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Flowers, Fale, Fanua and Fa'a Polynesia - APMRN Working Paper 8
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Asia Pacific Migration Research Network
Working Paper No. 8

Flowers, Fale, Fanua and Fa'a Polynesia

Edited by R. Longhurst, Y. Underhill-Sem
and R. Bedford, 2001

Published by the APMRN Secretariat
Migration and Multicultural Program
Centre for Asia Pacific Social Transformation Studies
University of Wollongong, Australia

ISSN 1328-2530
Copyright © 2001

Table of Contents




From Samoa … to the Cook Islands … to Tonga

  • Flowers and the Church in Samoa
    Ruta Fiti-Sinclair

  • Contemporary responses to commercial flower production opportunities in Samoa
    Asenati Liki

  • Flowering identities in Samoa and the Cook Islands: population mobility and environmental transformation in the Eastern Pacific
    Yvonne Underhill-Sem

  • What Samoans want today is ‘a quarter acre section of freehold’
    Peggy Fairburn-Dunlop

  • Changes and choices in Tonga: the significance of conspicuous construction
    Wendy Cowling

The Pacific in New Zealand

  • Some changes and continuities in the gardening practices of Samoans in Aotearoa/New Zealand
    Ieti Lima

  • Growing cultures: subtropical gardening in New Zealand
    Robyn Longhurst

  • Power relations between two different worlds: commercialisation of a non-domesticated indigenous plant
    Pania Melbourne


Transformation of Domestic Environments: an Ignored Dimension of Transnational Communities


Richard Bedford

Department of Geography, University of Waikato

Hamilton, New Zealand

Context for a workshop

Transnational communities have become the focus of considerable attention in recent years as one of several manifestations of globalisation (see, for example, Castles and Davidson 2000, Cohen 1997, Spoonley 2001, van Heer 1998). UNESCO’s Management of Social Transformations (MOST) programme has picked up the theme of transnationalism as a dimension of globalisation in several of its major international research networks. The Asia-Pacific Migration Research Network (APMRN), with its focus on processes of change in multicultural and multi-ethnic societies, has been encouraging research on four themes associated with international migration and social transformation (Bedford 2001). These are: the issue of migration and identity, the roles of migrant entrepreneurs and ‘business migration’, illegal migration, and the implications of migration for environmental transformation. This volume contains papers presented at a UNESCO-sponsored workshop exploring aspects of the latter theme.

Issues of migration and identity for Pacific peoples have been explored in a collection of essays entitled Tangata O Te Moana Nui: The Evolving Identities of Pacific Peoples in Aotearoa/New Zealand (Macpherson et al. 2001a). As the editors note in their introduction, this book:

… is about the diverse identities that result from the various experiences of being a Pacific person in the many places in which Pacific people are now found. It avoids the essentialising of elements of ‘culture’ and the suggestion that those who do not share all of these suffer from some degree of deprivation. Instead it celebrates this increasing diversity in given cultural identities as a demonstration of the creative responses to the increasingly diverse circumstances in which Pacific peoples have chosen to settle and live (Macpherson et al. 2001b: 13-14).

The papers commissioned for and presented at the UNESCO-sponsored workshop, "Flowers, fale, Fanua and fa’a Polynesia" are all about ‘diverse identities that result from the various experiences of being a Pacific person in the many places in which Pacific people are now found’. A distinctive focus for the papers was the implications of migration for environmental transformation in both the island homes and the ‘homes abroad’ for Pacific peoples. Following Hau’ofa’s (1998: 401-402) generous definition of ‘Pacific peoples’, the workshop included presentations on New Zealand’s Maori and pakeha (European descent) peoples as well as Samoans, Tongans and Cook Island Maori. For the latter groups, the implications of migration for environmental transformation were examined in both their island homes as well as in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

A decision was taken to focus attention on the domestic environment — houses, flower and vegetable gardens, and the land used for residential purposes. This was because the literature on transnational communities has tended to highlight cultural, economic, political and social dimensions of their structures and dynamics. Little attention has been given to the way in which domestic environments reflect ‘creative responses to the increasingly diverse circumstances in which Pacific peoples have chosen to live and settle’ (Macpherson et al. 2001b: 14). Yvonne Underhill-Sem, the co-ordinator of the workshop and of most of the research reported in the following papers, sums up the local context for the particular focus on domestic environments in her summary of the rationale for the study. She observes in the second part of the Introductions that the project examines aspects of place that have been taken-for-granted in Pacific Islands identities and economies — the domestic environments associated with residences and their associated flower and vegetable gardens in both island homes and homes abroad.

In essence the project represents a partial response to a challenge issued by Findlay and Hoy (2000), in a special issue of Applied Geography, for researchers with an interest in migration and social transformation to examine environmental issues and health problems amongst transnational communities. They point out that "Globalising tendencies suggest greater freedoms for some ethnic groups, not only in terms of their residential geographies, but more significantly in the flexibility of their negotiated identities" (Findlay and Hoy 2000: 212). Quoting Zelinsky and Lee (1998: 294) they go on to observe that:

... a substantial portion of those populations that have been crossing and re-crossing international boundaries … are capable of retaining or reinventing much of the ancestral culture, while devising original amalgams of their cultural heritage with what they find awaiting them in their new, perhaps provisional, abodes.

These papers all demonstrate that ‘ancestral cultures’ are being reinvented in different ways in the residential environments of both ‘old’ and ‘new’ abodes for Pacific peoples who have a long history of ‘crossing and re-crossing international borders’. As Epeli Hau’ofa (1994: 156) reminds us in his evocative essay ‘Our Sea of Islands’:

… much of the welfare of ordinary people of Oceania depends on informal movement along ancient routes drawn in bloodlines invisible to the enforcers of the laws of confinement and regulated mobility … [Pacific peoples] are once again enlarging their world, establishing new resource bases and expanding networks for circulation.

There is nothing new about transoceanic mobility amongst Pacific peoples. The Maori population of Aotearoa is descended from Polynesian seafarers, and the more recent waves of immigrants from the eastern Pacific have come to a land inhabited by their ancestral kin.

The physical environment of Aotearoa/New Zealand is very different from that found in their island homes. However, the knowledge that a Polynesian people has successfully lived in this different environment for over 1000 years has, no doubt, facilitated the adaptation process. As the papers by Ieti Lima and Robyn Longhurst in this volume show, some familiar signs of the tropical Pacific can be found in the gardens of Maori, pakeha and Pacific Island New Zealanders, especially those living in the North Island.

Flowers, fale, Fanua and fa’a Polynesia

The workshop organised by Underhill-Sem to report on the initial findings of the research into migration and the transformation of domestic environments in Pacific communities in the islands and abroad explored three key themes in the islands, and three in Aotearoa/New Zealand. The papers by Ruta Fiti-Sinclair, Asenati Liki and Yvonne Underhill-Sem all examined aspects of the changing roles of flowers in Samoan and Cook Island society. Flowers have always played an important role in the social life and identities of Polynesians but, as Fiti-Sinclair shows, there were some significant transformations in the ways flowers were used for personal decoration as well as in ceremonies and buildings following the establishment of Christianity in Samoa and other parts of the Pacific.

Fiti-Sinclair and Underhill-Sem both stress the importance of flowers in the construction of contemporary Pacific identities; part of the process of post-colonialism in Polynesia has been re-establishing the place of flowers in cultural and social life. This does not mean a return to practices of the past, however. As Underhill-Sem argues, the flowers and combinations of plant materials used for ceremonial and decorative purposes in the 1990s are often different from those used in the past reflecting the poly-ethnic character of contemporary Polynesian communities.

Liki’s study of contemporary responses to commercial flower production opportunities in Samoa indicates that there is a new dimension to this post-colonial revival of interest in and the significance of flowers in Samoan life. Flowers are also a commercial proposition and a differentiated market in the production and consumption of flowers in Samoa is emerging. Most of the flowers for sale are still grown in domestic garden situations rather than nurseries of the kind that Longhurst discusses in her examination of sub-tropical gardening in New Zealand.

Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop and Wendy Cowling examine developments with regard to Fanua and fale respectively in Samoa and Tonga. Fairbairn-Dunlop develops an argument about the trend towards acquisition of a quarter acre section of freehold land in Samoa, especially by migrants returning from New Zealand or Australia. The demand for freehold land, the title to which can be held by the family without reference to the matai (chiefs), is increasing rapidly, according to Fairbairn-Dunlop’s research into land transactions in Apia in recent years. This trend reflects changing perceptions of the place of land in Samoan domestic environments, especially the domestic environments of Samoans who have lived for many years in rental and ownership property in New Zealand.

Cowling’s examination of trends in housing styles in Tonga, and some of the environmental implications of the sorts of housing that the elites especially are building, reveals some interesting tensions within one of the most active Polynesian transnational communities. Tongan housing has been greatly transformed by styles imported from New Zealand especially and there is very little so called ‘traditional’ housing left in the country. Migration has had, and continues to have, a very profound impact on this dimension of Polynesian domestic environments. However, the movement of ideas is not all one-way. It is not just a question of importing overseas designs and kit-set houses into the islands. As Cluny Macpherson (1997) shows in a fascinating analysis of the way Samoans adjusted to urban living in New Zealand, the humble garage gained a whole range of new uses and meanings as its potential was realised for overcoming major space restraints in the small three-bedroomed State houses in Auckland.

Lima reports on an exploratory study of gardening amongst Samoans resident in Auckland. His case studies are drawn from several suburbs and he reveals considerable diversity in both the enthusiasm for and the realisation of domestic gardens in urban residential spaces. One of the major constraints facing would-be Samoan gardeners is the fact that the majority of Pacific peoples in Auckland still rent their houses. They are reluctant to invest much time or money in establishing gardens in places that are not their own. Where people have established gardens, Lima finds evidence of both considerable continuity in the choices of plants and the roles of flowers especially in Samoan social and cultural life, especially amongst older people. He also finds evidence of considerable change related to the impact of local climatic conditions on plant species as well as the impact of a wage economy on the division of labour in the gardens.

Longhurst’s examination of domestic gardens "as texts that raise questions about migration, entanglements of culture, and constructions of diasporic identities" charts a brief history of colonial gardens in New Zealand, before describing current gardening trends in temperate New Zealand and exploring what the shift towards subtropical gardening might mean in relation to post-colonial identities and cultural difference. She focuses on the gardens of urban, middle class pakeha New Zealanders, and the extent to which they are taking elements of Pacific environments, filtering them through their own cultural experiences and building them into a new post-colonial identity.

In the final paper, Pania Melbourne brings the perspectives of a Maori researcher to bear on some issues that are of critical importance to the tangata whenua of Aotearoa in the contemporary contexts of commercialisation of indigenous plants and knowledge about plants. There is considerable interest both within Crown Research Institutes as well as within Maoridom in the possibilities for commercialisation of non-domesticated indigenous plants. However, the very different cultural values that underpin Maori society on the one hand, and the world of commerce that dominates the political and economic life of New Zealand’s majority pakeha population, create complex situations both for researchers as well as for the actors seeking to test the commercial viability of particular propositions. Melbourne talks of the interplay of power between two different worlds, and how these worlds manage to

While her discussion relates to a particular situation within Maoridom, the issues Melbourne raises about research into aspects of the use of plants within contemporary society has wider relevance for Pacific peoples in both their island homes and their homes abroad. The circulation of plant materials within the transnational networks of Pacific peoples is leading to new opportunities for domestic gardening in both the islands and in New Zealand. There have been no substantive studies of Pacific gardening in New Zealand cities, but it is clear from Lima’s preliminary inquiries that the cultivation of vegetables, flowers and a range of plants with medicinal value is an integral part of Auckland’s established Pacific communities, reflecting cultural values that remain important in the islands.

A final comment

Research on the implications of migration for environmental transformation in Pacific transnational communities is still in its early stages. However, the original research reported at the Apia meeting, and detailed in the papers in this volume, has made it clear that "we must radically rethink the relationships between person, community, culture and place for all of us, not just for immigrants and ethnic groups" (Zelinsky and Lee 1998: 294) if we are to understand better the development of transnational communities and their implications for social change and environmental transformation.


Bedford, R. 2001: A robust research/policy interface: international migration and social transformation in the Asia-Pacific region, in OECD Social sciences for knowledge and decision making, OECD, Paris, 153-163.

Castles, S. and Davidson, A. 2000: Citizenship and migration: globalisation and the politics of belonging, Macmillan, London.

Cohen, R. 1997: Global diasporas: an introduction, UCL Press, London.

Findlay, A. and Hoy, C. 2000: Global population issues: towards a geographical research agenda, Applied Geography, 20, 207-219.

Hau’ofa, E. 1994: Our sea of islands, The Contemporary Pacific, 6, 1, 147-161.

Hau’ofa, E. 1998: The ocean in us, The Contemporary Pacific, 10, 2, 391-410.

Macpherson, C., Spoonley, P. and Anae, M. (eds) 2001a: Tangata o te moana nui: the evolving identities of Pacific peoples in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Dunmore Press, Palmerston North.

Macpherson, C., Spoonley, P. and Anae, M. 2001b: Pacific peoples in Aotearoa: an introduction, in Macpherson, C., Spoonley, P. and Anae, M. (eds) Tangata o te moana nui: the evolving identities of Pacific peoples in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Dunmore Press, Palmerston North, 11-15.

Spoonley, P. 2001: Transnational Pacific communities: transforming the politics of place and identity, in Macpherson, C., Spoonley, P. and Anae, M. (eds) Tangata o te moana nui: the evolving identities of Pacific peoples in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Dunmore Press, Palmerston North, 81-96.

Van Heer, N. 1998: New diasporas: the mass exodus, dispersal and regrouping of migrant communities, UCL Press, London.

Zelinsky, W. and Lee B.A. 1998: Hetrolocalism: an alternative model of the sociospatial behaviour of immigrant ethnic communities, International Journal of Population Geography, 4, 281-298.


Population Mobility and the Environment in Polynesia:
New Perspectives on an Old Theme


Yvonne Underhill-Sem

Independent Scholar

Bonn, Germany

Towards the end of the 1990s the study of population mobility in the eastern Pacific, Polynesia, as predominantly an economic issue has been superseded by studies which take population mobility as a given and examine its social and cultural complexity in various locations and using various texts (Macpherson 1999, Liki 1997). Detailed analysis of the flows and composition of people moving into, out of and through the countries of the eastern Pacific have shown that international migration is significant, complex and often contradictory (see Bedford 2000 and Connell 1977 for useful overviews). Different sorts of people are moving between different places for different reasons and for varying lengths of time. The cumulative effect of these complex mobility patterns increasingly constitutes the multi-local identities of many Pacific Islanders (Macpherson 1997, Ward 1997).

The extent to which various aspects of ‘home’ island cultures constitute Pacific Island identity becomes an important question in the context of globalisation (the compression of space and time in political, economic and cultural affairs) and post-coloniality (the politics of recognising and rejecting the cumulative impacts of colonial intrusion). Also interesting is the extent to which the cultures of ‘metropolitan’ places constitute Pacific Island identity (Anae 1998, Macpherson 1999, Underhill-Sem and Fitzgerald 1996).

Closely related to issues of cultural identity among mobile Pacific peoples is the recognition of ‘the environment’ as an essential part of Pacific Island identity and in particular the cultural importance of land. International debates on climate change and biodiversity have further emphasised the critical importance of Pacific Island environments and biodiversity not only for the islands themselves but also for global concerns.

This research project brings together issues of population mobility and environmental transformation in an exploratory analysis of how domestic environments are being constituted by the multi-local identities of mobile Pacific peoples. The initial focus was on Samoa but as the project unfolded, so too did other perspectives on the guiding questions. In the end we have papers on Samoa, Tonga, and New Zealand.

The initial focus on Samoa is in some ways accidental in that this was where the principle researcher, who self-identifies as a New Zealand Cook Islander, lived. However, perhaps because Samoans constitute the largest group of Polynesians in New Zealand and there are now many New Zealand-born Samoans, there have been a growing number of studies in New Zealand which examine the complex creation of Samoan identities (Anae 1998, Macpherson 1999, Macpherson et al., 2000). This study contributes to this analysis by examining aspects of place that have been taken-for-granted in Pacific Islands identities and economies — the feminine domestic activities associated with flower gardens in ‘home islands’. This study could well have been located in the Cook Islands or Tonga and it is hoped that it can be expanded in this direction.

Flowering identities and the domestic production

As Samoans have moved through the Pacific and beyond, so too have ideas, fashions and money, making for an increasingly diverse Samoa — not that it was ever as homogenous as it was thought to be. Flowers have always been a feature of Pacific Island identity and culture and appear in many Pacific motifs such as on Cook Island tivaevae (quilts), contemporary art, and clothing styles. Flowers are used extensively for church displays, greetings, meetings, funerals and weddings. The underlying message is that flowers are an integral part of Pacific identity and are ‘naturally’ part of Pacific environments.

Recent developments highlight some ways in which this is changing. Artificial flowers and ‘lolly leis’ are becoming more common in New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga and the Cook Islands. At the same time, there has been a notable increase in the development of small businesses in Samoa, which grow and sell flowers and plants, both native and introduced varieties. Now in the late 1990s, palagi (European) flower displays have an acceptable and even privileged place in these same contexts.

It is not only as part of Pacific identities within which flower motifs emerge. The combination of climate and soil in the physical environment provides for the growth of lush and ‘exotic’ tropical flowers. To date, much flower production is for the local market. In the case of Fiji this extends to the larger tourist market. However, fragrant plants and flowers have moved, both commercially and privately, throughout the region for many years. For example maire leaves from Mauke, in the Cook Islands, are sold in Hawaii and tipani (frangipani) have been air-freighted from Rarotonga, the Cook Islands to Porirua, New Zealand for weddings.

In the context of new global trade developments, the ability of Pacific Island floriculture businesses to flourish must be understood in the context of complex issues arising from the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement vis a vis the Convention on Biological Diversity. Already, in the Caribbean the floriculture industry has developed in response to demands from markets outside the region, which has altered the landscape in the Caribbean as well as set up another island industry too closely tied to non-Caribbean commercial interests.

Domestic gardens are built and developed on the basis of the multiple needs of owners and according to diverse ideas about design. In this way, gardens in Samoa can be examined for the ways in which they constitute and in turn are constituted by the people who design and build them. Flower gardens are one area of the domestic environment, which is clearly in the domain of women. It is predominantly women who are involved in flower gardens or the planting and tendering of ornamental and fragrant plants. Among other things it is widely thought that tending domestic flower gardens enables women to stay close to home where they remain under surveillance and can still attend to the care of children, the aged and the sick.

There is also however an emotive aspect to tending domestic gardens: pride in the extent, tidiness and diversity of gardens; pleasure in watching gardens develop; delight in unexpected growth; satisfaction in sharing the garden and what it delivers. The pleasure of being able to use one’s flowers for gifting to other people, for church decorations and other life cycle events like weddings and funerals, tends to be underestimated. Over the last decade in Samoa however, there appears to have been an appreciable change in the way domestic flowers are being used in Samoa. Aspects of competition and commercialism are becoming evident. Neighbours and family members are less keen to share particular plants and cut flowers are now being sold for different events. This exploratory research began to examine these changes by asking the following questions:

  • What is the ‘place’ of domestic flower gardens in Polynesia?
  • In what ways does the movement of people into and out of Polynesia affect domestic and commercial flower gardens?
  • In what ways are flower gardens gendered?
  • In what ways do flower gardens contribute to the recreation of Pacific places and identities?

These questions open up another dimension to the population mobility-environment nexus. Stimulated by these questions, the research that follows shows the intellectual potency of interrogating domestic sites and taken-for-granted activities among the highly mobile Polynesian populations. Surprises and contradictions resonate through the work reported here thereby fueling further inquiries into the population mobility-environment nexus in the Pacific.


Anae, Melani, 1998: Fofoa I Voa Ese: the identity journeys of New Zealand-born Samoans, unpublished PhD thesis in Anthropology, University of Auckland.

Bedford, Richard, 2000: Meta societies, remittance economies and internet addresses. Dimensions of contemporary human security in Polynesia, in D.T. Graham and N.K. Poku (eds), Migration, globalisation and human security, Routledge, London, 110-137.

Connell, John, 1997: A false global-local duality? Migration, markets and meanings, in P.J. Rimmer (ed) Pacific Rim development. Intergration and globalisation in the Asia-Pacific economy, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 197-221.

Fairbairn-Dunlop, Peggy, 1993: Women and agriculture in Western Samoa, in J.H. Momsen and V. Kinnaird (eds), Different places, different voices: gender and development in Africa, Asia and Latin America, Routledge, London, 221-223.

Liki, Asenati, 1997: Moving and rootedness: the paradox of the brain drain among Samoan professionals, paper presented at the 8th Pacific Science Inter-Congress, Suva.

MacIntyre, Martha, 1989: Better homes and gardens, in M. Jolly and M. MacIntyre (eds) Family and gender in the Pacific: domestic contradictions and the colonial impact, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 156-169.

Macpherson, Cluny, 1997: The Polynesia diaspora: new communities and new questions, in Kenichi Sudo and Shuji Yoshida (eds) Contemporary migration in Oceania: diaspora and networks, the Japan Center for Area Studies, JCAS Symposium Series No. 3, Osaka, 77-100.

Macpherson, Cluny, 1999: Will the ‘real’ Samoans please stand up? Issues in diasporic Samoan identity, New Zealand Geographer, 55, 2, 50-59.

Macpherson, Cluny, Spoonley, Paul and Anae, Melani (eds) 2000: Tangata o te moana nui: peoples of the great sea, Dunmore Press, Palmerston North.

Underhill-Sem, Yvonne J., and Thomas K. Fitzgerald, 1996: Paddling a multicultural canoe in bicultural waters: ethnic identity and aspirations of second-generation Cook Islanders in New Zealand, MacMillan Brown Working Paper Series No. 4.

Ward, R. Gerard, 1997: Expanding worlds of Oceania: implications of migration, in Kenichi Sudo and Shuji Yoshida (eds) Contemporary migration in Oceania: diaspora and networks, the Japan Center for Area Studies, JCAS Symposium Series No. 3, Osaka, 179-196.

For more information, please contact:

    APMRN Secretariat
    Migration & Multicultural Studies
    Centre for Asia Pacific Social Transformation Studies
    University of Wollongong
    Northfields Avenue, Wollongong, NSW 2522
    Telephone: +61 (02) 42 213 780
    Fax: +61 (02) 42 286 313
    E-mail: apmrn@uow.edu.au
    On Internet: http://www.capstrans.edu.au/apmrn/

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