(De)constructing Tongan Creativity: a Talanoa about Walking in Two Worlds

Tupou, Janet Fatafehi Lupe 'O Talau
Nelson, Frances
Nairn, Angelique
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

The growing number of Tongan creators searching for a place of belonging and acceptance between the two worlds Tonga and Aotearoa New Zealand has contributed to cultural spaces shifting in terms of identity negotiation, effects on expressions of traditional and contemporary and Tongan values in creative work and confusion around the notion of ‘creativity’. This study deconstructs the concept of creativity, in the walk between two worlds. Being a creative in New Zealand equals being innovative, invoking “the shock of the new” (O’Connor, 2010, p. 15). However, being creative in Tonga equals honouring tradition in one’s work, the ideals of “interdependence, collectivity, cooperation and authoritarianism” (Weiner, 2000, p. 18). In this study the method of gathering data was carried out by conducting in-depth talanoa (cross-cultural process of storytelling derived from Pacific islands traditions) with Tongan artists and spokespersons investigating their lived experiences and cultural identity. To further enhance each voice and richness of the talanoa, thematic analysis assisted in n elucidating meaningful insights. From the intercultural communication literature, key cultural values of each ‘world’ can be identified. The key values of western societies are often said to relate to individual rights and freedoms; justice in terms of equity and equal access; intellectual property, promotion of competition and consumerism; and, scientific-rational thinking (Kornelly, 2008). Tongan values, according to Taufe'ulungaki (2011), consist of ‘ofa (love) and its subgroups mafana, which drives ‘ofa to action; malie, its transforming quality; faka'apa'apa (respect), feveitokai'aki (reciprocity), lototo (humility), mamahi'i me'a (commitment), faitotonu (integrity) and feongoongoi (transparency and accountability). My findings revealed three main areas: Attitudes toward creativity, The role of culture: sharing the creative burden, and Creative and cultural identity development that impacted the walk of two worlds for my participants. Differences exist in the cultural values of Tongan artists, particularly in the Tongan artists’ attitudes toward their creative works, and their overall understanding of what ‘creativity is’. This is depending upon whether their knowledge of anga fakatonga (Tonga way, customs) which in turn, led to an analysis of New Zealand culture’s effects on Tongan artists who live in New Zealand. The differences in the way Tongan artists view creativity within the Tongan and New Zealand cultural contexts therefore determines what a creative person is, and how they balance their fatongia (duties), obligations while upholding their creative work. Conflict exists across and between the walk in both worlds, as bi-cultural New Zealand Tongan creators grapple with whether a compromise can be made in terms of being contemporary and also respectful towards tradition. Therefore, this research reveals that the walk in two worlds that Tongan artists conduct requires more understanding behind what ‘creativity’ means and how it can be valued in the past, present and future to ‘move forward into the past’. By focusing on the 21st century alone to investigate the effects of traditional and contemporary expressions of Tongan culture in the creative work of Tongan artists, further talanoa will enable us to ‘walk backward into the future’.

Creativity , Talanoa , Two worlds , Creative
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