(Re)Viewing the Other: Gender Subversions in IndoFijian Performances
Cultural performances are more than forms of entertainment and vehicles for conveying social and religious traditions. These acts are political acts that can exceed their role of promulgating hegemonic formations and instead be used to subvert and deconstruct existing social realities. This doctoral research focuses on performances that subvert IndoFijian heteronormative gender(s), namely: performances by female singers of qawwali, a genre of competitive singing historically exclusive to males; and lahanga naach, dances by cross-dressed males in Fiji and in the IndoFijian diaspora in New Zealand. Situated within the interdisciplinary field of Pacific Studies, this research draws upon cultural and gender studies as well as materials and knowledge from and about Pacific and Indian cultures to examine these cultural performances. Concepts such as Butler’s theory of performativity and Hall’s theory of articulation are employed to argue that cultural performances are performative in the sense that they not only depict what already exists, but initiate and materialise what can be. This argument is discussed and illustrated through both ethnographic and historical engagement and research methods, interweaving transcriptions of performances with relevant academic literature and oral history interviews of performers as well as cultural experts represented by community leaders, academics and gender activists. This dissertation begins by discussing the idea of a liminal other in relation to ethnic and gender identities and establishes the liminal other’s position in the overarching argument of this research. This is followed by detailed descriptions and analysis of qawwali and lahanga naach, respectively, in accordance with an additional research objective of documenting and creating archival records for these two performance genres. The latter part of the dissertation returns to themes of gender subversion, hegemony and performativity, discussing examples of the real-life implications of embodying liminal identities. The dissertation concludes by emphasising the need for more research on performance cultures in the Pacific and draws attention to how individual agency can promote social change and impact meaning-making mechanisms of social groups through the means of cultural performance. Importantly, this research presents an alternative outlook on the gendered understandings of IndoFijians by including the voices of the disadvantaged who occupy liminal spaces in society.