The Marriage Market: The View from Tonga
July 18, 2018, 02:37 PM
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From Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan, a scene in the Pacific kingdom of Tonga, c. 1978:

The girls who worked in the guesthouse were having their fortunes told. Tupo, a sleepy-eyed, broken-toothed teenager in a striped shirt, dealt the cards. Jacks went across the top. The jacks represented, Tupo explained, the four races of husbands: palagi, Tongan, Japanese, Samoan. Each time Tupo drew a card, she matched it by suit with a jack, tapped it significantly, and declared, “You know!” The other girls, huddled around a kerosene lamp, listened to her with eyes wide and breath bated. …

To me, Tupo explained, “Girls who are fat and lazy will get Tongan husbands, who only allow them to cook and wash. Girls who are thin and beautiful and work hard will get palagis, who will wear watches, and drive them around in cars to moving pictures, and look, look, look at everything. Girls who marry Japanese will go to Japan’s land and live very well, smoking cigarettes and only sometimes mopping, but their husbands will become angry with their laziness and one day come home and carve them up with a knife. Girls who marry Samoans will go to Samoa and live like we Tongans do, except they may see TV.”

One of the girls sighed, “In Pago Pago I see television. Very beautiful!”

By the way, David Pinsen finally nails down the pun that’s been been nagging at me all week:

He must have been tempted to title that book Finnegans Wave.

Indeed, Finnegan mentions that he took a class on Joyce’s Finnegans Wake from Norman O. “Nobby” Brown at UC Santa Cruz. Nobby was a friend of Marcuse and a fellow big deal in Sixties New Left & hippy highbrow circles with his mix of Marx and Freud. Finnegan writes:

On this question [of adulthood], my professors weren’t always a help. I was in awe of Norman O. Brown, a gentle, formidably erudite classical scholar turned social philosopher who took on minor figures like Freud, Marx, Jesus, Nietzsche, Blake, and Joyce and wrestled their work to the ground, declaring victory for “holy madness” and “polymorphous perversity” and Eros over Thanatos, all while living quietly with his family in a ranch-style house near campus. Everybody at UC Santa Cruz called him Nobby. I found the nickname stuck in my throat. Brown did not welcome me back to school. Polite as always, he said he was disappointed to see me. My dropping out to go surfing in Hawaii had evidently represented to him a triumph over repression, a vote for Dyonisus and erotics and against civilization, which after all just mass neurosis. I made a little joke about the return of the repressed, and we went back to work.


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