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Tonga, the South Pacific island kingdom located east of Fiji and south of Samoa, is one of the world’s few remaining constitutional monarchies. Although Tonga has long been linked to the world system through markets and political relationships, in the last few decades emerging regional and global structures have had particularly intense and transformative effects. Today, because of greatly increased labour migration, people, money, and resources are in constant circulation among Tonga, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States.
In Persistence of the Gift, Evans provides a detailed ethnographic and historical analysis of how, in spite of superficial appearances to the contrary, traditional Tongan values continue to play key roles in the way that Tongans make their way in the modern world. But this ethnography is neither that of a timeless “ethnographic present” nor of a remote coral atoll. Instead, like the inhabitants of Tonga themselves, the monograph begins in the islands, and works outward, tracing how Tongans seek to meet their own, culturally specific goals, within the constraints, challenges, and opportunities of the world system.
Tongan culture, like our own, continues to transform in the face of global change, but the changes experienced by Tongans everywhere are patterned and managed by the values of Tongan agents. Both creative and conservative, the emerging transnationalist system continues to be discernibly and proudly Tongan.