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Cery Cery Fuckabede

Author(s): Marshall Sahlins

Source: American Ethnologist, Vol. 20, No. 4 (Nov., 1993), pp. 848-867
Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/646235
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comments and reflections

Cery Cery fuckabede

MARSHALL SAHLINS-University of Chicago

This is mainly a comment on Nicholas Thomas's historiography of the famous Fijian

custom of exchange called kerekere as set forth in a pair of recent articles: the latest in the
American Ethnologist (1992a) and an earlier, somewhat longer discussion to which the
American Ethnologist article refers for details (1992b). Thomas alleges that kerekere was not
a named entity, was not codified as a custom, and was not understood as a distinctively Fijian
practice until it was singled out by British colonial policies in the late 19th century. The
American Ethnologist article emphasizes the thesis that kerekere was a reaction-formation
to European political and economic pressures, an essentialized antithesis of the colonial
order that could serve as a self-representation of the colonized. All these modes and degrees
of objectification are conflated by Thomas and derived from the last, kerekere as an emblem
of things Fijian, a category confusion that helps account for certain problems in his historical
argument. The centerpiece of his historical argument is that there is no documentary
evidence of kerekere as a Fijian custom before about 1860, as it was then at most an implicit
practice. Indeed there is no mention of it at all in the principal missionary, trader, and naval
journals, only a passing dictionary reference or two. It follows that 20th-century ethnogra-
phies that describe kerekere as a "famous custom" are in that and other respects misleading,
for its salience is exogenous in origin and cannot be understood as a positional value in a
purely Fijian "system" (even if there were such a thing).
Thomas's reading of the relevant historical texts, however, was not sufficiently diligent or
perceptive, and his narrative of the colonial construction of kerekere is plainly mistaken.
Kerekere is clearly attested as an objective entity and a self-consciously Fijian custom several
decades before the establishment of the British colony in 1874 and even before the first
English missionaries set foot in the Islands in October 1835. Kerekere appears with the same
characteristics in earlier 19th-century documents as in mid-20th-century ethnographies. On
the other hand, it would be unfortunate if this necessary criticism obscured the important
contribution of Thomas's argument to an understanding of the structural dynamics of
intercultural relations in general and colonial history in particular.
For there is no doubt that a whole family of complementary oppositions, including
inversions and negations of cultural others, attends contact situations. This kind of differen-
tiation can occur and often has occurred independently of any colonizing presence. It is not
exclusively an outcome of domination. "Culturalobjectification in non-colonial contexts,"
writes Thomas, citing as examples the contrasts between saltwater and inland peoples of
Melanesia and between rival religious communities in Europe, "may emerge in essentially
the same manner as the type of substantivization discussed here, and could be based on a
range of oppositional kinds of social difference" (1992b:65). Involving marked differences
American Ethnologist20(4):848-867. Copyright ? 1993, American Anthropological Association.

848 american ethnologist

in modes of production,the corollary of their interdependence,the contrasts between
neighboringmaritimeand land peoples in Melanesia may be quite radical, extending to
many dimensionsof existence. In several passagesThomasconsidersthe problemof what
might distinguishthese noncolonial relationshipsfrom indigenousculturaloppositions to
Westerndomination.Apartfromdifferencesin degree, which anyhow would be difficultto
delimit, he seems to thinkthe latterare uniquelytotalizing:the expressionof difference-in-
cultureas such throughmetonymiccontrastsin customaryforms-of which the postcolonial
developmentof Fijiankerekerewould be an example. "Culture"becomes a self-conscious
and political value, the whole being morallyepitomized in one or anotherof its elements.
The synecdoche bodies forth the totality. Indeed, it may not be just "Fijianculture"or
"Ponapeanculture"that is so signifiedbut cultureas a phenomenon-in-itself,as something
subjectto humanmanipulationand representation.Thomas'sdiscussionof all this is timely
and important,because we are presentlywitnessing a worldwide movement of cultural
self-consciousness,"culturalism" as it may be called, markedby various"inventions"and
reificationsof tradition,includingthe subalternnegationsof colonial orders.This is surely
one of the most significantphenomena of modern world history,a powerful movement
whose full meaningsand impactare yet to be determined.
While modestly disclaiming any interest in structuraltheorizing, Thomas adds new
dimensions to old discussions of the dialectics of colonial history. He suggests that in
conditions of culturaloppositionto colonial or neocolonial masters,as for example among
New Guineans who champion "kastom"in contrast to "bisnis,"the internal political
dynamicsof the indigenouspeople may motivatea negationof the negation.Some members
of the colonized society may appropriatethe dominantculturalideology as the instrument
of their own struggleswith the "traditionalists." Here is an explication of certain kinds of
culturalcrossoveror assimilation(fora characteristicexample, see Spradley1969:109-1 10
passim).Alternatively,a fractionof the so-called accuIturatedpersonsof the towns mayreact
to the impedimentsand frustrationsof an alienated existence by a "returnto the source"
(Cabral1973:61f.; Godelier 1991:395). Again, Thomas refersto so-called cargo cults in
Melanesiathat inverttradition(or neotradition)even as in certainrespectsthey are antimod-
ern (or anti-colonial state).Thomas'svarious insightsinto these processes also fit well with
the analyses of Trigger(1975), Stoler (1985), and John Comaroff(1989) of intercultural
structures of the conjuncture, the complex interethnic alliances-as opposed to a
Manichaeandualismof colonizers and colonized-that actuallyorganizethe historicalfields
and outcomes of imperialism.In brief, Thomas makes a significantcontributionto the
understandingof phenomenaformerlysubsumedundersuch notionsas "acculturation" and
"Posingthese questions,"Thomaswrites,
entailsan interestin the investigationof culturethatdivergesfrommostreceivedperspectivesin cultural
anthropology,in the sense thatinterpretation has untilrecentlyemphasizedthe positionand resonance
of particularmeaningswithintotalitiesratherthanprocessesof explicationprovokedby cross-cultural

Apartfrom the claims of novelty, this statementpresentssomethingof a problembecause

exogenousculturalformsand forces,howeversui generisand compelling,are also attributed
positional values by the peoples subjected to them. The outside forces enter into local
relationshipsandthusacquirelocalvalues,in termsof whichtheyhavespecifichistoricaleffects
(cf. Sahlins1993). Howeverthatmaybe, some insightsintomodernculturalistmovementsare
suggestedby the juxtapositionof Thomas'sinnovativeperspectiveon intercultural
with its rareanaloguesin an earlieranthropology.
Culturalnegationsand inversionsof the kindThomasdiscusses used to be called "schis-
mogenesis,"a concept Bateson introducedin his critiqueof a well-known Social Science

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Research Council memorandum on acculturation (Bateson 1935; Herskovits 1935). Perhaps
it is not well remembered that Bateson's own discussion of complementary differentiation
was in the first place an observation about intercultural relations: the article was called
"Culture Contact and Schismogenesis." That Bateson was indeed speaking of the same kind
of reified oppositions is indicated by his reference to Melanesian-like situations of commu-
nities that respectively specialize in fishing and sago production for exchange with each
other. One is reminded of the similar argument made by Levi-Strauss in Race and History,
to the effect that cultural diversity is a function not so much of the isolation of societies as
of their articulation:
Moreover, side by side with the differences due to isolation, there are others equally importantwhich are
due to proximity, bred of a desire to assert independence and individuality.... We should not, therefore,
be tempted to a piece-meal study of the diversityof human cultures, for that diversity depends less on the
isolationof the variousgroupsthanon the relationsbetweenthem. [Levi-Strauss
The development of complementary oppositions by neighboring peoples is indeed the
master trope and, more significantly here, the principal historical dynamic of Levi-Strauss's
Mythologiques. It is how myths travel and are transformed. In the "Finale"to the entire work,
Levi-Strauss refers to this practice of symmetrical inversion as "the myth creation process
revealed by my study." What is shown by "the comparative analysis of different versions of
the same myth produced by one or several communities" is that "conter (to tell a story) is
always conte redire (to retell a story), which can also be written contradire (to contradict)"
(Levi-Strauss 199011971 1:644). Written in the same period, an article on the rites and myths
of adjacent peoples is a sustained analysis of the process in the historical relations between
the Mandan and the Hidatsa of the American Great Plains:
Everythinghappens as if, on the plane of beliefs and practices, the Mandan and Hidatsa had succeeded
in organizing their differences into a system. One could almost believe that each tribe, so far as it was
concerned and without ignoring the corresponding effort of the other, applied itself to preserving and
cultivating the oppositions and to combining the antagonistic forces in order to form an equilibrated
ensemble. [Levi-Strauss1971:163]

Perhaps the most relevant to the current interest in subaltern inversions of the culture of
dominance, especially insofar as these inversions represent a politics of identity, are
Levi-Strauss's remarks on the phenomenology of the process: on the development of
self-consciousness through the apprehension of the other as opposition. Consider this
Hegelian passage, again at the end of the Mythologiques:
The problem of the genesis of myth is inseparable, then, from that of thought itself, the constitutive
experience of which is not that of an opposition between the self and the other, but of the other
apprehended as opposition. In the absence of this intrinsic property-the only one, it is true to say, that
is absolutely given-no act of consciousness constitutive of the self would be possible. Being, were it not
apprehensible as a relationship, would be equivalent to nothingness. The conditions which allow the
emergence of myth are therefore the same as those of all thought, since thought itself cannot be other
than thought about an object, and since an object, however starklyand simply it is conceived, is an object
only in so far as it constitutes the subject as subject, and consciousness itself as the consciousness of a
relationship. [Levi-Strauss1990(1971 ):603-604]
And compare Thomas:
I insist that self-representation never takes place in isolation and that it is frequently oppositional or
reactive: the idea of a community cannot exist in the absence of some externality or difference, and
identities and traditions are often not simply different from but constituted in opposition to others.
11992a:21 31

Many of Thomas's writings show his agreement with the classic structural principle that
the self is constructed in a relation of opposition to the other. But when he chooses not to
link his original theoretical insights with the pendant ideas of the anthropological old-timers,
the effect could be an intellectual loss all the way around. There is, for example, a certain
parallel between the received notions of "equilibrium" in the older discussions of intercul-

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turalinversionsandthe apparentambiguitiesof the movementsforculturalautonomyamong
imperialism'serstwhilevictims. ForBateson,schismogenesiswas controlledby countervail-
ing processes, lest the relationshipbetween the interactingpartiesdisintegrate.Likewisefor
Levi-Strauss,the symmetrical oppositions of neighboringpeoples constituted a fragile
equilibrium,a balance of similarityand difference,proximityand distance, that amounted
to an "advancedlesson in politicalphilosophy"(1971:177).
The structuralanalogies in modernmovementsof culturalismappearin theirsynthesesof
conservatismand modernity.Of course the firstthingforthe indigenouspeople is to survive.
That is what the politics is decisively about. Yet the demands for autonomy almost never
envision a utopian returnto primordialdays and ancestralways. The traditionalculturehas
its superiorvalues, but refrigerators,outboardengines, and television are not among them.
The culturemovementwould encompassthese things,more precisely it would domesticate
them. Itsobjective is well describedas the indigenizationof modernity.Hence the synthesis
of the traditionaland the foreign or the seeming contradictionof returningto the past by
borrowingfrom the West-as championed often by the best native eleves of the colonial
system.Farfromincongruousor hypocritical,however,this "neotraditionalism," by attempt-
ingto createa complementarylocal space in a globalculturalorder,becomes structuraland
No doubt the earlier scholars of the dialectics of "acculturation"were too naive about
the global-imperialrelations of power. By modern lights they were also sufferingfrom
systemania. And, given the moral force of the current discourse on domination and
subjection, hegemony and resistance,the unearthingof such quaint archaeological relics
as "fragilestructuralequilibrium"and "structuralcomplementarity"must appear feckless
if not politicallyperverse.One can understandwhy a modern-criticalhistoriographyprefers
to invent its own traditions.This lapse of anthropologicalconnection and knowledge must
be what is meant by "poststructuralism."'
* * *

Consider,for instance,the famous Fijiancustomof kerekere.Thispracticeof reciprocally

solicitingthingsis on itsway to becominga modernanthropologicallegend. Thomascreates
a whole new history of kerekere by not finding the references to it in mercantile and
missionarydocuments of the earlier 19th century,while instead imaginingcertainethno-
graphicreflexesof colonial disciplinesand policies imposedat the turnof the 20th century.
He arguesthat kerekerewas objectifiedas "custom"only afterand mainly in oppositionto
Britishrule, which began in 1874, even though modernethnographershave been wont to
describeit as an enduringtradition,presumablyprecolonialin origin.Thusdoes historymake
dupes of anthropologistseven as it makes victimsof the indigenouspeople, or vice versa.
Thepeople perceivethemselvesin the mirrorthatcolonial society has held up to them, while
the ethnographeris content to reproducethis image in ignorance of its neotraditional
distortions(Thomas1992b:73). Or as Thomasputs it in anotherwork:
By making custom (or kastom) explicit, and through a society based on rules and reciprocity, islanders
seem to have become more traditional than they could ever have been before. Ironically, the models
which anthropology imagined for pristine societies have been approximated through acculturation.

And, if one may judge by the repetitionsof the argumentelsewhere, the moraldrawnfrom
Thomas's pseudohistory of kerekere is on its way to becoming a scholarly tradition:

Ironically, as Thomas (n.d.) has pointed out, anthropologists seeking to discern "authentic" cultural
traditions and to filter out exogenous elements are prone to attributeto the "ethnographic present" (their
own mythical construction) patterns of life derivative of, shaped by, or transformed radically in reaction
against colonial influence. IKeesing 1989:28-29; "Thomas (n.d.)" refers to a prepublication version of
Thomas 1992b]

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I have the honor to be singled out by Thomasas the only named defendantin the class
action againstethnographersof Fijifor misleadingrepresentationsof kerekere,presumably
because the journeymanmonographI produced about Moala Island"remainsone of the
mostdetailedethnographiesof neotraditionalFijiansociety"(1992b:65).2Not even Hocart's
published description of the "begging system" (that is, kerekere)in the Lau islands is
mentioned(1929:99-101). Butprobablyit would be a partyto the ethnographicdeception
of representingpracticessuch as kerekereas " 'customs'in the strongsense, withoutits being
recognizedthattheirexistenceas such derivesfromthe oppositionaldynamicsof the colonial
encounter"(Thomas1992b:65). Thereare, then, two interconnectedfaultsin the ethnogra-
phies of "Sahlinsand others"(Thomas1992a:222):they accord kerekerea salience that is
actually a function not of the Fijianculturalorder but of Britishcolonial rule; and they
understandthe significanceor value of kerekereby its relationshipsto otherFijianformsand
practices,itsrelationshipsinthis Fijianorder,thusignoringthatitssignificancewas externally
inducedby colonialism.
Thomas draws an analogy with the overvaluationof the contrastbetween "gifts"and
"commodities"in Gregory'sstudyof New Guineasocieties (1982), which likewise involves
a failureto noticethatthe propertiesof thegifteconomyaresimplyconceptualandideologicalinversions
of thecapitalisteconomy,ratherthanattributes derivedfromparticular
studiesof gifteconomiesthathave
not been caughtup in colonialentanglements.[Thomas1992b:661

Itmustfollowthat,to the extentit existed,kerekerehaddifferentattributesin precolonialtimes

thanitcame to have in the 20thcentury-and the failureto recognizethatfactwould be a third
faultof modernethnographies.Thomasis not specific aboutwhat the differencesconsist of,
probablybecause nothingpositivecan be inferredaboutthe precolonialforms,kerekereas a
custombeingabsentfromthe earlyhistoricalrecord,or "beforeaboutthe 1860s":
In characterizingFijiansociety as a kinshiporderexemplifiedby reciprocity,redistribution,
and such
practicesas kerekere,Sahlinsandothershaveoverlookedthefactthatthereis no evidenceof this"famous
custom"in 19th-centuryFijiansocietybeforeaboutthe 1860s. TheFijianscertainlyexchangedresources
and serviceswithone another.Unlike,the laterliterature,
however,theextensive,ethnographically rich
sourcesof the earlyperiodrarelymentionkerekere.... Kerekereonly became significantduringthe
investigationsintothe Fijiancustomaryorderthatwereconductedoverthe firstdecadesof colonialrule;
forexample,the commissionersinvestigatingthe decline of the nativepopulationchargedthemselves
with specifyingexactlywhat Fijiansociety consistedin, and they followedothersin emphasizingthe
"system"of chieflyrequisitions(lala)and kerekere.[Thomas1992a:222]
The combination of statements to the effect that there is no historical evidence of this
"famouscustom"before the 1860s and that kerekereis rarelymentioned for this period
indicates Thomas is not makingthe strongerclaim that there was no such thing before
colonial rule, only that kerekerewas not yet an objectifiedcustom. More precisely, it was
not singled out and named as a definite entity, nor was it held to be characteristically
Fijian-thus the particularsignificanceThomasaccordsthe 1896 reportof the government
commissionon depopulation,of which the colonial official-cum-ethnologistBasilThomson
was a coauthor, as markinga critical phase in the development of kerekere.3Until this
colonial censure, kerekerewould have been at best an unreflected activity. Here the
argumentturns on a broad and crucial distinction between unarticulatedpractices and
self-consciousobjectifications.Thereis a difference,writesThomas,"betweenpracticesor
ideas that are simply done or thought,that simply take place, and those that are set up as
definiteentitiesto be spokenof, reflectedupon, and manipulatedby people in the situation
underconsideration"(1992a:215; also 1992b:64). In the earlier article he arguedthat an
activitymustbe named in orderto be conceived as somethingmanipulable.Being named,
a given practice-a ceremony,forexample-can then be taken"asan entityseparablefrom
particularenactments"(1992b:64).Hence Thomasinitiallyused the term"substantivization"
ratherthan"objectification"-indeed,the nominalizationof a verbwould makepossiblejust

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this sort of reifiedabstractionfrom particularacts. Again,only if nominallyand notionally
recognizedcould a given practiceserve as an emblem, a markand metonymof the cultural
differencesof one groupfromothers (1992b:64). Fijianseven have a grammaticalformthat
lends itselfto thisfunction,the so-calledcausativeprefixvaka.Theycan thustalkof an object
or an activityas vakaviti(Fijianstyle; in the Fijianmanner).The close cognate of Samoan
fa'a and Tonganfaka, recorded(as vakaviti)in Fijianspeech at least since the 1830s, this
formatteststo an indigenousconcept of a distinctiveway of life or, as we say, "a culture."
Thomasnotes that Fijianshave long used vakavitiin referenceto differencesbetween their
own andTongantattooingand mattersof thatsort.Butthe "invisibility" of kerekerein a large
precolonial literature
justifiesthe claim that it was not a
yet recognized practice, let alone
dignifiedas an emblem of the Fijianway of life.
To summarizethis aspect of the argumentin Thomas'swords:
My point... is thatthe reification of kerekereas a "custom"and a possible reference point for such debate
[that is, over kerekere as an emblem of Fijian communalism] is something that occurred during the
colonial period; there is no evidence that kerekere existed in this sense during the earlier phases of Fijian
history. That is, kerekere apparently did not exist as a reified custom in indigenous Fijian society during
precolonial phases of its history. In the numerous accounts of Fijianculture, belief, behavior, and politics,
in general and particular,as these were observed before the formationof neotraditional Fijian culture in
the years of expanded settlement and extensive official codification of early colonial rule-that is, before
the 1 860s-there appear to be no references to kerekere as a recognized practice, as a custom....
The manuscripts and publications of [missionary] writers such as Williams ... and Lythare, moreover,
not the on ly sources; I have found no discussion of kerekere in the texts of naval visitors or beachcombers,
who were from very differentsocial backgrounds [here Thomas cites well-known publications of Wilkes,
Erskine,and Diapea].... Nor could it be suggested that these preanthropological writers were simply
unable to notice a custom when they saw one, as there is a great contrast between the invisibility of
kerekere and the extensive comments upon the rights of nephews (vasu), especially chiefly nephews, to
appropriate anything from within the maternal uncle's domain .... Given that one can hardly expect to
find positive evidence for the absence of a reification, the absence of reference to kerekere from extended
discussions of a variety of customary usages in a substantial literaturejustifies my claim that kerekere was
not talked about as a recognized practice in Fijian culture before the 1860s. [Thomas 1992b:66-68]

Thomas's positive story is that the recognition of kerekere was in the first place, and to
some extent, a product of the "communal system" foisted on Fiji by the first colonial
governor, Sir Arthur Gordon. Communalism included the corporate ownership of land by
mataqali, or clan units, an arrangement that from 1880 onward the government attempted
to discover in local society withoutmuch success, and after1913 decided simplyto impose.
However, if such communalism encouraged the give-and-take of kerekere, it was not, in
Thomas's view, the main historical reason for kerekere's objectification. The main reason
was the later colonial policy and sentiment that turned against the communal system and
saw in kerekere a barrier to Fijian commercial enterprise. "The meaning of kerekere as a
substantivized practice," Thomas observes, "derived largely from the fact that it was the target
of policies that sought to foster individualism and dismantle the communal social order"
(1992b:72). But now he is speaking of a time well beyond the 1860s and into the 20th
century, the great opening salvo of the attack on kerekere and related practices being the
aforementioned 1896 report on the decrease of the native population. There followed the
attempts to abolish kerekere through decrees of district and provincial councils and-through
agitation in the government-sponsored gazette Na Mata-the formation in 1905 of an
anti-kerekere league (which lasted a few years). Even as late as Hocart's time in Fiji
(1909-13), according to Thomas, the "recognition" of kerekere was only "inchoate and
partial" (1992a:223). So what Thomas is saying is that kerekere achieved a determinate
neotraditional form as an emblematic custom around the second decade of the 20th century.
If it was then described by ethnographers as a "way of life," this was

a neotraditionalexistence that was profoundlyaffected by the rigidifyingeffortsof a paternalistic

administration, and, more particularly,partly structured in opposition to the incursions of planters and a

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cash economy. The communal formswere recognized and magnified through contrast to what they were
not, to what occasionally threatened to encroach upon them. [Thomas 1992b:731
* * *

In actuality, kerekere was both objectified and recognized as a distinctively Fijian custom
well before the colonial period (let alone the early 1900s). As early as 1835, it appears in
the characteristic phrase kerekere vakaviti (kerekere in the Fijian manner). It is recorded in
the substantive or nominalized form in several dictionaries of the precolonial period, and
thus was a named practice. Moreover, kerekere is described in early historical texts in the
same terms as in recent ethnographic monographs: it has the same attributes-which could
not be expected if its value were determined by opposition to the colonial order rather than
by relationships in the Fijian order. To show these points, to determine what is at issue, I
need first to rehearse a lengthy (though still abridged) excerpt of the modern ethnographic
description of kerekere singled out by Thomas:
Kerekere is the prevailing form of economic transaction among kinsmen as individuals.... [I]tis a form
of reciprocity.... It is not restrictedto special occasions, but occurs daily and constantly. More goods
change hands through kerekere than through any other form of distribution, excepting familial pool-
ing ...
Kerekereis most emphatically not "begging," which is the usual translation of the term. "Begging"...
obscures the essential kinship ethic, the implied reciprocity....
The word kerekere has the generic meaning of a request. The transitive verb from which it is derived,
kerea, means "to request." In its generic meaning, the verb can be used in non-economic contexts ...
[and] thus a man may "request" (kerea) permission of his chief to leave his village for a trip. But in
economic contexts the general meaning of kerea is: to solicit a good, resource, or service, or the use of
a good or resource. Almost anything or any type of use-right can be solicited through kerekere.One may
ask for possession of food of any sort, mats, tapa cloth, canoes, whale's teeth, cotton cloth, tobacco,
money, pigs, chickens-in short, practically the entire inventory of material culture....
Kinship between donor and recipient is an indicative characteristic of kerekere .... [But] kinship can
always be widely extended through classificatory devices.... The avenues of kerekere [are]open to just
about anyone a person meets. The significance of kinship for kerekere is that kin ethics, the obligation to
give support, aid, and comfort, dominate the transaction....
A second, complementary characteristic is that the request should be engendered by a genuine need
(leqa). Moalans referdespicably to "greed"or "covetousness" as kocokoco, and to kerekerewithout need
is kocokoco, which is extremely reprehensible....
A request normally begins something like this: "A request here, my kinsman. Be of good heart: I am in
need." By the same token, the most legitimate reason for refusal-except lack of the thing desired-is that
in acquiescing the donor would place himself in need....
Requests for use may be distinguished from requests for possession .... If the employment of a
productive good or a resource yields direct returnto the solicitor, a small part of that should be given to
the donor when the item is returned....
The typical form of kerekere is not borrowing, however, but request for full possession. ... There is no
necessary understandingthat the person receiving goods will returntheir equivalent on his own initiative.
What is implied is that the recipient is ... made more accessible than otherwise to a future request by
the donor....
There may be a continuous series of one-way transactions from haves to have-nots. ...
Another form of kerekere is one in which the request is ... initiated by a presentation of something
valuable to the potential donor....
Traditionally,two goods have been used to initiatesuch "serious"kerekere:whale's teeth and kava....
Kerekere which involves an initial presentation is, however, vulnerable to influence by market
transactions. Such kerekere seemed to me to sometimes take on an ambiguous character.... [M]oney
itself may become the initialgift. Buyingand selling (volitaka)is not "custom of the land."On the contrary,
it remains bad form within the community, particularlyfor close relatives....
Another, very critical aspect of kerekere etiquette is the overtones of rank and prestige. To solicit an
object... is to admit weakness; by the same token, to honor a kerekere is to show "strength"(kaukauwa),
productive ability.... In entering a house to make a request a person typically remains near the door,
the position of least honor, while the owner of the house, the potential donor, sits rearcenter in the place
of greatest honor....
A fundamental implication of this status display is that a series of one-way transactions tends generally
to elevate the donor over the receiver.... At the level of the community, ... the amount of goods given
through kerekere generally increases in proportion to hereditary status.... [C]hiefs are expected to give
aid to those in need, and in doing so the superordinate chiefly social position is sustained. The familial
metaphor is sometimes used: the chief is "father"of his people, and he should care for them.... [The
chiefly requisiting of goods, /a, is differentfrom kerekere.]

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Properly, [chiefs] should not even use the term kerea;theirs is to command.... In fact, Naroi chiefs do
use kerea now, but not humbly....
People of high office are especially open to kerekere.... In any community there may well be people
who are not of official position dispensing goods freely through kerekere, creating loyalties thereby, and
attracting esteem. Here we confront the essence of that chronic status rivalrywhich is the outstanding
characteristic of Moalan political life. [Sahlins 1962:203-213; see also index entries for kerekere,
Are we to believe that Fijians went to all this trouble simply pour 6pater le bourgeois?That
all these modalities of kerekere, in common use even in remote villages and islands, were
elaborated in reaction to the colonial regime? If not, is it still possible that a practice so
manipulated in social life and for political purposes remained unremarked by those who
were doing it, not recognized "as an entity" until it was singled out by foreigners? In fact, the
substantive form of kerekere appears in dictionaries dating to the late 1830s.
Thomas (1992b:68) refers to the entry for kerekere in David Hazelwood's dictionary of
1850, but apparently he considers it without much significance for the claim that an
objectification of the practice had to await Britishrule. Thomas does not mention the similar
entries in other extant lexicons of about the same or earlier date. Evidently these all derive
from one or two sources, notably David Cargill's dictionary of c. 1839, but they were used
as working texts by missionaries posted to several areas. The Cargill entry is brief, but it shows
that kerekere had already begun its notorious English career as an act of "begging":4
Kerev. [intr.]to beg, implore
Kerekerev. [tr.]to beg, implore, n. a petition [Cargillet al. c. 1839]

From the same period is a notice of "CeryCery," glossed as "Beg," in the 1833-36 papers of
the ship Emerald; it is part of a word list compiled by the well-known beche-de-mer trader
J. H. Eagleston (cited in Geraghty 1978:67). The orthography and other evidence suggest that
Eagleston's notice was provided by his colleague Warren Osborn (see below). Another version
of the Cargill entry was published in the "Vitian Dictionary" of Horatio Hale, who was in Fiji
with the U.S. ExploringExpedition in 1840 (Hale 196811846]:396); and what may very well be
still another is in the manuscript dictionary and grammar in the hand of John Hunt, written in
1839 (Hunt 1839).5 By Hazelwood's time (1850), the relevant entry had become rather
complex, including not only the nominalized form for the request but another for the returnon
something requested for use (the latter also found in modern practice):
Kere-av. tr. to beg; ask for.
Kere, Kerekere,v. intr.of the above:
n. petition, request.
Kere vosa, to urge or incite a man to speak.
ai Kere, n. a thing given for the use of a thing
begged; the interest. [Hazelwood 1850:54]
The 1854 Fijian-Frenchmanuscript dictionary from the Catholic mission at Rewa-written by
Pere C. Mathieu or Pere P. Michel-evidently takes its kerekere entries from Hazelwood, albeit
"demander une chose" seems not so pejorative a gloss as "to beg" (MaristMission 1854).
I call attention to the substantivization in these early notices of kerekere, particularly the
noun for "request" produced by reduplication of the root. Preceded by the common article
(na/a), kerekere thus designates (pace Thomas) a kind or class of acts, which is also to say,
"an entity separable from particular enactments" (Thomas 1992b:64). Modified by adjec-
tives, the object of verbs, and so on, kerekere then becomes subject to judgments: in principle
it is manipulable in thought and deed. It was perfectly possible in precolonial times to say
"kerekere is bad" (e ca na kerekere), for example; or "kerekere is tabu" (sa tabu na kerekere).
And note that the latter phrase, when spoken in the performative mode, directly manipulates
the practice. One might also speak of kerekere as a specifically Fijian custom: kerekere
vakaviti (kerekere in the Fijian manner). This expression, kerekere vakaviti, appears in direct

Cery Cery fuckabede 855

historical citation as early as 1835, together with testimony of an interdiction in the manner
of Fijian tabus.
The evidence comes from the detailed journal of Joseph W. Osborn, commonly known as
"Warren," who was the clerk of the Emerald (out of Salem, Captain John H. Eagleston).
Osborn was in Fijifor the better part of 16 months in 1834-35. The Emeraldwas on a trading
voyage, collecting beche-de-mer and turtle shell, and Osborn was on shore a good deal of
the time, including a stay from May to August 1834 as Eagleston's agent in the political center
of Bau and its dominions. Osborn lived with and spent most of his time with ranking chiefs.
Except perhaps for the relationships of the small white settlement at Levuka, the contact
between foreigners and Fijians until the 1 860s passed mainly through chiefs; this was true
for missionaries as well as merchants and is generally reflected in extant accounts of Fijian
life. So early February 1835 found the Emerald at anchor off southeastern Viti Levu, in the
roadstead serving as access to the great Rewa kingdom, where the ship was frequently visited
by the Bau and Rewa "royal familys." These included the Rewa king, "Canyah" in Osborn's
spelling (Kania, holding the title Roko Tui Dreketi), and his wife "Wassawassah" (Qoli-
wasawasa, of Bau origin). Osborn uncharitably describes the Rewa ruler as "a big scoundrel,
theif [sic] & beggar"-the last, we shall see, an epithet often accorded to ranking chiefs in
early European documents. What "beggar" and "begging" mean in Fijian terms-namely,
kerekere in the Fijian manner (kerekere vakaviti)-immediately becomes clear in Osborn's
journal entry for January 31 to February 25, 1 835:
Canyah'smothersometimesattendsthemupontheirexpeditions[tothe Emerald]; she is an old vixen &
is the terrorof all the maidsof honour&otherswho surroundthe Queen. [W]hentheyvisitthe ship,they
generallycome in a largedoublecanoe so as to bringtheirwhole retinue.Theyhardlyevercome empty
handed,butin the end theirpresentcosts twice as muchas if we hadboughtit. Beggingis the besetting
sin of them all & both sexes do not scrupleto CeryCeryfuckabedeas they call it. This is the most
unpleasantpartof the business,for if you refusethemtoo oftenyou get the reputationof being stingy,
Boorunu[?]Boorongastheycall it,whichepithettheywillkeepyou inconstantremembrance of. [Osborn
1833-36:337-338, some punctuationadded]6

"Cery Cery fuckabede" is Osborn's immortal transcription of kerekere vakaviti-which

demonstrates that Fijians objectified the practice, perceived it as a custom, and claimed it
as their own months before the first missionaries came, decades before Fiji became a colony,
and almost a century before a colonial campaign of censure is supposed to have made them
self-conscious of it. Of course 1835 was not before centuries of intercourse between Fijians
and the peoples and customs of Tonga, Uvea, Rotuma, and other Pacific islands. For
historiographic reasons, note again the equation between "begging" and kerekere in Os-
born's text, as it will persistently recur in European annals, including ethnographic accounts,
for over a century (cf. Thompson 1940:207). "Something may be learnt respecting a people
from their language," wrote the missionary Joseph Waterhouse, so unself-reflexively: "They
must ever have been liberal. Words for give and gifts there are; but none for lend. And so
exists the verb to beg, but not to borrow" (1866:346). And not only do English semantics thus
map onto Fijian, but we shall see that when English speakers describe Fijian "begging," it
has the characteristics of kerekere as we know it-as in borrowing and the so-called interest
thereon (i kerel).
For his part, Osborn had already had his fill of "begging" at Bau Island in the beginning
of his stay, at least until a chief put something like a tabu on soliciting from him. "Went to
all the chiefs' houses," his journal notes for May 5, 1834, "the women almost begged my
flesh off" (1833-36:299). Five days later, "[t]he girls at the King's house [where Osborn was
staying], now they have found out I have got something do not cease begging me"
(1833-36:299). Relief seemed to come when he moved into the house of "Saratahnoah,"
probably Seru i Tanoa, a manslayer title; he was apparently chief of the Vusaradave people,
famous warriors of Bau. "Iexpect to have some piece here," wrote Osborn in his inimitable

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orthographicstyle, "asthe chief dose not allow begging & sarra-sarra-ing
I open my trunk"(1833-36:300 [May29 to June 1, 18341). Here is strongevidence that
Fijianscould manipulatekerekere,not merelydo it. Still, the interdictionnotwithstanding,
just a few days laterOsbornwas again subjectto beggarsroyal:
I went to see the old king [Tuiveikoso]; he and all his troop commenced begging directly. He should be
called a Kingof Beggars for about all hands here practice it, principally for Red Paint & Tobacco of which
all hands are immoderately fond. 11833-36:302 (June 12, 1834)]

Osborn'sfriendandprotector,Serui Tanoa,hadgreaterinterests:on a triphe madewithOsborn

he "begged"a largedoublecanoe fromthe people of BatikiIslandand a smallercanoe at Koro
(Osborn1833-36:304-305 [June20-25, 1834; June26, 1834]).
The Methodist missionaries of the 1830s and 1840s were no less subject to Fijian
"begging,"especially fromtheirchiefly friends.Indeed,while visitinga village on Taveuni
Island, John Hunt-who soon gained a reputationas the most generous of the English
clergymen-entered intoa customaryformof mutual"begging"with a local chief:"Thechief
wished me to forma friendshipwith him afterthe Fejeefashionwhich I did, that is mutually
to engage to beg little things of each other and to be kind to each other so far as may be
convenient"(Hunt1839-47: February5, 1842). Hunt, it seems, was alone amongthe early
missionariesin being at all sensible to the moraland performativeaspects of kerekereas a
way the Fijianssoughtto encompass the foreignersin sociable humanrelationships.
A few years earlier, writingfrom Rewa, Hunt had given a more detailed descriptionof
Fijian"begging"proceduresin a letterto the GeneralSecretariesof the Wesleyan mission.
In such distinctivemattersas possessive pronounusage, this descriptionwould still hold a
centuryand more later:
They [the chiefs] are very curious thieves and beggars;they tell the common people to bring their property
to them, and the rich that they intend to take it from them. Sometimes when the common people come
to beg, they will say, "they are come to beg their (that is, the speaker's] article." A person this morning
came for a slate, and he said he was come to beg his slate. I told him I did not possess his slate, but that
if he was come to beg one of mine, I would give him one. He took the hint and then begged English
fashion. When you are begging for Feejee, if you suppose yourself the representativeof Feejee, it would
be well perhaps to beg as a Feejeean wou d, which wou d be afterthis wise: "Iam come to beg my money,
that is that which I need and you possess." For a Feejee man thinks he has a right to what he needs of
your property;and hence when the chiefs come to beg they often say, if you have two, it will be good to
give me one, if only one, it is difficult. [Methodist Missionary Society 1839-57: Hunt to General
Secretaries, June 29, 1839]

Comparethe latterpartof thisstatement,abouttheappropriateness of askingforsurplusproperty

butthe improprietyof takingthe only one of somethingin a potentialdonor'spossession,with
the followingethnographicnotice fromthe 1950s:
There is a proprietarydifference between a man's first knife, the one he uses, and the second, third and
fourth, if he has them. Because he can only use one knife, any others that he may have become liable to
request for possession by others both inside and beyond his family. These requests cannot easily be
denied, given the extant social relations, whereas a refusal to give an only knife is perfectly legitimate on
the grounds that the "owner"would otherwise have nothing for himself. [Sahlins 1962:1 37; this discussion
assumes that the transactions referredto would be kerekere.]

Hunt's missionary colleague R. B. Lyth-who, Thomas says, does not mention kerekere in
his extensive writings-gives us some additionalunderstandingof why high-rankingchiefs
were so importuningof their Europeanvisitors.It is because the chiefs had to give things
freelyto theirown people, as has been reportedin connection with the modernpracticeof
kerekere.Lyththus speaks of the considerablebegging of Tuikilakila(Tui'ila'ila),son of the
paramountof the Cakaudrovekingdomand himselfthe second, or active, ruler:"Hischief
object in begging is to give away to some one or other of his people or visitors.All Fijian
transactionsaredone by interchangeof presents,and by givingfreelya chief keeps in favour

Cery Cery fuckabede 857

with his people" (Lyth1835-54: to his mother, May 1, 1844).7 Or consider this entry in Lyth's
daybook, outlining a day in the life of a missionary at Viwa, near Bau:
Komainaua[a high-ranking Bauanof the TuiKabamataqali]afterpartaking a good dinnerwantsa knife,
box, spades,anything.... Koroithokonauto afterthe samewantsa knife.... Gavidi[chiefof the Lasakau
fishersof Bau],I hada letterto writeforhimin the morning,wantsa pairof pincers.... RatuMeliwants
a whalestooth .... RatuIlaija[Varani,a highchiefof Viwa]wantsto borrowthe canoe. [Lyth1849-50:
September13, 18491
Western missionaries and merchants presented themselves to the chiefs and would-be
chiefs as means of their own generosity, a source of status all the more necessary and strategic
insofar as the disposition of European goods was fast becoming a condition of Fijian noblesse.
Coupled with the moral assimilation of the foreigner created by participation in kerekere,
this demand on ranking chiefs helps account for their own importunate "begging." "The
chiefs seem to think we are sitting in their land merely to supply their covetous desires," the
missionary Thomas Jaggarconfides in his diary (Jaggar 1837-43: August 22, 1839). He goes
on to tell how the Rewa paramount, Kania, had asked for many goods and had accused the
missionaries themselves of asking for things but not giving any, from which the chief had
concluded they had "no love for him." An analogous notice of Gavidi, head of the
fisher-warriors of Bau (Lasakau), indeed suggests that the strategic dunning of foreigners
increased with rank. Or so supposed Mary Wallis, wife of an American beche-de-mer trader,
because Gavidi's "begging" intensified after he had been favored by the Bau war-king with
the betrothal of the latter's daughter:
Navindicameto visit.He wishedto beg five axesof Mr.W[allis],whichbeingrefused,he departedvery
muchdispleased.Sincethischiefhasbeen betrothedto thedaughterof theking,he appearsto be looking
up, and begs in a wholesalemanner.IWallis1851:210]
The list of great chiefs characterized as "great beggars" in the early European chronicles
reads like the Fijian Social Register. The rulers of the leading kingdoms, Bau, Rewa, and
Cakaudrove, have already been mentioned. Not to forget their royal wives, such as Qereitoga
of Bau, of whom the American trader Eagleston wrote, "she is a great beggar but any little
present satisfies her for the visit" (Eagleston 1831-36:380-381). Or the wife of Tuikilakila,
whose honor her husband defended by threatening to kill the missionaries Hunt and Lythfor
"expostulating with the Queen about her extravagant begging" (Hunt 1839-47: December
16, 1839). Likewise cast in this mendicant light by Western journalists are Ritova, a ruling
chief of Macuata (Wallis 1851:143, 148, 393), and the major herald of Lau,Tui Tubou, whom
Lythdescribed as "a most original character: a consummate liar, hypocritical, vain, covetous,
insinuating, an endless beggar" (n.d.:27).
Not that the chiefs found the missionaries an easy mark. On the contrary, they were often
left complaining how "difficult"the foreigners were. Even if they did get what they asked for,
they often had to endure a righteous sermon on their mendacity. A Rewa royal, Ratu
Qaraniqio, objected to Jaggar that "when he begged of us we did not give him what we
wanted without talking a great deal about it, & that he hated, etc" (Jaggar1837-43: October
14, 1839). "'This is a land of chiefs,'" Tuikilakila replied to the missionaries when they
disapproved of his constant begging, " '& it is our custom to give & not to sell. Give us your
riches, & we will freely give you food'" (Lyth 1835-42: December 30, 1839). Another
characteristic incident related by Lyth concerns a Bau chief who, while on a visit to the
Cakaudrove capital Somosomo, entered into an argument with the missionary over the lotu,
"Christianity."When Lyth protested that he and his colleagues had come to Fiji out of love
for the people and a desire to save their souls, the Bauan disputed the moral proposition,
precisely in exchange terms:
"youcome here&you will only buyand sell, and we hatebuying.Whenwe askyou fora thingyou say
no. If a Feejeean said no, we shd kill him, don't you know that. We [Bauans] are a land of Chiefs. We

858 american ethnologist

have plentyof riches.When we come to Somosomowe haveplentyof pigs and [thesame] in Lakemba
and in everykoro[town].We havethemwithoutbuying,we hatebuyingand we hatethe lotu.We will
. . . He concludedby begginga knifeforone of his friends,which
neverlotu [convertto Christianity]."
aftersucha conversationIthoughtitbestto refuse,whichIdidas respectfully
as Icould. [Lythn.d.:74-76]
An interesting case of moral schismogenesis broke out between the early missionaries and
the Fijians over the proprieties of exchange. Each party perceived and disapproved of the
other's habitual economic behavior from the perspective of their own. Fijians contrasted
their customary generosity-and it was definitely customary, as Tuikilakila said-with the
self-regarding buying and selling of the white men, even as the latter were virtuously
comparing the honest repayment of value with Fijian "begging." But for good reason, I am
not suggesting we push back the institutionalization of kerekere another 60 or 100 years,
seeing it now as a reaction to the missionaries and beche-de-mer traders, or even earlier to
the European sandalwood traders who worked over western Vanua Levu for about ten years
at the beginning of the 19th century. One good reason is the disproportion between the
external trade and its supposed internal cultural effects. Again, are we to believe that this
pervasive and systematic mode of exchange, so well integrated into Fijian social structure
and politics, developed out of pique over the people's occasional commercial dealings with
a handful of white men? Another good reason to suppose otherwise is that if this is all it takes,
then the Samoans, Tongans, Hawaiians, New Caledonians, New Guineans, indeed virtually
all Pacific islanders should have the specific equivalent of kerekere, as a named, self-con-
scious, emblematic, and protean custom, because they have all had the same kind of
experience with European commercial ethics. But this has not happened. On the other hand,
one can reasonably conclude that so far as the historical evidence runs, it was Fijians' own
ease of exchange, their already customary kerekere, that led them to construct the Europeans
as difficult, rather than the selfishness of Europeans that caused Fijians to construct them-
selves as generous-by fabricating a custom of kerekere.
The contrasts in economic behavior also had a reflex within the missionary camp. The
willingness of some of "the brethren" to acquiesce in Fijian "begging," notably John Hunt,
brought the remonstrances of others, notably James Calvert. Calvert has a long passage about
this issue in Fiji and the Fijians, in the course of which he argues that some of his colleagues
have been too liberal in trying to conciliate the chiefs by making presents (Williams and
Calvert 1859:11, 430-432). He contends (speciously) that this behavior lowers the mission-
aries' prestige, as unrequited giving is for Fijians "an acknowledgment of inferiority and
subjection." So Hunt's "kind heart" in this respect-"he was renowned among the natives
for his liberality"-has led him into difficulty. Calvert reports that Cakobau, the famous Bau
war-king, once said of Hunt: "He is ready to give when he can ill spare the article we beg.
He is a kind man. But the missionary at Lakeba gives you a preachment and lecture when
you beg of him!" Calvert proudly cites this reproach on himself: he was the missionary at
Lakeba. Moreover, he was now coming to the Bau circuit with the intention of "abolishing
the system of promiscuous giving." He proceeds to relate "the first step" he took "towards
the reformation," which was precisely to lecture Cakobau on how the latter would be happy
when he took the religion Calvert offered and would be cured when he took Calvert's
medicines. Calvert added, "when I send [to England] for goods, I have to pay for them, and
you must pay for whatever I obtain for you." With his usual address, Cakobau replied that
he was glad to know the right plan. Calvert was satisfied to have made his point, but it seems
he was not so sanguine about the effect, because the practice of "persistent begging" went
quite beyond the chiefs:

A decisiveand importantstep was thustaken,which madeiteasierto resistthe persistentbeggingof the

smallerpeople.Yet,in manycases, itwas stillhardto refuse;forthe nativesweresuchaccomplishedand
judiciousbeggars,neveraskingbutwhen they saw a good opportunity.Nevertheless,thoughit was still
necessaryto make occasional presents,the more reservedplan was found to answer;for the people

Cery Cery fuckabede 859

learnedto valuewhattheyworkedfor,andgainedself-respectin beingridof a systemwhichpauperized
them. [WilliamsandCalvert1859:11:432]
Before going into the colonial history of kerekere-and the notorious idea that it was a
main cause of Fijian poverty-it will be useful to review Thomas's thesis in light of the earlier
documents, with a view toward how it might be reconsidered. One problem clearly is
Thomas's broadly indeterminate notion of "objectification." Alternatively called "substan-
tivization" or "reification," the notion covers a wide range of reflections on the practice of
kerekere, from its recognition "as an entity" to its metonymic use in epitomizing Fijianculture
or the Fijian people. Various degrees and forms of "objectification" are thus conflated, many
of which Fijians already knew without needing their colonial masters to teach them.
Accepting the general distinction between unreflected practice and objectification, one
could further distinguish the following several forms of the latter-arranged as a logical
hierarchy from the general category to the most specialized instance:

1. Objectification. The recognition and articulation of kerekere as an entity and by name,

independent of particularenactments in practice. This is an indigenous philosophical realism,
present in precolonial times.
1.1. Codification. The recognition and articulation of kerekere as a standard custom. This
logically presupposes its conception as an entity. It also presumes the existence of some
custom group. Present in the precolonial period.
1.1.1. Reification (or ethnification). The recognition and articulation of kerekere as a
distinctively Fijian custom. This supposes a people who habitually practice kerekere in
contrast to those who do not. Italso supposes a way of life or culture of Fijiansthat is different
from the cultures of others. Present in precolonial times. Epitomization (or essentialization). The recognition and articulation of kerekere as
a moral sign (good or bad) of the Fijianpeople and culture. By its own properties, kerekere
is a metonym of the totality. This entai s some kind of invidious contrast to other peoples and
cultures, epitomized by their own, morally contrasting customs. This is kerekere not simply
as distinctively Fijian but as what makes Fijiansdistinctive: Fijianas kerekere. The essential-
izing of kerekere was already under way in the precolonial period and reached a political
climax in the 20th century.

Obviously, finer analytic distinctions could be made; yet as it stands the typology can
provide a fair description of the status of kerekere before the establishment of the colony
(1874) and can even afford some suggestions about its later history. As indicated, kerekere
was at least reified in the precolonial period as contrastively Fijian-"Cery Cery fucka-
bede"-which also means that it was already recognized as an entity and as a habitual
practice. It likewise becomes clear that, in speaking of objectification, Thomas is singling
out the particular subspecies thereof which is epitomizing or essentializing, and he is reading
its development as the historical origin of objectification in every shape and form. Having
presumed that the essentializing move was historically decisive, Thomas by this argument
made it seem that objectification in all its modalities followed in consequence. And note that
whatever problems this thesis may encounter in the historical record, it is perfectly logical
insofar as essentialism is a specialized form of objectification and necessarily entails the
characteristics of the general class. But then something more is put at stake by Thomas's
thesis than whether or not kerekere can be attested as old Fijian custom. Also at stake is how
one explicates the colonial process of epitomization, and how the Fijian role in it is
Collapsing objectification into epitomization, Thomas makes Fijian consciousness of
kerekere a reflex of British determinations. He says this clearly enough and in the form of

860 american ethnologist

the methodological principle that certain customs, of which kerekere is one, are better
understoodin lightof theirexternaldeterminationsthanas positionalvalues in an indigenous
culturalscheme. The colonial system is, then, the raison d'etre of kerekereas we know
it-indeed it would be otherwisedifficultto know it at all, as Thomas'sresearchseems to
demonstrate.The empiricalgroundof kerekereis providedby the Britishcolonial order, in
the sense that kerekere'scultural form, its essential attributes,and its salient values are
derived therefrom,if only by negation and inversion.These matterswould appear in a
differentlight,however,if kerekereprovedto have been a recognizedentity,self-consciously
Fijian,beforethe advent of the colonial power.
Thehistoricalnarrativeof kerekerewould then be differentintwo importantways (at least).
First,Fijianswould have to be grantedan autonomousand positive role in theirself-repre-
sentation as a people who customarilypractice kerekere. In the event, the process of
essentializingkerekerewas reciprocal,involvingFijiansas much as Europeansand entailing
a complementarynegative assessmenton the Fijians'partof the foreigners'own exchange
habits.We have alreadyseen this schismogenesisunfoldingin the documentsof the 1830s
and 1840s: kerekere versus buying and selling. The Europeanswere not playing with
amateursin the game of "constructingthe other."Accordingly,the mutualepitomizing of
Fijiansand Europeansin economic termsbegan well before BasilThomson'sreporton the
decrease of the native population.And second, the Fijians'self-characterizationin termsof
kerekere had cultural grounds in their own conceptions, given that they already knew
kerekereas a distinctivelyindigenouscustom.Theessentializationof kerekerewas well and
trulymotivated(inthe sense of being logicallyauthorized)inthe Fijianculturalscheme, even
if Fijianswere not solely responsiblefor it, because it developed by invidiouscontrastto the
practicesof others.On the other hand, it is clear that Britishcolonial pressurewas by itself
insufficienttomakean element of Fijianculturethe emblemof indigenousidentity,forother
customssingled out by governmentpolicy and reproachdid not achieve such significance.
The customs of chiefly requisitioncalled IaIawere subject to official opprobriumand
legislation, along with and in equal measure to kerekere.But Fijiansdid not represent
themselves in termsof Ilal-despite the fact that, as Thomasobserves, the "neotraditional"
culture had a chiefly bias. Nor did the mataqali, or clan, ever become emblematic,
notwithstandingthat its universalityand proprietarysignificancewere enduringchimerasof
the Britishadministration(as we shall see). Forall its power, the colonial statedid not have
the hegemonicculturaleffectsthatsome anthropologistsand historianshave been too quick
to accord it (cf. Guha 1989). And as for kerekereand its laterhistory,there is strongreason
to believe that its salience had good empirical-meaningfulgroundin the way Fijiansrelied
upon it in the colonial situation.Itdid come to have a singularfunctionalconnection with
* * *

We are now in the colonial period. The line taken earlierby Calvert,that kerekerewas
the economic ruinof Fijians,preventingthe accumulationof wealth by distributingit from
the haves to the have-nots,had a brilliantcareer in colonial ideology. It played notably as
the theme of an intense anti-kerekerecampaignthat began about 1897 and lasted another
10 to 15 years.The campaignwas encouragedby two governors,Sir GeorgeT. M. O'Brien
and Sir Everardim Thurn, who were bent on reversingthe Fijian "communalsystem"
invented by Sir ArthurGordon. Convinced that the Fijianswere dying out, im Thurnhad
even biggerplansthan the developmentof Fijian"individualism": namely,the alienationof
Fijianlands(France1969; Macnaught1982). Hence at the turnof the century,the agitation
againstpracticessuch as kerekerebecame feverish,includingmoves to legally abolish the
practice.CertainFijiansnow formedan anti-kerekereleague, publishingtheirnames in the

Cery Cery fuckabede 861

government-sponsored monthly Na Mata as declared "Haters of Kerekere" (Cata Na
Kerekere). Indeed, for about a decade from 1898, Na Mata carried an interesting debate
among its readers on the subject, though most of those who reached print were kerekere-
haters. The debate is relevant to Thomas's contention that kerekere was just at this time-and
by negation of the colonial attitude-being formulated as a distinctive Fijian "custom."
Not even the opponents of kerekere, however, spoke of it as anything but ancient custom,
perhaps practiced in recent years more than ever but coming from "the old times" (na gauna
makawa). Or as one critic put it, kerekere was a "custom of the time of darkness" (tovo ni
gauna butobuto) (Guta Na Vinaka 1898:151 ).8 Nor was there any uncertainty among the
correspondents about the nature of the custom. Their understandings of kerekere were
determinate and the same in kind as are documented for many decades before and after. The
arguments turned rather on what exactly was being banned by the Fijian administration,
especially after a brilliant defense of kerekere by one Vakatudaliga, "All Ears" (1905a,
1905b).9 Denying the contention that kerekere was an unregulated practice subject to abuse
by the covetous, Vakatudaliga described it in classic terms as a practice based on need (leqa),
which moreover inhibited those who were tempted to solicit things, inasmuch as they then
would be vulnerable to a reciprocal request on the part of the donor. The same logic of pitie
motivated Vakatudaliga's refutation of the colonialist cliche that kerekere was a main cause
of Fijianeconomic disabilities. "Kerekere,"he wrote, "is not the cause of poverty, but poverty
is the cause of kerekere; if poverty increases in Fiji, so will kerekere" (1905b: 155). And why
should kerekere be abolished when the chiefly rights to levy things (lala), "the chiefs'
kerekere," continued to be dumped on the people? Perhaps most telling was Vakatudaliga's
retort to certain kerekere-haters who had argued against him: "if you refuse my kerekere,"
he wrote, "if you demand payment, you are truly an Indian person [kai Idia]" (1905b:155).
This blast produced the attempt on the part of one of Vakatudaliga's critics to distinguish
kerekere from legitimate "mutual aid" (veivuke), restricting the last to helping the poor,
people with many dependents and true kinsmen (Kaisi Saka-ri ka Ligaliga Matua 1905a). A
second critic lamely differentiated the frivolous kerekere (kerekere wale) of the lazy and
greedy from the kerekere of true relatives, claiming that only the former had been tabued by
the councils: "as for our true kinsmen, our custom with them stands" (Vulagi Tauloto
The exchange in Na Mata also reflected the strong sense of many of the participants that
kerekere was now more widely and loosely practiced than in the "old times." That clearly
was the ground of many of the complaints. More foreign goods were now available, and
people of different places or "lands" (vanua) were mixing together, particularly in urban
areas. Hence, people with no traditional relationships or obligations to each other were
entering into kerekere-that is, on the condition that they were Fijians together-whereas of
old, kerekere had been the custom of "true kinsmen" (veiwekani dina) only or those who
were "really and truly one people" (kai vata dina sara) (Kaisi Saka-ri ka Ligaliga Matua
1905b:11 9; Via Veivuke 1898). It does seem reasonable to conclude that the incidence and
social scale of kerekere were increasing, given the developing communication among
Fijians, the increasing amount and variety of foreign goods, and the persisting differences in
access to them-in brief given the general increase of need and desire. But then, what was
happening can be described as the assimilation of colonial commercial effects into and as
traditional customary forms.10Market forces were being realized in intensified kerekere. And
if kerekere was now practiced more (and more widely) than ever, it was through extensions
of kinship beyond the usual range and a corresponding generalization of the ethos of mutual
aid. Indeed it has been ethnographically reported that a Fijian can conceive the act of
kerekere as a performative demonstration of the bond of kinship: not merely do people who
are kinsmen kerekere, but people who kerekere are kinsmen. 1 What all this suggests is that

862 american ethnologist

the essentializationof kerekereas a moralsign of Fijianidentitydrew upon a sociological
and historicalreality.Kerekerewas preciselywhat unitedFijiansof different"lands"in a way
that was distinctfrom,and antitheticalto, marketrelationships.
Yet nothing in the Na Mata debate suggests that kerekerewas in the process of being
created as a customaryentity in the early 20th century. Ifanything,it was the beginningof
the end, as the whole campaignagainstthe practiceat the turnof the centurywas justwhat
it purportedto be: an attackon received custom. All the same, even supportersof the ban
on kerekereadmittedthe practicewas stillgoing on (CataNa Kerekere1905; Vatuni Tatabe
ni Turaga1899). And soon enough, accordingto Hocart,the hatersof kerekerewere again
practicing it themselves (n.d.:129).12Curiously, Thomas cites Hocart's ridicule of the
governmentattemptto abolish kerekereas a good summaryof his own argument.Indeed
the same citation,froma letterto W. H. R. Rivers,seems to be the basisof Thomas'sassertion
thateven as lateas Hocart'stime (1909-13), "therecognition[of kerekere]was inchoateand
partial"(1992a:223).This is the passage in question:
Ithinkthegovernmentis mador moreignorantthanit imagines.Thereis a new lawforbidding"begging;"
I supposethe lastgovernorwas told that it killedinitiative,and he imaginedthat it was a well defined
custom liketauvu,circumcision,etc. & the resultis accordingto the law a Fijianwho begs yamsof his
neighbour,to plant,or sendsfora fowl to feed his guest,or bringsa whalestoothand matsand asksfor
taro in exchange,is liableto the same penaltyas a thief.The best partof the law is that it cannot be
enforced.[A.M. Hocart,cited in Thomas1992b:72,emphasisaddedby Thomas]
I say it is curious Thomas thinks this text confirms his own thesis because it could only do
so on a very suspect reading-indicated by the italics he adds-one that is not at all supported
by Hocart's ethnographic descriptions of kerekere. Hocart is obviously saying that kerekere
is so ubiquitous, multiform, and commonly practiced that to attempt to legally interdict it is
absurd. When he writes that it is not a "well defined custom like tauvu, circumcision, etc.,"
he means it is not just a one-shot affair, a temporally and spatially delimited practice such
as circumcision or the collective plunder of a group having the same god as one's own
(tauvu). But that Hocart considered kerekere a determinate practice, indeed a "system," is
evident from his published and unpublished descriptions of it (which Thomas does not
mention). The published version is found in his Lau Islands, Fiji under the heading "Begging
System" (1929:97-101). A longer version, including passages editorially deleted from the
Lau monograph, appears in the original manuscript, The Windward Islands of Fiji (n.d.:1 23-
129). Both begin in the same way:
The loosenessfoundin the transferenceof land [meaningthe ease of landtransfer,in which "thereis
muchbeggingandconceding"(1929:96)]applieseven moreso to chattelsowingto thecustomof begging
fromone another(kerekere). The Fijianpracticeof kerekereis one of the cornerstonesof Fijianlife, so
much so thatto translatethe termas beggingis erroneous,forthereis no stigmaattachedto kerekere;it
is a normalpractice,perhapsbettertranslatedwith Dr.B. Malinowski,soliciting.[1929:99]

The manuscript version ends with a brief paragraph omitted from the printed monograph:
In a society which is not only ignorantof all trade,but positivelydislikesit, beggingand ceremonial
exchanges,bothdiscountenancedby thegovernment,aretheonly meansbywhichpropertycan change
In between, both versions include a long citation of the defense of kerekere in Na Mata by
Vakatudaliga, who had no uncertainty about the nature of the custom. Neither had Hocart.
* * *

Again, it would be unfortunateif this critique of Thomas'snarrativeof kerekereshould

obscure the interest of the positive (even structuralist)dialectics of history that he advances.
Thomas has already offered anthropologists of Oceanic societies much guidance on what
historyconsists of and how it should be done. Perhapssomethingof the same can come out
of the arguments about Fijian kerekere.

Cery Cery fuckabede 863

The kerekereissue findsanalogies in the colonial impositionof a segmentarystructureof
(supposedly) agnatic descent groups-vavusa, mataqali, i tokatoka-on local Fijian society
after 1913. This official creation of Fijiansocial structurefinally opened the way for the
institutionalizationof collective ownership by the major,mataqalisegments, a significant
part of the "communalsystem" promoted by Sir ArthurGordon that a series of Lands
Commissionsbeginningin 1880 had failedto implement.After1913, however,the colonial
tenuresystembecame a workingmisunderstanding, even a Fijianrealityto the extent that it
constitutedthe structuralmediationbetween governmentand local society. As such it was
known and practiced by Fijianswith interestsin this mediation. Still, ethnographerafter
geographerwould testifythat the official Fijiansystem was not the way it worked in the
villages. Landholdingand landuse were subjectto othergroupsand relationshipsthanwere
envisioned inthe "clans,"or mataqalisegments.Nordid the governmenthierarchyof lineage
groupsdescribe local social orders,let alone accommodatethe changes in village structures
since the time the systemhad been inscribedin official documents.In the event, as many
researchersand even census-takersdiscovered,people often could not articulatethe system
of groupsby which they were supposedlyorganized,much less say with certaintyto which
groups they personallybelonged (see, for example, Clammer1973; France 1969; Naya-
cakalou 1975, 1978; Sahlins1962; Toren 1990; Ward1965; Watters1969).
It is fashionablethese days to talk about the disciplines laid on by colonial regimes, the
policies of taxation,classification,enumeration,education,sanitation,and their like. Unfor-
tunately,it also seems fashionableto readdirectlyfromthe colonial impositionsto the social
existence of the colonized people-or even to their "subjectivity." Too often this turnsout
to be an overestimateof colonial power and an underestimateof the people's historical
agency and culturalintegrity.Inspiredby the Fijianexamples, as also by RanajitGuha's
discussion of colonial "dominancewithouthegemony"(1989), one mightinsteadhazarda
subalternprincipleof historiography, to the effectthatno assertionof an imperialistdiscipline
can be received as an event of colonial history without a properethnographyof that
discipline's local practice.We cannot equate colonial historysimplywith the historyof the
colonizers. It remainsto be known how the impositionsof the colonial state are culturally
mediatedby the indigenouspeople, or indeed how they are culturallysabotaged.


Acknowledgments. IamgratefuIto theanonymousreviewersof the firstversionof thiscommentary.They

caused me to thinkharderand,I hope, betteron the issues.
1. I have takenthe assertionsand much of the wordingof this and the precedingparagraphfroman
articlein press,"Goodbyeto TristesTropes"(Sahlins1993).
2. Quitea way furtheron in his earlierarticle,Thomasdoes mentionanotherethnologistand a colonial
inthecontextof thesomewhatcuriousstatementthat"[klerekere
administrator-ethnologist hasinfactalways
been alludedto, or moreextensivelydiscussed,specificallyin relationto the questionof the inhibitionof
enterpriseand development(e.g., Brewster... Roth... Belshaw... Sahlins1970(1960], 84)"(Thomas
3. Basil Thomson has a substantialdiscussion of kerekere in his own name in The Fijians:A Study of the
Decayof Custom,whichturnsintoa diatribeagainstthe practiceas an impedimentto mercantileprogress
(1908:79-84).Thomson'stextconveysno senseof kerekereas a newlymintedcustombroughtintobeing
in reactionto commerceor governmentpolicy, as a mode of Fijianself-fashioning.On the contrary,
Thomsonspeaksof kerekereas a "system"that "was formerlythe pivot of nativesociety"and of great
unitwas the tribe,or more
Itmay be the firststage in evolutionfromthe statein which the proprietary
probablyit is the mostancientof all lawsof property,anddatesfromthe daywhen Palaeolithicmanfirst
founda bludgeonthatbalancedto his liking[andhadit "begged"of him?].Indeed,itisdifficultto imagine
how primitivesocietycould exist withoutsome such customas communallala [collectivelabor]and
kerekerewithinthe limitsof the tribe.[1908:80]
4. I have not seen the Cargillwork in the original,only a photocopyof the relevantsection in the
possessionof PaulGeraghty,to whom I am gratefulforcallingitto my attention.

864 american ethnologist

5. Because the form of the Cargilloriginal is unknown to me, I cannot say definitively that the John Hunt
manuscript grammar and dictionary (a microfilm of which I have seen) is a copy, but this seems likely as
Hunt had barely arrived in Fijiwhen he wrote it (1839).
6. "Boorunu [?] Boorong" would be Osborn's transcription of buroburogo, "refusing to give things"
(Capell 1973:20).
7. Lythgoes on to mention that whale's teeth are "thegreat article"and in continual circulation. He notes
that besides knives, axes, and calico, Tuikilakilaoften "begs" the missionaries for food-that is, pork, fowl,
or tea. "Indeed the Mission House is a general store for all his wants" (Lyth1835-54: to his mother, May 1,
8. The Na Mata letters were signed with pseudonyms. One of the critics, Vulagi Tauloto, thus puts the
case for abolishing kerekere:
It is our strictduty to gather all the old customs of our land together and pile them up, firstdeciding on a
division of them into two groups: those that are useless and bad, not appropriate to this time, which we
will throw aside directly; while those that are good and useful will be preserved, to add to the good things
the government gives us so we can make use of them. [1905:1 72-1 73]
9. Curiously, Thomas likewise cites Fijian uncertainty about what the colonial administrationmeant to
prohibit by banning kerekere as evidence of the practice's indeterminate nature and thus of a need to find
out from government what kerekere was (1992b:78).
10. Peter Francecites a Fijiancontribution to a church magazine (duringthe same period as the Na Mata
debate) that held Christianityresponsible for the expansion of kerekere. In the old days, a man could "beg
... only from his chief or his relatives," but now Christianityhas made all men brothers and kerekere is
equally indiscriminate-which is definitely not Fijian custom but "half-caste"(1969:1 56).
11. "Earlyin my investigations of kerekere I asked a man the following very naive question: 'Suppose
two men, one a relative of yours and one not, had something you needed, which would you go to [for
kerekere]' The reply was to this effect: 'I would go to my relative, of course. If he didn't give it to me, and
the other man did, I would know that the other man was really my relative.' " [Sahlins 1962:204]
12. In his manuscript The Windward Islands of Fiji, Hocart recounts a history of the anti-kerekere
campaign that was omitted from the published version, Lau Islands, Fiji:
Saimone None0a [Goneca] of Nakorosule in Viti Levu claimed to have originated the anti-begging
campaign. His idea was to prohibit only the begging of money and European goods which have been
bought with money. Other hill tribes, being jealous that he had originated this idea, insisted on going one
better and proposed to forbid all begging. As Saimone foresaw, the whole thing collapsed because it was
unworkable, and the wearers of anti-begging badges were soon obliged to beg from their neighbours.
[n.d.:128-1 29]

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submitted June 1, 1992

accepted August 3, 1992

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