Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Faiva: Trials of Skill: the Song and Dance of Tongan Politics, 1773-1993

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posted on 2021-11-08, 20:42 authored by Pond, Wendy Rona

The work embarks on a quest to discover the parameters of faiva, the dances, martial arts, aquatic and land-based sports which are exhibited on Tongan festival grounds as trials of skill. The work is organised as a succession of festivals (katoanga), shows, receptions, night concerts, funerals, and regattas spanning 200 years, from the 1770s to the 1970s. The work employs a strategy of Juxtaposing ethnographic and historical evidence. This technique enriches historical records with an ethnographic reading, and allows historical insight into the choreographic and aesthetic conventions of Tongan performances. It indicates which accounts to trust and what sense to impute to fragments. Contest on the festival ground, contest in twentieth century social status rivalry, and contest in eighteenth century political challenge, all follow the same codes. The work proposes a new paradigm for interpreting Tonga's political history. That paradigm is faiva. The work proposes a critical theory for reading Tongan records. Tongan accounts are not intended to recount historical origins, but to validate new configurations. In politics, history, and faiva, the eighteenth century objective was to harness the realm of the sacred. Part I is an ethnographic description of villagers rehearsing a dance in 1971, torn between reluctance to fulfill feudal obligations to the ruling aristocracy, and the appeal of retaining a reputation as the island's leading dancers. Of all tasks, presentation of a faiva was given priority. Part II is a historical reconstruction of the repertoire of the late eighteenth century. Here each faiva is seen exhibited in its lakanga : appropriate occasion. Martial arts and implement dances accompanied presentations between chiefs contesting for power. Mock battles followed presentations to the gods. Night dances were lit by torchlight. High-ranking women processed at the weddings of sacred chiefs. Appropriate settings enhanced the peculiar aesthetic of each faiva; political and religious agendas added force to performances. Part III describes the process of a new repertoire emerging, and the social fabrication of its legitimacy. The Appendix assembles an eighteenth century repertoire of choreographies and song texts, demonstrating that records exist for the scholarship of early Tongan music and dance.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

World Music

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

New Zealand School of Music


Thomas, Allan 1942 - 2010