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Tubuan : history, tradition, and identity among the Tolai of Papua New Guinea Tateyama, Hirokuni


This dissertation examines identity formation and transformation among the Tolai of Papua New Guinea through a historically grounded ethnographic analysis of the tubuan, a masked ritual figure which they generally regard as a prime symbol of their "traditional" culture. Much has been written about contemporary constructions of tradition in the Pacific. It has been suggested that people constitute identities by articulating notions of tradition in opposition to what is considered "Western" or "modern"---particularly church, state, and business. Tolai do distinguish their "traditional" culture from what they refer to as lotu (church), matanitu (government), and bisnis (business), but their constructions of tradition are often situated within these three separate yet closely intertwined institutions, which were originally introduced from outside but which they have made their own. This is most clearly evidenced by the deployment of the tubuan in "modern" settings, such as church celebrations, state functions, and tourism events. In the dissertation, I explore historical dimensions of the contemporary use of the tubuan in the institutional contexts of lotu, matanitu, and bisnis by paying particular attention to specific political circumstances in which Tolai negotiated problematic relations between these indigenous and exogenous forms. I show how Tolai maintained the institution of the tubuan, which was a vehicle for social reproduction, while eagerly appropriating new institutions; how Tolai came to see the tubuan as a prime symbol of their "traditional" culture through their power struggles with European colonizers; and how Tolai have used the tubuan to reproduce or reshape power relations within their society or country that have been manifested since national independence in 1975. The appearance of the tubuan in "modern" settings, which emphasizes the continued relevance of the "traditional" values it embodies to contemporary Tolai life, helps Tolai visualize a distinct Tolai identity that combines and synthesizes seemingly antithetical themes---an identity that challenges a simplistic dichotomy between tradition and modernity that is still perpetuated in ethnographic writing.

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