This book explores the role of mana in past and present configurations of chiefly power in the Pacific. Chiefs are often seen as transitional figures between traditional (tribal or feudal) and modern forms of leadership, the latter characterized by rationality and the nation-state with its accompanying bureaucracy. Today, the political arena in the Pacific, although occupied by presidents, members of parliament and court justices, is still ruled by chiefs supporting their authority by tradition, including the notion of mana. Mana may be defined as divine inspiration or energy that manifests itself in persons, objects, places and natural phenomena. Polynesian chiefs have mana because of their descent from ancient gods. Other key concepts such as asymmetrical ideology, mythical constructions of social reality, and social drama are elaborated and applied to a wide specter of ethnographic examples. The configuration and reconfiguration of Tongan chieftaincy and kingship in this book are analyzed as an extended case study of the gradual, and sometimes shock-like, integration of a Polynes ian culture into a global structure, a nation-state, partly imposed from the outside (missionarization, colonization) but also generated from within including state formation and the recent quest for democracy. Together with other Polynesian examples, this forms a relevant illustration of both continuity and change in the configuration of mana and chieftaincy in processes of globalization in the Pacific.
Paul van der Grijp is Professor of Anthropology at the Université Lumière in Lyon, France.