Cultural Overview

With a population of approximately 7,700, the six inhabited islands of the Marquesas form the northernmost archipelago of French Polynesia, an autonomous overseas territory of France in the South Pacific. The archipelago was settled over 2,000 years ago by peoples from Samoa and/or Tonga who came in double-hulled canoes bearing the necessities of life (e.g., breadfruit, taro, and pigs) as well as trappings of their Polynesian culture and proto-East Polynesian dialects.

After the archipelago's initial "discovery" in 1595 by the Spanish explorer Mendana, te 'Enana "the people"1 enjoyed no further contact with Europeans until the late 18th century when regular visits from whalers, sandalwood traders, missionaries, scientists, and military personnel began. France staked its colonial claim in 1842, the population dropped as much as 98% over the next 75 years, and by the end of the 19th century Catholicism had become the official practice of most inhabitants. As a result, many of 'Enana's so-called "savage" practices (e.g., cannibalism and polygamy, "licentious" singing and dancing, "idolatrous" sculpting and tattooing) disappeared or were at least suppressed (Dening, 1980).

Nonetheless, many other traditional cultural forms were maintained or syncretically transformed—for example, their domestic mode of production, speech economy, and household structures. Since the 1960s, some of the more colorful traditions (e.g., dancing, crafts, and tattooing)

have been resurrected due to 'Enana's participation in the global explosion of cultural pride movements and the evolving ethnotourism market. However, some of their less sensational cultural systems (e.g., their language, caregiv-ing patterns, and subsistence activities) have been seriously disrupted during this period (Riley, 2001).

Prior to contact, most valleys of the volcanic terrain were inhabited at peak capacity by one or more tribal groups. During the devastation of the 19th century, 'Enana regrouped into three larger towns (population 1,500-2,000) centered around French administrative and religious activities and into a number of smaller villages (population 100-400) in other valleys.

While a number of households now consist of patri-lineal patrilocal nuclear families with six or so children, many exceptions to this pattern can be found. Matrilocal and neolocal arrangements are common, extended family compounds are not rare, adoption is still much practiced, and vestiges of polygamy exist.

The once primarily arboricultural economy is now based on a mix of subsistence agriculture, fishing, and husbandry and involvement in cash-based enterprises such as copra-processing, manual and white-collar employment, or tourist-oriented entrepreneurial projects. Throughout the islands, the economy is artificially inflated by French subsidies.

French Polynesians have been negotiating their degree of autonomy from France for the last 50 years when, following World War II, they were granted French citizenship. 'Enana are particularly ambivalent about total independence from France, as this would leave them in the hands of the Territorial government which is located in Tahiti and is largely run by Tahitians.

Locally, the government is headed by haka'iki "mayors" who are elected via French protocol but still derive some of their power from elite lineage and charisma—not unlike the precontact haka'iki "tribal chiefs" whose position was partially inherited and partially achieved. Similarly, priests and tumu pure "prayer leaders" enjoy some of the same prestige and authority once accorded to the traditional tau'a "shamans."

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