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

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posted on 2023-05-27, 00:35 authored by Ewins, RH
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 ‚ÄövÑvÆ 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.


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

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