The impact of Tongan cultural practices on Tongans’ economic behaviour

Economic development Tongan people Tālanoa Research Methodology Cultural awareness Financial stress Tonga
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The purpose of this thesis was to find ways in which the current practices of Tongan culture and of the church could be modified so that any economic adverse impact they have on Tongans could be alleviated. This research is particularly significant when contextualised in the current unfavourable economic environment surrounding Tongans in Tonga and overseas.

The findings from this research are original contributions on the subject of cultural modification in the context of Tonga. This study has used North’s Institutional Path Dependency Theory to investigate the impact of current cultural practices in Tonga on Tongans’ economic performance. North’s argument that institutions and institutional change do matter in defining a society’s economic performance underpins this thesis. In this context, Tongan culture is considered an informal institution. This research has used both qualitative and quantitative research methodologies, relying largely on tālanoa or dialogue to collect the data. One of key findings of this research is that cultural and church obligations place undue financial burdens on Tongans, especially at the nuclear family level. Many Tongan families have gone into debt through borrowing to finance these obligations. The research also identifies the social impact, such as tension among the extended family’s members. Seventy per cent of the participants pointed out that while the culture of fetokoni’aki (makafetoli’aki) or reciprocity, fevahevahe’aki or sharing, faka’apa’apa or respect and tauhi vā or maintaining good relationships with others should be upheld, some of their practices, such as elaborate birthday, wedding and funeral ceremonies and church donations, need to be modified by scaling them down. The study also identified that there could be resistance toward this proposed change. I have introduced the Makafetoli’aki modification model, a culturally sensitive approach, to guide this proposed modification. This model adopts a communal approach where the King and the royal family, nobles, chiefs, church leaders, ‘ulumotu’a or head of the extended families and their members are asked to fetokoni’aki in making this change happen in a culturally appropriate manner. I have used the Tongan phrase makafetoli’aki or reciprocity to develop the Makafetoli’aki theoretical framework, Makafetoli’aki research methodology and Makafetoli’aki modification model. These are original contributions of this thesis at the levels of theory, research and practice.

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