array of "traditional" social groupings, from family estate groups to fakaua units, which structure Nanumean social life. Also important are political groupings such as the seven "branches of chiefs" maga o aliki, which have a traditional right to lead the community. The chiefly groups trace their descent directly from Tefolaha. They are organized into seven named lineages, each of which has a specific role to play in island governance, ranging from serving as ruling chief to various protective and productive specialties. Through the 1970s, all family elders had personal knowledge about how the traditional chieftainship functioned, and there seemed to be general consensus about its structure. Most of these elders have now passed away. In addition, the thirty-year suspension of chiefly leadership roles, lasting from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s, resulted in contested interpretations of some aspects of the chieftainship. The chiefly system reinstituted in 1986 differs somewhat from the structure previously described to us. Opinion is divided today over whether Nanumea's reigning chief must be chosen from only two of the seven chiefly lineages or whether he can be drawn from any of them. The length of his term and the duties of the other chiefly families also engender debate. Uncertainties about these aspects of the chieftainship lessen its effectiveness and weaken chiefly authority, as the recent factional dispute has illustrated.

The "cultural constitution" currently in preparation by Nanumean elders at the request of the Nanumean community in Funafuti is expected to clarify ambiguous aspects of traditional political roles and establish the chieftainship on a solid foundation for the future. The current form of the Nanumean chieftainship has three main components: a Chiefly Council (Tokofitu) composed of elders who represent the seven chiefly lineages, plus a reigning chief or Pulefenua, and a "speaker" or Tukumuna, both chosen from these same seven lineages. A younger man is also selected as "secretary" to keep records of meetings and decisions. When a ruling chief must be replaced, the Chiefly council asks the chiefly lineages to propose one of their number to serve in the position. This person's name is forwarded to leaders of the Tuumau lineage, who scrutinize the candidate's character and history and decide whether that man will make an acceptable high chief for Nanumea. If not, the nominating lineage is asked to reconsider and nominate another person. If acceptable, the candidate is installed with the requisite ritual in the meeting hall and becomes Nanumea's Pulefenua, "island leader." Because of his high status and his role as an embodiment of the community, the Pulefenua restricts his activities. The chief's well-being is linked with the good of the community as a whole, so if harm or an accident were to befall the reigning chief, the island could suffer. In particular, the chief should take care not to fall down or to capsize his canoe. Inappropriate personal behavior by a reigning chief is believed to cause bad weather (long droughts or excessively stormy conditions) or declines in fish catches, all of which could endanger the community.

Today's reconstituted chiefly system also includes the role of Tokumuna "speaker." This person is selected by the Council of Chiefs after the reigning chief is appointed. His role is to articulate the chief's decisions on public occasions and to serve as link between the chief, the Chiefly Council, and the island's elected local government. The speaker also ensures that the Pulefenua's decisions are carried out. Affairs of the Island "in which the chiefs and family elders play primary roles, contrast with "affairs of Government," which are dominated by local government groups, the national Parliament, government ministries and employees, and the court system. In December 1997, the previous system of Island Council governance throughout Tuvalu was replaced by a system based on elected Kaupule (Council of leaders"). On each island, six members are elected at large to four-year terms by all residents eighteen years of age or older. They receive a small sum each month as reimbursement for their meeting time but are viewed as filling community service positions. Kaupule decide changes in local regulations; plan local development projects; and oversee the annual budget derived from taxes, national government subsidies, and the Falekaupule Trust Frund (established in 1999). They also host visiting officials. Monthly meetings are followed a few days later by island-wide meetings so the Kaupule can explain their decisions and seek community ratification for them.   

Nanumea also elects two representatives to the Tuvalu Parliament, which meets in the capital, Funafuti. Both representatives are elected at large to four-year terms. They are expected to consult with constituents and serve as the island's spokespersons in all national government affairs. A representative's influence is increased if she or he is chosen as prime minister or elevated to a cabinet post. The Tuvalu Westminster parliamentary system, with a single house modeled on Great Britain's House of commons, involves a continual jockeying for power by government and opposition factions. A constable from the Tuvalu Policed Force is also stationed in Nanumea to enforce Tuvalu law and serve as prosecutor in court proceedings. disputes and criminal charges are heard either in a general court or a Land Court, depending on the nature of the case. A chief magistrate and two assistant magistrates, all Nanumeans, serve as a general court, assisted by the police constable as prosecutor and the council clerk as court recorder. This court has jurisdiction over all minor civil and criminal offenses. Justice is normally swiftly dispensed, with convictions usually resulting in fines. A special Land Court is composed of five respected elders noted for their knowledge of local tradition, their good memories, and their familiarity with local land holdings. The Land Court meets as needed to hear disputes concerning land boundaries, estate division or paternity. All court decisions can be appealed to the national magistrate, who makes periodic tours to the outer islands to hear appeals. Serious criminal cases, which are extremely rare, are heard in the capital in the High Court presided over by an expatriate chief justice. The High Court usually sits twice a year. Offenders convicted of serious crimes are sent to the country's only prison, in the capital, located conveniently within sight of the High Court.

GETTING ALONG TOGETHER

Individuality is not a highly valued trait in Nanumea (or elsewhere in Tuvalu). People are expected to fulfill their personal goals through cooperation with relatives and fellow community members. The label fakaatea, "different," is usually applied negatively to behaviors such as unsociability, erratic behavior, extreme shyness, or other departures from common norms. Refusal to help with group projects or to conform to accepted behavior standards is deplored and typically viewed as either "stinginess" or malice.

At the community level, the long-term interests of the greatest number are paramount. Individuals are expected to give, and give in, as requested. Giving, for example, means providing goods, holding public office, participating in communal building projects, and attending public meetings. (Giving in means responding positively to criticism and acceding to leaders' requests. Subordination to group well-being is expected at many levels of society and can result in moral dilemmas because of overlapping levels of obligation. a striking example of such a difficulty occurred during our first stay on Nanumea, when a respected elder named Tepou became pitted against the island council, which was acting on behalf of the community as a whole. Tepou, for his part, was trying to carry out his father's deathbed wishes and had already withstood community pressure far longer than most other people would have. The resolution of this dispute illustrates how the community responds to people who put their family's needs (or their own needs) above those of the island as a whole.

Tepou's house was located on his own land between the community's playing field and the government school, precisely in the center of the village, with a clear view of the meeting hall and church. Several generations shared the large household and ate from the breadfruit, coconut, and papaya trees that surrounded it. However, the location of this house had been the subject of lengthy dispute. Before the village was rebuilt in the 1930s, the area that became the village playing field had been owned by several families and was dotted with their cookhouses and food-bearing trees. Like everyone else, Tepou's father had a village house, crowded between rows of identical neighbors. He also had a cookhouse-cum-workroom on the present site. When the community decided to enlarge the playing field adjacent to the meeting house, other landowners relinquished their land and it was cleared. Tepou's father, strong willed and proud of his descent from a lineage of warriors, contended that it was wrong for the island to force a family to give up its land. After pleas and arguments were unable to persuade him to change his mind, the playing field was made smaller than had originally been planned, and Tepou's family cookhouse was left standing at its edge. Eventually the family abandoned its village row house and enlarged the cookhouse, making it the family home. The school came to be built nearby, too, on public land reclaimed from the lagoon by the American forces during World War II.

Forty years later ,in the mid-1970s, Tepou's house stood between the school and the playing field, a location that rankled other community members. The need to move Tepou's house became a theme at island meetings again and families who had given up land for the playing field years before were particularly bitter about Tepou's insistence that he must uphold his father's refusal. After a committee of island leaders was not able to persuade Tepou to relocate, the Island council wrote to the chief magistrate in Funafuti, requesting legal permission to force Tepou to relinquish his land for the community's welfare. While thy were still waiting for a reply, the council summoned Tepou to its monthly meeting to try one more time to convince him to cooperate. At the council meeting, Tepou explained his stance somberly. He said he was an old man without the strength to rebuild a house or to replant food trees elsewhere. His family had already given up land for the school and for the airstrip built during World War II, leaving them nowhere else to move in the village. Tepou said he had sympathy for the island but believed that it was nonetheless wrong for Nanumeans to persecute other community members. The six council members in turn reiterated yet again the reasons why Tepou must accede to the island's request: It was a community decision made to further the welfare of councilors who were related to Tepou stressed their sympathy for his plight. Others spoke about how his family had always been a pillar of the community and had always been generous with help. a respectful and gentle tone of persuasion permeated these speeches.

Nonetheless, a hint of drama hung in the air as the arguments were repeated, and then repeated again. Several hours had passed. One of the council members wondered, in an aside, what would be done with Tepou if he refused to agree. another worried aloud what "might happen" if the will of the island continued to be thwarted. Someone sympathized at the hard decision Tepou was being called on to make and noted how "heavy" his heart must be. Finally, one of the councilors suggested that the island buy Tepou's land if he wasn't willing to give it. Tepou rejected this purposely offensive plan, asserting that his refusal was based on the principle set by his father and the fact that he had nowhere else in the village to go nor strength to replant another plot of land and build another house. He pleaded that he was not trying to profit personally, exasperate the community or deprive the children of a place to play.

The meeting dragged on as council members made formal replies., begging Tepou's compliance on behalf of the island. They pleaded with him to agree to their akai, "request," reminding Tepou that the council was the island's government and had an obligation to look after community welfare. One councilor who was related to Tepou wondered aloud: What could the island do to help him become established in a new site? Ignoring Tepou's objection that he still refused to move, other councilors took up this lead. Another plot of village land could be found, his house could be rebuilt there, his trees replanted. Suddenly Tepou capitulated. The island Executive Officer, who had been keeping notes of the decisions reached at the meeting quickly read out the agreement. Tepou's land would be used for the playing field and his house would be moved to another site in the village. Everything would be arranged by the Island council. Both Tepou and the council members then gave thanks for each other's patience and everyone promised that the matter was closed and the issue decided.

As far as the council was concerned, the dispute had been settled - but Tepou still had to tell his family of his capitulation. An emotional but private family argument developed, and Tepou fled to the bush. He was gone for several hours and his relatives, fearing that he might be in danger, went in search of him. Tepou later said that when he left his home he felt completely confused, as though "all he had left to him was his own life." His "heart was burdened" and his "soul was startled." He didn't know where he was going as he wandered in the bush. He said he had been surprised to feel a hand on his shoulder and to see a relative standing behind him. As his relatives led Tepou home, they sympathized with him about the difficult decision he had been forced to make, and some cried with him. But no matter how traumatic Tepou's capitulation was for himself and his family, the rest of the community greeted the arrangement as long overdue. Most people felt that Tepou was in the wrong and that the community would be justified in forcing him to comply, if necessary. One person who heard of Tepou's flight to the bush commented to us that although he pitied him, it was well that Tepou had agreed, since the island otherwise would have had to tear down his house. That drastic possibility had occurred to other people as well and was probably the "something" that "might happen" mentioned by one of the councilors. The council itself was counting on legal enforcement powers if Tepou continued to refuse. However, before destroying the house, the community certainly would have sought mediation by the pastor and agreement from the national government.

House destruction sometimes is also used to punish individuals who refuse to conform to decisions of the wider kin group. During our first period of fieldwork, relatives tore down a woman's house, reportedly to punish her selfish and uncooperative behavior. 'such a drastic "solution" to domestic problems is rare but effective. By forcing the recalcitrant individual to join other kin who are still sympathetic enough to be welcoming but are located some distance away, animosities within a family may gradually subside. The British-based court system, as well as contemporary public opinion, looks with disfavor on such a violent solution to intra-community disputes, though this form of social control does seem to parallel the treatment meted out in traditional times to those considered troublemakers.

Ostracism (fakatapu) is another sanction that can be used to punish lack of cooperation. In one case we encountered, ostracism was combined with a threat to inform a potential overseas employer of a man's bad character. Mataio (a pseudonym) was about fifty years old, unmarried, a man of solitary temperament. He lived alone on Lakena Islet, where he was notorious as the only able-bodied man regularly absent from communal work projects. When he did come, he used the excuse of having to do all his household tasks himself to justify arriving when the work was almost over. Even than, angry Lakena resident charged, he would stand and watch rather than pitching in to help. Complaints from other workers finally led the work leader to scold Mataio privately. Mataio responded by leaving Lakena on communal work days, thus absenting himself completely. The Lakena community finally forbade anyone to socialize with Mataio or to help him in even the smallest way. All but one Lakena resident obeyed the ban, but no one was happy about this solution.

At the next Island council meeting, the Lakena representative requested that Lakena resident not helping with communal work be required to return to live in Nanumea village. Mataio's case, the cause of the request, was discussed and the following decisions was reached. Mataio, who had good references from his past employment, was hoping to be rehired overseas. The council decided to draft a letter to Mataio, warning that if he continued to show his character by refusing to help with the communal work, they would feel obliged to disclose it to his prospective employer. They also threatened to "refuse to let him leave the island" lest he hurt the community's reputation, presumably by being as uncooperative overseas as he was at home. The letter had its desired effect and Mataio reformed. Uncooperative behavior also weakens an individual's social and economic security by reducing the person's circle of sympathetic kin and by blemishing his or her reputation. However, what is good for an individual and immediate family members does not always coincide with the best interests of the whole community. As in Mataio's case, specific sanctions may sometimes be needed to force stubborn individuals to subordinate their desires to the community's needs. Violence, public shame, or ostracism always serve as a last resort, however, used only after other possible avenues of persuasion have failed. Sanctions are viewed as a lever to change antisocial behavior rather than as a punishment. 

When Nanumeans assess and judge people's behavior, they focus on what has actually been said and done rather than on what might have been thought or meant. The actual occurrence is given more weight than the person's intent. Maa, "shame," is a vital part of local social control since, as Nanumeans realize, fear of being shamed often motivates people's obedience to social norms. Since Nanumeans expect each other to be humble, people must maintain a delicate balance between modesty and admitting special abilities. Behavior that displays differences in ability or achievement could upset the equality on which Nanumean society be premised.

The community's resolute insistence on equality was demonstrated in 1974 at the island meeting where the schools organizer explained the need for amalgamating the Catholic and government elementary schools. As was mentioned earlier, the organizer faced a hostile audience unanimously opposed to the amalgamation. When discussion turned to the Catholic school's students' recent success in passing the secondary school examination, the schools organizer argued that the exam success resulted from good home environments, not from a particular school's curriculum. Several people in the audience laughed in derision, and the island council president was quick to object: "No, we are all equal in our homes here. There are no differences between us!" Another speaker, familiar with the Western assumptions of individual achievement implicit in the organizer's statement (and in the education system as well), added: "It is true. Here we are all the same. don't try to divide us like that. It would be a shameful thing for us to have some households pointed out as bad for the education of the children in them." It was clear that the schools organizer unwittingly had struck a cultural nerve.

The community's egalitarian ideology is also reflected in the limits imposed by the Island council on wedding food displays. Traditionally kin groups put on a splendid feast and urge a large amount of relatives for the festivities. The goal is to show off the family's wealth, productivity, and cohesion in implicit competition with the other family in the early 1970s, the Island Council limited participation in wedding festivities to specified close kin and restricted the type and amount of food presented. For example, relatives more distant than second cousins were prohibited from amending the festivities and imported food such as bread was banned from the trays of food each family laid out before the couple. These rules were intended to preserve subsistence resources from conspicuous consumption and to guaranteed the equivalence of the two kin groups. Even minimal differences in wedding displays appeared to discomfit the community. The rules were not popular with all, however, and were not fully observed.

Council and regulation are equally important on the personal level. People expect each other to hold anger in check to maintain a calm demeanor. Though fights occasionally erupt, they are usually broken up quickly by bystanders. disorderly behavior and physical aggression are explicitly forbidden by law, as are trespassing, malicious gossip, and taunting. Convicted offenders are punished by fines or by sentences of community service. In most of the serious public disputes and disturbances that occur on the island, at least one of the participants is brought to court. Court cases usually result in conviction of the offender. On the surface, at least, village life is placid. Table 7 lists the court cases during our fieldwork in 1973-74 that involved some aspect of interpersonal antagonism or dispute. This profile is still reasonably representative of the situation today. For a population of nearly a thousand people, twenty-nine incidents involving twenty-three individuals over an eighteen-month period is a very low level of discord. While aggression was involved in about half of these incidents, no deaths or serious injuries resulted.

Tellingly, over 60 percent of these cases stemmed from consumption of alcohol, mainly by young men. Usually several youths begin drinking together in an atmosphere of relaxed camaraderie, but as they become increasingly intoxicated, they argue and often fight. Rarely are bystanders menaced, but a drunken man may try to impose himself on women, destroy property, or take a motorbike for a joy ride. Young, unmarried men (tamatane) are most commonly involved in these offenses, perhaps in keeping with their generally marginal role in island life. While young men are expected to help out with household and community activities, they receive little recognition for their efforts and have scant role in public decision making. Unlike young women who are carefully chaperoned by their families, young men are allowed considerable freedom to "play." Their drinking parties and carousing are tolerated as long as they are relatively discrete and non-disruptive, but should any fighting erupt, the combatants are locked up until they are sober. They are then charged in court with disorderly conduct and often receive sentences of community service, which are served locally under supervision of the local government.

Table 7

Interpersonal disputes Head as Court Cases on Nanumea, 1973-1974

Change

Number of Cases

Individuals Charged

Young Men          Adults               Total

Disorderly conduct (while drunk)

12

9

1

10

Theft (while drunk)

2

2

-

2

Destruction of Property (while drunk)

2

1

1

2

Assault (Stabbing, Beating)

2

1

1

2

Bullying a Minor

1

1

-

1

Criminal Trespass

3

2

1

3

Extended Family Squabble (manifested as fighting slander)

6

-

6

6

Disrespectful Words to a Government Official

1

1

-

1

Totals

29

In all, 23 separate individuals were involved: 14 young men, 5 adult women, 4 adult men. Some were repeat offenders.

The other main cause of incidents brought to court are long-standing family disagreements, whose genesis usually can be traced back a generation or more. Arguments over land division or resource allocation sometimes smolder on even after an ostensible settlement has been reached and eventually may erupt in an angry altercation. Of course, family arguments that reach public attention in this way reflect badly on the individuals and families involved.

HEIRS OF TEFOLAHA

The general peace and cooperation of island life are accepted simply as part of daily routine. Against this background, times of turmoil come and go. Perhaps it is these difficult moments, in which a community must summon up its collective unity, that best define it. For Nanumeans, one such moment of cultural definition occurred late one evening in January 1984 at the annual all-night festivities marking the Po o Tefolaha, "Tefolaha's Day." In the early predawn hours, some of the young men began a drunken commotion that verged out of control. The pastor was roused from his sleep to address the aahiga crowd. He spoke eloquently with fervor matching the seriousness of a disrupted community event. "Gaa tama a Tefolaha," (children of Tefolaha), the pastor began, carefully choosing this phrase to evoke the community's unity and all the commitments that follow from shared descent. He urged the assembled crowd to remember the history that they were celebrating and, as he spoke, calm returned. The dance was able to resume.

By invoking Nanumea a legendary founder and former god, the pastor (himself an outsider) spoke to the heart of what it is to be Nanumean. His choice was intended to resonate deeply yet it had ironic overtones, too. In how many equally fervent speeches had the pastor's predecessors urged these "children" to abandon Tefolaha and other aspects of the island's traditional religious heritage? though devoutly Christian for a century Nanumeans derive strength from their steadfast determination to remain the children of Tefolaha. Over the last century, periods of wrenching change have left many aspects of "traditional" culture just cloudy memories. The founder's relics, including his venerated skull and his shrine, have disappeared. Yet it is clear that Tefolaha's unifying presence has endured. Nanumeans today emphatically declare themselves to be the communal heirs of Tefolaha, the rightful inheritors of the island his cleverness won for them. These children of Tefolaha have produced an enduring and resilient community in which social cohesion has been raised to the level of an art.

An extract from UNITY OF HEART, by Keith and Anne Chambers
Culture and Change in a Polynesian Atoll Society, Waveland Publishing, Illinois, 2001

 

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