Imagining the Marshalls: Chiefs, tradition, and the state on the fringes of United States empire

Walsh, Julianne Marie
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
Understandings of the Marshall Islands require attention to the interplay of multiple discourses of tradition, modernity, chiefs, development, and democracy from multiple sources that critically interact and mutually construct the Marshall Islands. This multi-sited, multi-vocal ethnography explores the reproduction and transformation of historic power relationships between Marshallese chiefs and commoners who incorporate and "indigenize" foreign discourses and resources into culturally informed models and practices of authority. In relationships of unequal power, such as that defined by the Compact of Free Association between the United States and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, dominant global discourses about culture and progress enable both local and transnational hegemonies. These discourses are contextually analyzed as they are invoked and challenged in Nitijela [parliament] debates, in evaluations of the Compact of Free Association, in elites' autobiographical reflections on Marshallese-American relationships, and in foreign media representations. Historical shifts in the political and economic powers of Marshallese chiefs through three colonial administrations, and the growth of a commoner elite class since World War II further highlight the ways foreign resources are appropriated for specific local purposes that transform understandings of power and authority. With discourse as both object and method of analysis, the agency of local actors is both foregrounded and contextualized. Simplistic characterizations of chiefs, elites, commoners, and foreigners' are complicated through close attention to the ways local loyalties, colonial histories, political rivalries, and global discourses inform and frame expressions of Marshallese identities.
Colonization, Indigenization, Chiefs, Marshall Islands, Tradition, Cultural anthropology
Walsh, Julianne Marie (2003) Imagining the Marshalls: Chiefs, tradition, and the state on the fringes of United States empire. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Hawai'i, United States -- Hawaii.
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