Toward Historicizing Gender in Polynesia: On Vilsoni Hereniko?s Woven Gods and Regional Patterns
Mageo, Jeannette Marie
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This article considers possible parallels between Rotuman and Samoan gender history through Vilsoni Hereniko's book Woven Gods. Hereniko draws upon the work of Victor Turner to analyze his Rotuman data, arguing that wedding clowns reverse normative social structures. Wedding clowns are expert female practitioners of Rotuman joking discourse. This discourse is not only ritualized on special occasions but is also an everyday informal discourse and, I argue, is in this sense normative; it counterbalances respect discourse, which is likewise practiced in ritual (ceremonial contexts but also in everyday polite contexts). In the Samoan precolonial sex-gender system, males and females had difference discursive specialties---males in politesse, females in joking. Joking was often sexual in nature and indexed practices at odds with contemporary virginal ideals for girls. Rotuman wedding clowns may represent traces of precolonial feminine gender practices that resemble precolonial Samoan practices. Further, they offer a running commentary on sex-gender colonialism.