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What’s in a name?: Reconstructing nomenclature of prestige and persuasion in late 18th-century Tongan material culture.

Phyllis Herda, Billie Lythberg, Andy Mills, Melenaite Taumoefolau

JPS, Vol 126, No 4 pg (443-468)


This paper is a study in the productivity of working across the disciplinary boundaries of material culture studies, historical linguistics and museology to restore the significance of historic names and terminological classifications for prestigious Tongan objects within the wider context of Western Polynesia. The authors trace the nomenclature of radial feather headdresses (palā tavake) both within Tonga as well as through linguistic cognates from elsewhere in Western Polynesia. Aspects of Tongan naming practices of other prestige items are considered, such as ‘akau tau ‘clubs’ and kie hingoa ‘named mats’, as is the Tongan practice of the poetical device of heliaki. We argue for a deeper understanding of objects of Tongan material culture and the historical and social environment that created them by closely “reading” prestige objects from Tonga’s past.


Tongan naming practices, historical linguistics, Polynesian prestige objects, heliaki, Tongan material culture, feather headdresess, clubs, named mats

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