The Birth and Growth of a Polynesian Women's Exchange Network

Cathy A. Small

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Based on ethnographic interviews and historical research, this article describes the birth and growth of a commoner women's exchange network in the Kingdom of Tonga during the twentieth century. The network developed during the first two decades of the century along with other late colonial institutions in Tonga that have been called ‘the compromise culture’. The exchange institution started with the inter‐island exchange of women's prestige wealth within Tonga; the network soon expanded to incorporate Fijian and Samoan women's groups, to include western commodities and cash and, in the 1980s and 1990s, to involve Tongan migrants who are resident overseas. The detailed history of the women's exchange network over eight decades recounts an important slice of commoner women's life stories and memories. At the same time, as an account of a compromise institution, the history of the exchange network offers a window on the process of change in the twentieth century. It demonstrates the deeply conservative nature of seemingly radical institutional changes in Tonga, the increasing difficulties over time in trying to isolate ‘western’; and ‘traditional’; forces, and the profound transformations of Tongan life now underway.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)234-256
Number of pages23
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1995

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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