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Ethnic art and ritual in the negotiation of identity : the social role of bark-cloth in Vatulele Island, Fiji

Ewins, RH 1999 , 'Ethnic art and ritual in the negotiation of identity : the social role of bark-cloth in Vatulele Island, Fiji', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Bark-cloth is the traditional art of the women of Vatulele. Though many Fijian
artforms have declined or disappeared, Vatulele's production of bark-cloth has
increased steadily for over forty years. Its commercialisation as a tourist souvenir
has been widely credited for this, but it is shown here that while this did initially
stimulate production, today it accounts for a relatively small proportion of output,
most remaining within the indigenous domain. A survey of the literature on tourism
fails to produce credible explanations for why this is occurring, and this thesis
seeks answers in the continuing indigenous social role of bark-cloth.
First at a theoretical level, and then in relation to Fiji and Vatulele, the social role of
art is argued both semiotically and historically to relate to intentionally embedded
and inscribed meaning. Today, bark-cloth's greatest importance is as ritual art — as
symbolic paraphernalia, vestments, and as an official valuable in the inter-group
goods presentations fundamental to Fijian ritual. Ritual is therefore also examined
both theoretically and from empirical Vatulele data. It is shown to also be
increasing, both in Vatulele and the wider Fijian community, and much of the
increased bark-cloth production is to supply this ritual. However, it is argued that
the underlying demand relates to the role both art and ritual play in constructing,
maintaining, and negotiating changes in social identity.
Social identity is defined here in terms of the constantly evolving inter-relationship
of the group's history, collective bonds, solidarity, and norms. In small, face-to-face
societies, these structures are clearly defined, yet susceptible to rapid change
and erosion. The evolution of Vatulelean identity is explored, and the impact of the
external forces of colonialism, capitalism, tourism and the communications
explosion are analysed. In mobilising their traditional mechanisms such as art and
ritual, Fijians are argued to be attempting to maintain steerage of their identity,
community solidarity, and social norms in times of increasingly rapid change.
It is shown that, in addition to exchanging it ritually, Vatuleleans had long traded
their bark-cloth as a commodity. This positioned them well to capitalise on the
emergent tourist market, and subsequently the burgeoning indigenous market,
resulting in considerable prosperity. But on the case made here, the demand is less
a cultural revitalisation than an attempt to mitigate increasing social and cultural
stress. That may be a dubious foundation for longterm security.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Ewins, RH
Keywords: Rites and ceremonies, Tapa, Art, Fijian
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 199 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

Additional Information:

Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Tasmania, 1999. Includes bibliographical references

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