Volume 108 1999 > Volume 108, No. 3 > Transnationalism in central Oceanian politics: A dialectic of diasporas and nationhood?, by David A. Chappell, p 277-304
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Maui sailed so far towards the south that he reached the boundary of sky and ocean. But even that presented no difficulty to a man like him. He simply took his paddle and with its heavy handle he pushed the sky up high enough to sail on (Henry 1980:23).

Since the Second World War, resource-poor Polynesian nations of the central Pacific have sent half or more of their inhabitants to industrial economies on the southwestern and northeastern rims of Oceania, often pursuing quasi-colonial routes (Bedford 1991). Epeli Hau'ofa (1994a) suggests that this large-scale outmigration revives the dynamism of ancient voyaging traditions, as in the above legend of Maui: migrants are simply extending their frontiers of exploration to lands with more educational and economic opportunities, thereby reversing, at least metaphorically, the inclinal periphery-to-core trajectory in gloomy analyses based on dependency modelling (Connell 1988, Cole 1993). Oceanian outmigration has attracted attention from scholars interested in socio-cultural change, economic development and immigration issues (McCall and Connell 1993), but its analysis might also benefit from a transnational perspective that gets beyond the mental straitjacket of bounded nation-states. The politics of Pacific diasporas, as they contest the power grids within which they circulate, can provide insights into evolving forms of nationhood.

This essay will attempt to demonstrate the potential of such an approach, by suggesting that migrants abroad, whether permanent or temporary, channel feedback from their host country experiences into homeland politics. After a brief introduction, this essay will focus on election migrations in the Cook Islands, political change in the Wallisian diaspora in New Caledonia, and Samoan and Tongan reform efforts. Some excellent studies of political crises in the central Pacific (Lawson 1996) tend to neglect the overseas component, perhaps in reaction against the disempowering tendencies of world system theory (Wallerstein 1974, Howard and Durutalo 1987). Yet Hau'ofa's call for recognising islander agency in outmigration is linked in his own work to the effects of Tongans abroad on politics at home (1994b). Similar connections have been highlighted in work on the Cook Islands (Davis et al. 1979) and Samoa (Meleisea 1992). A transnational approach to politics in central Oceania does not deny the validity of other viewpoints but rather - 278 opens up another angle of vision on the interaction between diasporas and nationhood.


The word “diaspora” comes from ancient Greek and referred to a dispersal of exiles. By now, the term has been used in a variety of contexts to describe migrant groups who retain a collective identification with an ancestral homeland, perhaps because of discrimination abroad. When we consider that the Latin-derived “nation” and Greek “ethnos” originally referred, rather derisively, to foreign-born groups of “others”, it seems clear that human migration and national solidarity are rather entangled concepts (Greenfeld 1992:4, Cheng and Katz 1998). In history, diasporas and nations have often defined each other, one perceived as transient and the other as rooted. Both are really “imagined communities”, as Benedict Anderson would say (1991, 1994). Diasporas can play important roles in world politics, because they form triadic links among migrant communities, host countries and homelands, i.e., transnational circuits that thrive on a liminal dialectic between “longing” and “belonging”, between looking for a better life and collective security (Sheffer 1986, Van der Veer 1995).

Homeland ↔ Diaspora ↔ Host Country

When Cuban exiles in the United States lobby their host government against the Castro regime or, conversely, India acts as the protector of Indo-Fijians, they are participants in what Arjun Appadurai (1996) calls “ethnoscapes”. Modern transportation, trade and communications have, he argues, loosened “the bonds between people, wealth, and territories fundamentally”, enabling flows across the world map not only of people, goods and money but also contested ideas like culture, rights, even nationhood, thereby creating what he calls “mobile sovereignties”. Michael Kearney (1996) describes Mexican-American migrant networks as subaltern, subversive and semi-autonomous of statist structures, because people circulate through “archipelagoes” of migrant sites that radiate outward from “spiritual cores” and generate broader ethnic formations he calls “transnational communities”. Data from other regional studies lend support to this evocative imagery (Wang 1993, Sapelli 1995, Murray 1994/95). In a useful synthesis, Stephen Castles and Mark Miller (1993) portray a complex migratory system with four stages: temporary migration by relatively young target-earners from poor countries, the rise of mutual-aid associations based on kinship or place of origin, family reunions to form reproductive communities, and finally ethnic formations that mobilise enough critical - 279 mass to engage in politics.

That fourth stage can challenge host country definitions of “national” citizenship, a criterion of exclusion that sanctifies state legitimacy. Diasporas reveal clearly that the states between which they move in the modern international system are more idealised than absolute. Today, more than half of the 100 largest economic entities in the world are transnational corporations (TNCs) that defy borders, while the rest are countries (Miyoshi 1993:740). Consequently, discourse on Pacific polities has begun to employ the term “governance”, rather than government, rejecting a narrow view that statist politics is a realm unto itself. The concept of governance suggests “a process of rule-making in which government and political elites are locked into economic and social networks…formal or informal”, which in turn must be understood in a wider context of “cultural beliefs” (Goldblatt 1998:2). Muthiah Alagappa argues that political legitimacy depends on “shared norms and values, conformity with established rules for acquiring power, proper and effective use of power, and consent of the governed” (1995:15). Yet today Pacific states find their “consent” challenged by movements for change from below, because capitalism alters not only economies but also those “shared norms and values”, with political consequences. In Oceania, chiefly hierarchies may survive colonialism, but indigenous middle and wage-labouring classes arise to contest traditionalist monopolies of authority. Not only transformation within the country but also the rites of passage experienced by migrants overseas can weaken loyalties to ascribed leaders: “The primary source of disruption to traditional aristocratic control has come from the intensified economic relations between Oceanic states and the developed countries…” (Bierling and Lafferty 1998:296).

The World Bank estimates that 100 million people are now crossing national borders, seeking economic opportunities or political asylum. Like grassroots counterparts to the TNCs, they send home to their families remittances totalling more than $60 billion a year, a money flow second only to the trade in crude oil (Collinson 1993). Given this scale of movement, it is tempting to try a semantic slight-of-hand. If we substitute “space” for bounded territory, and “social field” for citizenry, nationhood suddenly becomes less rooted and more routed. Nevzat Soguk cautions that territorial states will not disappear, no matter how contingent their power structures are rendered by globalising forces, because elites can use the “threat” of aliens to legitimise their own authority, as anti-immigrant reactions all too frequently show. With its carnivalesque fluctuations of repression, amnesty and exploitation, “the border is an embellished, enhanced spectacle that serves to undergird existing myths as to impervious and homogeneous ‘culture/nation gardens’ or to create new ones” (1996:301). Thus - 280 transnationalism coexists with the modern international system in a dialectical manner, legitimising or subverting state structures. “Transmigrants” move within global structures of labour-capital relations, but as active agents they also challenge (and help to shape) statist power strategies. Confronted with a full spectrum of identity issues, their border-spanning social fields ultimately express what some call “deterritorialised” nationhood (Basch, Schiller and Blanc 1994).

In Samoa, the national radio used to announce when postal money orders arrived, so that families could send someone into town to collect. A few personal gifts to relatives may not seem significant, but when family remittances supply almost half the national income, and government media actively facilitate the process, it is safe to say that the country has extended itself overseas (Shankman 1976). Scholarly attempts to “order” Pacific outmigration rely mainly on data from Polynesian countries in central Oceania (Hayes 1991). Their paradigms range from “negotiated dependency” (Connell 1987) to MIRAB's “transnational corporations of kin” (Bertram and Watters 1985), to Hau'ofa's voyaging metaphor, which describes people “who are flying back and forth across national boundaries…far above and completely undaunted by the deadly…discourses below…cultivating their ever-growing universe in their own ways, which is as it should be, for therein lies their independence” (1994a: 160). Interpreting Pacific diasporas thus becomes partly a matter of perception: are we seeing dependency, interdependence, or independence? Murray Chapman has warned against applying European-derived models to Oceania. He sees Islander mobility as circulation, not one-way migration, and traces it to ancient times, when people moved around through trade, marriage, shifting cultivation and exile. On Guadalcanal, they adapted to new colonial or postcolonial situations such old customs as lela, or walkabouts by young men:

Lela is acceptable and known as ‘good custom.’ Traditionally, it meant to go visiting, to travel on lineage business, to attend a feast, or to escape from a local quarrel or substantial humiliation-but always with the future intent of returning to the natal place. Since European contact…the meaning of lela has gradually amplified to include many kinds of circular mobility [such as] going away to wage labour, to the port town or administrative headquarters, to mission stations, to schools, or to medical facilities (Chapman and Prothero 1985:10).

Though empowering, this voyager model, as I call it, is somewhat romantic when extended to a regional scale, because studies suggest that the longer migrants remain overseas, the fewer remittances they tend to - 281 send home, and the more they change culturally, particularly in the second generation who are born and raised in an individualistic host environment (Macpherson 1984, 1992). All three models tend to neglect downturns in host country economies that can cause immigrant lay-offs, crackdowns on aliens, and drops in foreign aid (Grunberg 1995). Yet all three are partly right and partly wrong, like the proverbial blind men trying to describe an elephant by feeling its separate parts. Diasporas are complex, difficult-to-model phenomena. Nevertheless, those from the central Pacific show intriguing signs of transnational behavior, notably in the realm of politics. This implies that their politically-conscious ethnoscapes operate in more than one national arena today, as a form of active resistance to domination by global structures of capital and labour. They can be visualised as elliptical circuits that encompass both Polynesian islands and European migrant states. The voyager model opens up the possibility that New Zealand, Australia and the United States are peripheries of opportunity being exploited by Oceania's centre. The test of transnationalism, for our purposes, is the degree of outmigration and the evidence of political feedback between diaspora, homeland and host state(s).

Central Oceania is distinctive for several reasons. First, its islands are the longest-inhabited in Polynesia: Lapita pottery-bearing voyagers arrived from the west more than 3000 years ago (Kirch 1997). Second, its core societies are notably proud that their chiefly traditions survived colonialism more or less intact (Lawson 1996). Not only is Tonga the last sovereign monarchy in Oceania, but in French-ruled Wallis and Futuna, three native kings receive subsidies from Paris and oversee traditional land-holding systems (Burrows 1936, 1937). Finally, these countries have high rates of outmigration: close to half in Tonga and Samoa and even higher in their smaller neighbours. By 1989, Samoan migrant remittances covered 40 percent of GDP, 50 percent of imports and 60 percent of the trade deficit, and in Tonga, remittances covered 45 percent of GDP, 65 percent of imports and 80 percent of the trade deficit (Ahlburg 1991). Similarly, more than half of Wallisians now live in mineral-rich New Caledonia, and in Tokelau, the Cooks and Niue the rate of outmigration to New Zealand and Australia has reached 62-85 percent (Bedford 1991).

The nationalistic image of resilient traditions is thus linked, ironically, with the greatest degree of emigration in the Pacific. While the former may have survived colonialism, can it resist desire for change from migrants with familial ties to the home polity? Foreign-educated returnees, overseas money-senders and circulating relatives all play a mediating role between modernist expectations and indigenous civil society, thus bringing a transnational dimension into “domestic” issues. The remainder of this essay - 282 will briefly contextualise four incidents: the 1978 election scandal in Cook Islands, the 1991 Samoan voting rights reform, the 1994 Sako affair in New Caledonia, and the 1997 Times of Tonga licensing controversy. Each case is a variation on the theme of transnational politics.


In 1965, the Cook Islands became the first Pacific country to decolonise by choosing “free association” with New Zealand, and nearby Niue was the second, in 1974. Tokelau remains a dependent territory, but since 1948, it has officially been “part of New Zealand”. The inhabitants of all three island states are full citizens of the metropole, which regards the Queen of England as its head of state. That interlocking political congeries is itself a challenge to simplistic notions of the “nation-state”. Because of easy access, more than two thirds of Cook Islanders, Niueans and Tokelauans live in New Zealand, and half of those were born there. With so much of the nation “absent” at any given time, these are perhaps the most transnational peoples of Oceania. They have forms of self-government, yet the nature of their official postcoloniality has displaced most of their ethnoscape to urban New Zealand. There, under the rubric of “Pacific Islanders”, they forge new identities in a multicultural arena, while New Zealand aid helps to finance the Cook Islands state back home. Moreover, residency rights are not reciprocal: New Zealanders have to apply for residency in the Cooks and are often turned down (Crocombe and Crocombe 1998). In a sense, Cook Islanders have New Zealand on a United Nations-sanctioned leash, but their socialisation in a Western-style, industrial society has also turned “prodigal sons” into agents of ongoing change.

True to Hau'ofa's imagery, modern Cook Islanders have been outmigrating for more than a century, first as sailors on whaling ships, missionaries to Melanesia, and guano-diggers on the Phoenix atolls. As early as 1874, a New Zealander observed that “Auckland was the center of the Rarotongans' universe and that recent contact between New Zealand Maoris and Cook Island Maoris had helped to cement relations between them” (Gilson 1980:48). From 1909 to 1934, New Zealand even ran the Cooks through its Ministry for Native Affairs, which was led by educated Maori such as Apirana Ngata. He adopted a policy of slow assimilation to Western ways, so that “each succeeding generation of Cook Islanders may be influenced to advance gradually from one culture to another, or, as is most likely, to a blending of elements of the old with the new” (Gilson 1980:126-27). During the Second World War, Rarotongans began to work as phosphate miners on Makatea in French Polynesia, and hundreds of Cook Islanders, including women, migrated to work in New Zealand. Returnees spoke so highly of wages and - 283 working conditions in Auckland that in 1943 the Cook Islands Progressive Association (CIPA) organised on Aitutaki (Pryor and Short 1983).

Yet the Cook Islands' nation-building project was already immersed in a transnational social field. When New Zealand took over the archipelago from Britain in 1901, it undermined the traditional role of ariki (high chiefs), granted all lineage descendants an equal share of any land inheritance, and after an investigation, admitted that its shippers had conspired to keep payments low for Cook Island crops. These disruptions, along with limited educational opportunities, drove many to emigrate. Charismatic “founding father” Albert Henry himself spent more than 20 years in New Zealand, where his labour union contacts helped him to develop a political network stretching from Auckland to the Cook Islands docks and citrus orchards. Henry solicited reports of grievances from the CIPA in the Cooks, which included demands not only for better wages and improved shipping, but also for more political representation. In 1947, the CIPA won most of the elected seats on the Rarotonga Council, and in 1965, Henry returned home from New Zealand to lead the new Cook Islands Party (CIP) to victory and become Premier of a freely associated state. In honor of the transnation, the Constitution reserved one seat in Parliament out of 24 for a representative of the overseas community (Davis et al. 1979, Pryor and Short 1983, Gilson 1980).

It is well known that Henry stayed in office until 1978, when his career came crashing down. Opponents of the CIP argued that Henry had filled the civil service with his own supporters and family, creating a patronage system that drove his enemies overseas. After the international airport opened in 1974, they say he kept close watch on the rate of emigration and called for the 1978 election only when he thought he could manipulate the composition of the electorate to his own advantage. The 1966 Electoral Act required eligible voters to return in person to the Cooks to cast their ballots, creating an interesting game of demographic politics. The plan, Norman George claimed, was to “make life at home so miserable for non-supporters that they will leave. Take away their voting rights while overseas and they are effectively neutralised” (Davis ef al. 1979:170). Both the CIP and opposition Democrats actively recruited overseas voters, holding meetings and fundraising events in New Zealand. But the Democrats charged their overseas voters for airfare, while the CIP charter flights were free. The CIP won the election, but the Democrats went to court to contest the election results, and Henry lost the case, his job and his knighthood from Queen Elizabeth. The new Premier was Dr Tom Davis, who had spent two decades abroad himself as a medical researcher. He was supported by Rarotongan ariki and by exiles who had fled CIP's political discrimination (Pryor and Short 1983, Davis et al. 1979).

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As dramatic as the 1978 election scandal was, it reflected a broader trend: since the freely associated state was the largest domestic employer, Cook Islands politics became intimately tied to flows of personnel back and forth. As Pamela Takiora Pryor wrote: “The political game is a way of life in the Cook Islands… [which] has divided and factionalised the community to such an extent that families are fractured. So much pressure has been brought to bear on individuals that some have had to migrate, as their dissident forebears migrated on voyaging canoes in earlier times” (1983:157). In 1989, the CIP returned to power under another Henry, Geoffrey, and reversed the political patronage again, sending Democratic leaders and sacked employees down to New Zealand. In the early 1990s, the net flow temporarily changed course, because the New Zealand economy took a downturn, while the CIP increased government spending in the Cooks. That encouraging trend ended when the development projects failed, borrowed money had to be repaid, and government layoffs neared 60 percent. The Cook Islands currency was abandoned in favour of New Zealand dollars, and emigration increased: 50,000 Cook Islanders now live in New Zealand, and 25,000 in Australia, compared to 18,000 at home (Crocombe and Crocombe 1992, 1998; Islands Business, January 1997, PIR 3/2/99).

Many people continued to make regular visits both ways, often as participants in travelling tere groups, which performed fundraisers for churches and community associations (Loomis 1984b), but both poles of the ethnoscape struggled with identity issues. At home, chiefly titles regained symbolic status as exemplars of the cultural heritage of “a Maori nation”, complete with voyaging canoe replicas and commodified ceremonies (Sissons 1994, Jonassen 1994). Prime Minister Henry (1994) regarded free association as an evolving, transitional status, notably in the realm of foreign affairs, and Iaveta Short said, “we have crossed, many times, the conventional line separating Self-Government from Independence” (1987:180-82). Yet proposals to prioritise Maori over English as the official language neglect the realities that many Cook Islanders today do not speak or write Maori and that: “The top level of leadership correlates 100 percent with international experience” (Tongia 1994: 276, PIR 3/2/99). Despite talk of devolving government powers to local districts, Jeffrey Sissons observed that “the cultural boundaries that government and traditional leaders are drawing around themselves and their people are highly permeable to flows of people, money, goods, and ideas” (1994:392-93).

At the other end of the ethnoscape, the Polynesian identity of Cook Islanders is reinforced by stereotyping in New Zealand that has feedback effect on national consciousness (Loomis 1984a). Labelled “Pacific” Islanders, along with Niueans, Tokelauans, Samoans and Tongans, they - 285 inhabit an ambivalent margin in the bicultural discourses between pakeha (whites) and tangata whenua (indigenous Maori). True to Castles and Miller's fourth stage, transmigrants organised Pacific Island Advisory Councils, and by the mid-1980s a Cook Islander became the first Chief Executive of a new Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs. In 1989, Cook Islander migrants created a National Council, which persuaded the New Zealand government to allow them to collect 100 percent of their pension money in their home islands after retirement. Despite their small numbers relative to the total population, they can have an impact in local voting districts such as Auckland Central, where Cook Islander ballots got one of their own elected on the Labour Party ticket. Emigrant women formed their own national organisation called Pacifica, and in 1996, Pacific Islanders supported a new political party, Advance New Zealand (Loomis 1993, Pollock 1982, PIM October 1996).

The ethnoscape is thus mobilised politically at both poles, enabling Cook Islanders to choose their best options from more than one “national” arena. The ongoing drain of homeland residents to New Zealand and Australia diminishes the tax base of the freely associated state, however, and creates tensions when returning emigrants expect to have full rights to land. A Political Review Commission proposed abolishing the Overseas Seat in the Cook Islands Parliament, because of high costs relative to voter participation, but in March 1999 four parties fielded candidates for the position. Tai Carpentier of the Cook Islands Peoples Party argued that migrants in New Zealand pay their taxes to the host government, thereby contributing indirectly to aid money for the state (PIR 3/3/99). The underlying question from 1978 remains alive in this contentious issue: can the “nation-state” realistically secede from the much larger transnation?


Malama Meleisea has called the fa'a Samoa (Samoan way of life) “clear in essentials, flexible in detail”, so that “new practices, ideas and goods could be accepted and incorporated into it so that either the system remained unchanged in its essentials, or was not perceived to have changed fundamentally” (1987:16-17). Even today's Malaga (reciprocal visits between villages) reach across the ocean, raising transnational funding for community projects (Franco 1990). Despite this creative continuity, however, Samoa adopted universal suffrage in 1991, abandoning an electoral system that had restricted the right to vote to traditional matai (titled chiefs). Why?

Partitioned by colonialism in 1899, Samoa regained independence only in the western part of the archipelago, in 1962, while its eastern islands remain a U.S. territory. Western Samoans often regard themselves as more “authentic” than their American Samoan counterparts, but the latter point - 286 out that thousands of western Samoans travel to Pago Pago to work in its tuna canneries, and some move on from there to the U.S. Moreover, a crisis arose in western Samoa precisely because only matai could vote or hold elected office: in order to increase the numbers of their voters, senior chiefs began to split lower matai titles among several holders (as many as 70) or to create new titles. This inflationary practice became so common that Samoans referred derisively to these new voters as matai pālota (ballot chiefs). Some reformers argued that the integrity of the matai system could be restored by changing the rules to allow every citizen over 21 to vote, with the stipulation that only matai could run for office.

Yet Meleisea saw a transnational subtext in the Samoan reform movement: “Western notions of individual rights and freedoms have been promoted by mass education and emigration” (Meleisea and Schoeffel 1983:111). The matai system, including splitting titles and creating new ones, had been exported overseas in diasporas to New Zealand, Australia and the United States. Western-educated Samoans could earn better incomes, acquire pālota titles and enter politics. Traditional matai, with actual control over family lands, also migrated overseas, but they kept their status back home by sending remittances to their villages, hoping to retire there in style. They might also return to vote in Samoan elections, causing debates about whether their titles should be invalidated. Parliamentary delegations from Apia also visited Samoan communities abroad in Malaga-like fund-raising tours during election campaigns. “The foremost source of change in Samoa today is from New Zealand,“ Meleseia says. “There is hardly a family in Samoa without relatives here, and there are few Samoans in New Zealand who do not maintain a relationship with their homeland” (Meleisea 1992:63-64).

In late 1990, the electoral franchise reform in western Samoa was put to two votes, first in a public plebiscite in October, and then in Parliament in December. The issue was hotly debated beforehand in the press and other media. Those in favour of the change argued that women and young people should have more voice in the political system. An opinion poll conducted by a political science class at the National University shortly before the plebiscite revealed that over 60 percent of respondents wanted universal suffrage, with the highest rates of support registered by women and untitled males. Revealingly, the most common explanation given was that otherwise, those adults unable to vote might leave the country. Conversely, slightly more matai opposed the change than supported it, arguing that they might lose control over their young people (Samoan Observer 24 October 1990: 1-2). Some opponents accused the ruling Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) of simply seeking popularity in order to remain in power, while others expressed concern that demagogues would demolish the fa'a Samoa - 287 in their quest for votes (Samoan Observer 19 & 26 October 1990; Interview: Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese, 1992).

The transnationalism of Samoan civil society was acknowledged by the late Prime Minister Tofilau Eti Alesana, who said in an interview in Islands Business (September 1990:28) that critics of the old system consisted of the media, local lawyers and “ex-scholarship holders who have returned from overseas education”. Since both the National Council of Churches and prominent women had pushed for universal suffrage, he said, “Everyone who belongs to the country should have a voice in the government.” These clearly included Samoans abroad, who had the right, as in the Cook Islands, to fly home to vote. In an interview in New Zealand, opposition leader and former Prime Minister Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese admitted that one factor changing the attitudes of Samoans was migration to urban centres, where families became nucleated and less governed by tradition. Disconnected from the rural matai, such people wanted a more direct say in politics (Samoan Observer 28 September 1990: 3-5). On 29 October, 53 percent of the voters approved the electoral change, and six weeks later, on 10 December, the Parliament passed Electoral Amendment Bill 1990 by a vote of 24-18. The reform tripled the electorate from 18,000 mostly male matai to 56,000, half of them women, and in the first election under the new system on 5 April 1991, the HRRP won 26 out of 47 seats in Parliament (PIM April 1991:16-17, May 1991:18).

Pacific Islands Monthly reported that Samoans living in New Zealand had pushed for the right to vote because their family remittances provided almost half their homeland's national income. Based on their birth in Samoa, 30,000 were eligible to register to vote. In almost a replay of the 1978 Cook Islands election migration, Western Samoan High Commissioner to New Zealand Lupematasila Aumua Ioane launched a publicity campaign to get overseas Samoans to register. National flag carrier Polynesian Airlines scheduled extra flights and offered special fares to facilitate travel for voters (PIM, March 1991:18, April 1991:17). The Prime Minister wanted to go further and divide the Parliament into two houses, as in American Samoa, with one based entirely on universal suffrage and the other, a more honourific Senate, based on the traditional matai selection process (Islands Business September 1990:26). As if to underscore the pace of change from below, in May 1991 a census revealed that the majority of rural landholders were now individuals, not extended families, because fathers were passing on their farms to their sons through inheritance, not via matai titles (Samoan Observer 3 May 1991, Pitt 1970, O'Meara 1990).

Considering the fact that about half of all Samoans now live overseas, the fa'a Samoa has clearly become transnational in scope. Samoans are not - 288 automatically citizens of New Zealand, like Cook Islanders, but Independence in 1962 was accompanied by a Treaty of Friendship that provided for a quota of Samoans to acquire permanent residency in New Zealand. Many were recruited as guest-workers in Auckland factories, which enabled others to migrate under family reunification provisions, until by 1976 almost 30,000 lived in New Zealand. Then the economy declined, and New Zealand police cracked down on “overstayers” until a landmark Privy Council decision in 1982 overturned the quota system, and a Citizenship Act eased access for western Samoan migrants (Trlin 1987:203-11). Jobs in New Zealand factories paid ten times what rural Samoan farmers could earn from export crops like copra. Paul Shankman wrote: “the extended family can continue to exist as a consumption unit even as its productive capacities decline” (1976:92). Moreover, experiences of discrimination drove overseas Samoans together in their own churches and voluntary associations, where they created a diasporic version of the fa'a Samoa, especially when confronted with Maori activism (Pitt 1970:175-85, Ioane 1982).

Yet the Samoan ethnoscape faces tensions between those who stand to lose or to gain from changes in the fa'a Samoa. On the eve of the 1990 electoral reform, Meleisea warned,

There is now an adult generation of New Zealand-born Samoans whose attitude toward the fa'a Samoa is ambivalent…they know that Samoa is the source of their cultural identity and self-respect. But Samoa is also the source of obligations, iron discipline and conformity, and low status of the young…. The greatest threat lies in the self-seeking reforms advocated by the small though very powerful section of the community who could survive without the fa'a Samoa (Meleisea 1992:64-65).

In 1992, Afioga Aiono Dr Fana'afi Letagaloa warned the Prime Minister to “mend his ways” and reverse the damage done to Samoan culture by the reform (Tagaloa 1992:132). But a transnational social field now interprets the fa'a Samoa along a shifting spectrum of possibilities, which includes legislation that allows Samoan pensioners to receive their New Zealand retirement pay in the homeland, as Cook Islanders do (PIR 3/2/99).


The peoples of Wallis ('Uvea) and Futuna are Polynesians with oral traditions of tavaka, or canoe migrations, linking their islands with Tonga and Samoa. They also interacted with New Caledonia and call Ouvea Atoll in the Loyalty Islands, whose inhabitants speak a language very close to their own, 'Uvea-lalo, or lower 'Uvea (Burrows 1937, Rensch 1983). Albert - 289 Likuvalu (1988) has extended this tavaka metaphor to Wallisian migration under French contracts to the New Hebrides and New Caledonia after the Second World War. He argues that migrants sought not only cash incomes but also freedom from customary controls, as in former times. In the 19th century, the king of Wallis and the two kings of Futuna converted to Catholicism and accepted a French Protectorate. They retained their traditional status and received financial gratuities from Paris, which they considered “not as salaries but as a symbol of the ties between the French state and [their] ancient kingship…” (Sodter 1995:169). In addition to this “tribute”, Paris provides about US$20 million in annual budgetary aid, and remittances sent home by Wallisians in New Caledonia are 100 times more valuable than the homeland's trochus shell exports.

As a French Overseas Territory, Wallis and Futuna elects a local Assembly (13 from Wallis and 7 from Futuna) and also a Senator and Deputy to the National Parliament in Paris. The three kings sit on a Territorial Council with three Assembly members and the French Prefect, who has veto power. The territory has repeatedly voted by large margins to remain tied to France, though its bond with New Caledonia makes it more of a triangular polity. Before 1988, Benjamin Brial, a conservative part-Caledonian, part-Wallisian businessman, represented the territory in Paris for many years. But the election of Kamilo Gata to the Assembly and the French Parliament revealed modernising sentiments among the younger generation of voters. As a Futunan lawyer living on 'Uvea, Gata bridged the gap between 'Uvea, which is relatively more developed and populous, and Futuna, which is isolated and subsistence-oriented. Both kings of Futuna supported Gata, yet his association with a leftist party in France won him strong support from both local labour unions and wage-earning migrants in New Caledonia. Joel Bonnemaison noted “the structural link that now closely ties the situation in Wallis and Futuna to events…in New Caledonia” (1990:178). Gata won again in 1993, over a conservative opponent with powerful political allies in New Caledonia, but Victor Brial defeated him in 1997 (Sodter 1994, Maclellan and Chesneaux 1998:141).

During the Second World War, Wallisians earned wages from U.S. troops or went to work in New Caledonia, which was also under U.S. military occupation. When the wartime prosperity ended in 1946, more young Wallisians migrated to New Caledonia to build dams or labour in the nickel mining industry. As early as 1953, this diaspora found itself viewed as a potential counter-balance to indigenous Melanesian nationalism, and by the 1980s some young Wallisians were being hired to fight against Kanak militants (Angleviel 1996, Connell 1991, Aldrich 1993). A return home of the diaspora is not a feasible option at this point: about 17,000 Wallisians - 290 live in New Caledonia, compared to 14,000 at home, because their French citizenship gives them open entry. As early as 1976, half the diaspora's members had been born in New Caledonia, yet they faced local hostility. Wallisian migrants have tended to vote loyalist, as expected, because of fear for their own futures if Kanaky became independent. As the Senator from Wallis and Futuna to Paris, Sosefo Papilio, once said, “Our future is in New Caledonia. We Wallisians and Futunans must defend ourselves and support the political stance of those who defend us in New Caledonia” (Connell 1991:106).

Conflicts with Kanak nationalists fueled bad blood between the two groups: in 1974, the New Caledonian Assembly debated deporting unemployed Wallisians, and in the 1980s, radical graffiti demanded, “Wallis dehors!” (Wallisians go home). Yet the Wallisian diaspora comprises almost 10 percent of the New Caledonian population, so it has more political clout than other Oceanian migrant streams and has been courted by both French loyalists and Kanak nationalists as a key voting bloc. In 1987, 2000 Wallisians registered in their home islands were able to vote in a referendum on the independence of New Caledonia, which failed. More than 90 percent of Wallisians then voted to approve the Matignon peace accord of 1988, but only four Wallisian migrants won posts in the “400 cadres” job training programme, instead of 40 (by population). “The French used us as cannon fodder,” Mikaele Hema said. “Once they had peace, they turned their backs on us.” This process of exploitation and neglect, coupled with the rise of a new generation that had grown up overseas, led Wallisian leaders to form their own political parties (Hema 1994, Robie 1989).

In 1984, a Catholic priest, Kalepo Muliava, organised Uvea mo Futuna to establish a distinctive Wallisian voice. Borrowing from Kanak rhetoric, Muliava called his people “victims of history” because of their unappreciated contributions to the construction of New Caledonia. But the party failed in the turbulent mid-1980s, so he formed the Union Océanienne (UO), with a voyaging canoe and star as its party logo. In 1989, the UO received 40 percent of the migrant Wallisian vote and won two seats in the Territorial Congress (out of 54). It called for multi-ethnic democracy, equal opportunity for all, an end to racism and colonialism, and the preservation of Oceanic cultures. After Muliava's death later that year, Hema became President and Aloisio Sako Secretary-General of the UO. The party was critical of the French loyalist Rassemblement pour la Calédonie dans la République (RPCR), for whom most Wallisian migrants still voted, but it would not formally endorse independence, because it sought guarantees, as Hema put it, “for our children”. Hema took heart from the marriage of a Kanak chief's son on Lifou to a Wallisian woman, because a part-Wallisian heir to a - 291 chieftaincy could open a “familial” path to acceptance. “We have sent out the tobacco [customary offerings],” he said in 1994, “and await their response” (Hema 1994). Yet in the 1995 elections, the UO had little to show for its years in office and lost both its seats.

Wallisians in New Caledonia still needed powerful allies to have a political voice, and many sided with loyalists, especially the RPCR, for economic reasons and because of ties between their Catholic church leaders and traditional chiefs back home. A new alternative, however, was the pro-independence Wallisian party, the Rassemblement Démocratique Océanien (RDO), which won a seat in Congress in 1995 via the Kanak nationalist list. The RDO had split from the UO in 1992 under the leadership of the UO General Secretary, Aloisio Sako, a Noumea police chief. The RDO logo was a kava bowl under a Kanak clan totem: it respected Kanak paramountcy but hoped that fellow Oceanians could share in the resources of Kanaky. When Sako's new party came out openly in support of independence, the issue was legitimate, considering the promise in the Matignon Accord of a referendum on sovereignty in 1998. Yet the French Interior Ministry, which controls “public order” right down to the local gendarme on the street in Noumea, accused Sako of “lack of reserve” and held a disciplinary council. Despite testimony to his good character by many allies, including Kamilo Gata, the Interior Minister suspended Sako from his job for a year (Sako 1994, Combat Ouvrier July 1994:16, Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes 16 July 1994:5).

The “Sako affair” did not stop the RDO, however. Instead, it made Sako a political martyr, and in 1995 Tino Manuohalalo of the RDO was able to occupy a Congressional seat as an ally of the Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS). Sako said that he had grown up among the Kanak, so he dreamed of a “mosaic society”. In a moment of inspiration (and without having read Hau'ofa), he suggested that God had made Polynesians big, strong voyagers so that, when their needs surpassed the resources of their islands, they could continue on to larger islands like New Caledonia and win acceptance. Sako's dream may well come true, because in February 1998, the FLNKS accepted the RDO as a full coalition member, not just an ally (Sako 1998). In a sense, the Wallisian ethnoscape wants to have it both ways: a core they can identify with, which gets economic subsidies from Paris, and a diaspora that has access to New Caledonia's economy, clearly a transnational project. Yet a new development in May 1998 was the Noumea Accord, signed by the French Premier and leaders of the RPCR and FLNKS. The Accord postpones, once again, a vote on independence for another 15-20 years, but it guarantees a gradual devolution of powers from Paris to the territory and valorises Kanak identity. - 292 More significantly for Wallisians, it provides for a local citizenship in New Caledonia, i.e., a new nationality, beginning in 1999, to limit employment and voting rights to longterm residents (Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes 6 May, 1998).

In June, the kings of Wallis and Futuna protested to Paris about the possible negative impact of a separate nationality on the flow of remittances “home”. Sako said that Wallisians would no longer have free access to the territory and would thus have to choose which “nation” to belong to. He now claimed to speak for 40 percent of Wallisians in the territory, but he predicted that more would conquer their fears and cross over from the RPCR, now that the RDO was a full member of the powerful FLNKS (Sako 1998, PIR 6/1/98). The Noumea Accord provides for a separate accord to be negotiated between New Caledonia, and Wallis and Futuna, but Manuohalalo (1998) said the RDO would probably have to explain to their countrymen that Wallisians would need permits to work in New Caledonia. He added that he had just returned to Wallis and Futuna for the first time in 15 years, to attend a funeral, and noted, “God provides those people with everything they need from fishing and farming, but we need cash to survive.” The ethnoscape, whether loyalists to France or pro-Kanak “Oceanians”, will have to cope with a new border.


Tonga, the last sovereign monarchy in Oceania, can invoke its own state apparatus to hinder the flow of political reform ideas between supporters of the Pro-Democracy Movement (PDM) abroad and at home. The King of Tonga appoints cabinet ministers responsible only to himself, who sit in the Parliament with voting rights and are equal in number to each of the other two blocs in the legislature: nobles and commoners. Yet George Marcus has argued that the “nation-state” was not Tongans' only identity option. That construct was just “one public face or context which they could present…. The geographical self-definition of established and emergent elites on the extreme periphery is likely to be international, if not global, in scope” (1981:49). Moreover, after chiefly migrants showed the way, middle and working class Tongans soon followed, often as guest workers in Auckland factories. Once resident in New Zealand they had potential access to Australia as well: “While the homeland might never lose its symbolic and emotional importance for permanent migrants in the retention of a Tongan cultural identity, it might become decentred as the political and economic focus of the Tongan people” (Marcus 1981:60).

Since Marcus wrote those words, Tonga has experienced a feedback loop of activism fuelled by transmigrants who resent the chiefly elite's monopoly over political power and land distribution. PDM leaders, many of whom are - 293 foreign-educated returnees or currently reside abroad, do not oppose the monarchy per se but simply want government ministers to be more accountable and ultimately would like to increase the number of legislative seats for commoners (currently nine out of 27) to a democratic majority. Former People's Representative Laki Niu has argued that rising population has caused a land shortage, but the nobles empowered to distribute plots on behalf of the King are holding onto valuable land, sometimes leasing it out at high rents. The traditional elite, Niu said, should share power with a new commoner middle class and the landless poor, just as precolonial Tu'i Tonga delegated authority to junior branches of the royal line (Niu 1988). Emiliana Afeaki agreed, adding that commoners living on a noble's estate give customary presents to their landlord, and one reason the nobles retain lands instead of distributing them is that “the majority of them enjoy the prestige and power they hold over the landless”.

Numerous authors have discussed the PDM without situating it in a transnational social field, except to refer to the land shortage stimulating outmigration and to the contribution of foreign-educated returnees to “a much more critical outlook on politics” (Lawson 1996:100, Campbell 1992). Yet Rodney Hills noted that a Tongan lawyer from New Zealand, Nelson Tupou, acted as constitutional counsel for PDM leaders, and that travel overseas by Tongan parliamentarians influenced their attitudes about government accountability. Moreover, “for most Tongans their strongest family links are now to New Zealand, the United States, and Australia, in that order, sustained in a very practical sense by regular remittances and the hope of emigration” (Hills 1991:376). Kerry James reported that Crown Ministers were becoming concerned about the growing activism of overseas Tongans, many of whom had left because of frustrations with the monarchy but “want a say in politics at home, perhaps by exercising in the future some form of nonresident voting rights”. Furthermore, “Not only money and material remittances flow back to the country from the sixty thousand or so migrant Tongans overseas, but notions of different, democratic, political systems also trickle back, especially from New Zealand, Australia, and the U.S.A.… ” During the 1992 PDM convention, the Kingdom made it difficult for foreign speakers to obtain visas, and the Police Minister threatened “multiple traumatic consequences” for PDM supporters (James 1994:259-60). At a similar convention in January 1999, Reverend Simote Vea noted that foreign participants were allowed to attend, as were local civil servants, but that police visited speakers to ask why they were attending and what they intended to say (PIR 1/18/99).

Tongan PDM supporters are explicit about connections between the diaspora and the reform movement at home. Futa Helu, the Sydney-educated - 294 founder of the 'Atenisi [Athens] University in Tonga, points to study abroad as a stimulus for “more questioning minds, and capitalistic inclinations” (1992:141). Furthermore, he argues that because remittances continue to outrank both agriculture and tourism as the monarchy's biggest source of foreign exchange, transmigrant Tongans “constitute a powerful political force”, successfully lobbying for land legislation and intervening in the 1980 nurses strike (1988: 20). Edgar Tu'inukuafe has argued that Tongans in diaspora are developing a new “national consciousness” (1990: 211), and Hau'ofa has sketched the outlines of a transnational activist circuit:

From their bases abroad they are exerting significant influences on their homeland. For example, weekly or monthly publications by expatriate Tongans based in New Zealand, Australia, and the United States frequently discuss and editorialise upon national issues such as the prodemocracy movement. Every edition is airfreighted for distribution in the home country, supplementing a multiplicity of lively and fearless weeklies and monthlies published within Tonga and distributed widely internally and externally to the migrant communities. Furthermore, the use of sophisticated communications systems makes for instant international flows of information, connecting Tongans wherever they are located. National issues are internationalised through transnational networks of a highly mobile population making it difficult for the powers that be to keep track of, let alone contain, any social movement with tentacles spread across the globe (1994b:422-23).

These “tentacles” (a discursive appropriation from writing on capitalist TNCs) can be explained by the transformations that Tongan society has undergone since the 1875 constitution. Keith Morton described a process of social “atomization”, as former clientelist ties between chiefs and commoners were broken by the allocation of individualised land plots to male family heads for farming (8.25 acres) and for residence in new villages (.40 acre). King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV ascended the throne in 1965 and began a modernisation programme, using five year plans financed by foreign aid, but Tonga was monetarised without being successfully developed, and people moved to the main island of Tongatapu, which held two-thirds of the population in 1976. By that year, the proportion of eligible Tongan males who actually received their land allotments had fallen to 35 percent, while noble land brokers leased out estates or hired landless commoners as sharecroppers. The Tongan Central Planning Department admitted that sending landless Tongans abroad was a safety valve to defuse political unrest, but a new middle class emerged from the King's own educational and economic policies, and by the 1990s won most of the nine seats for People's - 295 Representatives in Parliament (Morton 1987, Maude 1973, Needs 1988, PIR 3/2/99).

The most outspoken People's Representative,'Akilisi Pohiva, continues to be elected by large margins, despite having been sued for libel, suspended from Parliament, and even arrested for his confrontational style. In the 1995 elections, Pohiva won two-thirds of all the commoner votes cast on Tongatapu (victorious at 20 out of 22 polling stations), leading historian Ian Campbell to say, “Pohiva's vote-pulling power is the main reason why the government should discuss reform…” (1996:52). Yet his political campaigns are partly transnational in scope, because Tongans living abroad have helped to finance half of Pohiva's court costs in endless legal battles (James 1995, 1997). Wendy Cowling has found among many Tongans in Australia “an unprompted resentment of the domination of society and resources by the nobility and elite”. “Many migrants,” she noted, “would like to exercise options of split residency between Tonga and Australia, or New Zealand, enabling them to reside in Tonga, but visit Australia or New Zealand to earn capital from time to time” (1990:204). Finau Kolo, an 'Atenisi graduate, argues that the “international Tongan” is not causing a breakdown of traditions, which were never static, but is simply “dynamic, progressive, liberated, and democratic” (1996).

In 1996-97 the Kingdom invoked state power against PDM supporters who published the Taimi o Tonga (Times of Tonga). The newspaper's deputy editor, Filokalafi 'Akau'ola, was arrested three times (February, September and November 1996), for “inciting Police Minister Clive Edwards to anger” by publishing a critical article, then for publishing an impeachment motion against the Minister of Justice for misusing government funds (leaked to the paper by Pohiva before it was brought before the Parliament), and finally for publishing articles that criticised the government's economic planning and undemocratic nature. Each time, two other people were arrested with him, Pohiva in the last two arrests and his editor, Kalafi Moala, in the second. The Chief Justice declared the September arrest unconstitutional, and Parliament voted to impeach the Justice Minister, so the King closed Parliament early, in October, to let matters “cool off” until it reconvened in July 1997. When the newspaper's publication license expired in December 1996, the government did not renew it for two months. Police Minister Edwards was studying “certain questions”, such as the foreign citizenship of the editor, Moala, who carries a U.S. passport (he was deported to New Zealand by Edwards' predecessor). The government vowed to punish anyone who smuggled the paper into Tonga from New Zealand, where it was printed, but PDM supporters said they would distribute it (RAN December 1996 and February 1997, PIM November 1996:25-27, Islands Business October 1996:50-51).

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The irony of this crackdown was that Edwards himself had spent nearly 30 years in New Zealand as a lawyer defending Tongan overstayers from deportation, and he had to win a court battle to become a citizen of Tonga. Though born in Tonga, he was the son of an English father, and Tonga's Nationality Act required that his father be Tongan. The Tongan Supreme Court denied his citizenship application, so he took his case to the Court of Appeals and won in 1994, arguing that he was born before the Nationality Act existed, and that in Tongan tradition place of birth was more important than bloodline as a criterion for belonging. Edwards said his cabinet appointment proved that any hardworking commoner could be a success in Tonga under the existing monarchy, and that the PDM threatened law and order. As Police Minister, he warned PDM sympathisers in the force to resign and repeated his predecessor's threat to invoke sedition laws against PDM politicians (Tonga Chronicle 7 July 1994, 22 June 1995, 18 January 1996; Campbell 1996:51). The incident suggests, as Marcus predicted, that the Tongan elite can wield the nation-state to de-legitimise reformers' appeal to a universalist ideology: democracy. Still, the transnationalism in Tongan politics is unlikely to disappear, considering the land shortage and frustrations for returning middle class commoners. In effect, Tonga exports its class conflicts through the diaspora:

The King's effort to trade on sovereignty [aims] to preserve Tonga's position as both the economic and symbolic center of an internationalising culture. Migrant dispersion generates an alternative model of Tongan development as an international population that challenges the model of Tongan development as a nation-state (Marcus 1993:32).

If the Tongan PDM is the most active challenge from a central Oceanian transmigrant circuit to the traditional polity, Wallisians have made the most aggressive efforts to mobilise politically abroad. Today, Pohiva and Sako are like generals in command of different wings of grassroots ethnoscapes, seeking what is best for the majority. Yet state borders have been invoked in both cases to limit the transnational politics of Tongans and Wallisians. In a sense, Samoan reformers succeeded where the PDM has so far failed, because a majority of the matai in the Parliament supported democratisation, and their constitution allowed them to make the change, whereas only the King himself can change Tonga's charter. Perhaps because of the compromise that only matai would be allowed to run for office, the Samoan reform is enshrined in law, while the PDM lost a seat in the 1999 elections (PIR 3/5/99). - 297 The Tongan state remains a potent symbol for the whole spectrum of the ethnoscape, including those overseas who remain loyal to and proud of the present monarchy as a survivor of British hegemony (Latukefu 1996).

The relationship of Free Association that both the Cook Islands and Niue have with New Zealand is the most institutionalised expression of political transnationalism. Niue resisted even self-government in free association for a decade, and Tokelau relocated their government from Apia to Tokelau under New Zealand pressure for an “act of self-determination”—which some might say they have already performed, by having exactly the relationship they want with their supposed “colonizer” (Levine 1998). Judith Huntsman once told me that it was more realistic to view Tokelau society as organic, with branches in New Zealand and Australia, than to measure its nationhood according to a World Bank account-book paradigm (Interview 1997). Central Oceanians are active in politics in their spiritual cores but also in peripheries like New Zealand, where they form new solidarities in neighbourhoods, factories, schools and churches. Moreover, their relative concentration sometimes enables them to win district elections in Auckland, which contains over 100,000 Polynesians, thus approximating the Wallisians' clout in New Caledonia.

States will not disappear, because people continue to support bastions of self-defense that co-opt or marginalise alternatives. Elites can use social and cultural capital to construct “power gardens”, even as diasporas deterritorialise their fields of operation. Moreover, ethnoscapes that cross borders are rarely coherent solidarities, as we have seen, because they carry within them the contradictions of both home and host polities. Hence the entropic tendency in diasporas, as emigrants acculturate and remittances decline. If the critical mass of a nation shifts overseas, as in much of central Oceania, migrants may become loyal to the journey itself and develop a mutable, mobile notion of sovereignty. That trend can include reinventions of a cultural heritage that are projected back onto the “imagined” homeland, as Helen Morton has found among Tongans in Australia (Morton 1998). Meanwhile, Sissons notes that for educated Cook Islander returnees, “‘tradition’ is now a middle-class identity project that is strongly embraced by salaried public servants, teachers, and artists”. In his estimation, “Instead of gaining economic or full political autonomy, an increasingly alienated Cook Islands middle class pursues greater cultural autonomy” (1998:174, 176).

This essay has been deliberately wide-ranging and suggestive, in order to stimulate discussion and further study of the new forms of nationhood emerging in central Oceania. The dialectic of challenge and response between nation-building and emigration is likely to continue, as modern states become - 298 increasingly cosmopolitan while simultaneously, globalisation heightens people's awareness of cultural diversity. Transnationalism here refers to interactions between an ethnic field and more than one state arena, an extended spectrum of political articulation along which migrants are partly autonomous, partly subaltern and, in some ways, potentially hegemonic. It does not replace the modern state system, but compromises it, just as TNCs, satellite signals and other cross-border flows do. With its redefined tavaka, Malaga and tere, central Oceania may not be as helplessly dependent as some analyses claim, but rather demonstrate the cutting edge of interdependency. In the words of demographer Richard Bedford, it constitutes “a transnational community dispersed in space but appearing to maintain similar social relations of rights and obligations in a range of places” (1991:161). As Cook Islanders of Manihiki Atoll say, “We have moved away in order to stay behind” (Chapman 1991:281). In fact, in the June 1999 Parliamentary elections, Dr Joe Williams was re-elected as the representative of Cook Islanders overseas, and by the end of July he was made Prime Minister of the country (PIR 7/30/99).

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