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Understanding Tongan Aesthetic Ethnoscientific Structuralism is the belief with which Adrienne Kaeppler writes “Melody, drone and

decoration: underlying structures and surface manifestations in Tongan art and society.” Through the Structuralist way of thinking, she identifies the basic principles of Tongan society through analyzing their aesthetic beliefs and the hierarchical structure of what is most valuable in Tongan art forms. Kaeppler’s research was done through the Structuralist approach, but also through applying Saussure’s linguistic techniques to the structure of the Tongan society rather than to a grammatical structure. Also, the etic/emic approach was used so that Kaeppler was not only an athropologist watching their society from the outside, but she aimed to obtain the Tongan people’s perspective just as Colin Turnbull clearly was aiming to do in his ethnography “The Forest People.” By taking the emic approach, Kaeppler is able to understand the Tongan culture from their perspective, and there by understanding the Tongan aesthetic and art the way they intend it to be seen. To understand this, first more research and understanding of other aspects of the Tongan society necessary. The main questions Kaeppler inquires in order to figure this out is what characteristics are relevent in the organization of society and how they are applied within the “artistic and social domains” including music, dance, material culture and social organisation. Kaeppler finds that these concepts in the society apply most clearly to Tongan music. The melody is the primary part of music, and parallel to the melody in other spheres of Tongan culture is the fasi in vocal music, which is the “main conveyor of text,” and in dance the Haka or arm movements most clearly allude to the story as well. The parallel aspects of material culture relate in a slightly less direct way. Kaeppler describes items of ceremonial use as being parallel to melody. One such item of value is bark cloth, which, in the process of creating bark cloth, the print design process koka ‘anga and the “named motifs” of the bark cloth designs are within the same category as all story-conveying parts of Tongan culture. Finally, the Tamai kin group, the “father and father’s brothers” are an important and essential part of society. Even though melody is a necessary and important part of cultural concepts, even more important is the decoration. Decoration is not essential; it does not carry the story, but without the decoration the music is not complete. “Decorative parts are preferred by many Tongans and the fasi sometimes disappears entirely (263).” The decorative parts such as the fakateki, or leg movements, in dance are not choreographed but are performed from inner feeling instead. While the instruments in Tongan music are structured by their importance parallel to the other aspects mentioned, they are less

clearly ranked. Instruments have a more functional role in society than the other forms of art. The musical instrument which parallels the essential melody are those which are used in place of words, when they are perhaps “tabu.” A certain function of musical instruments may be to wake a chief in a preferable manner than a voice. Functionalism, as Radcliffe Brown explains in his essay on the Andaman Islanders, is when multiple individual aspects of society work together to maintain the organism of society working as a whole. To explain this he focuses on the Andaman dances and all parts, like drums, that are included in and create a whole dance. The function of musical instruments during a performance “was not to convey meaning but to hold a performance together and decorate it (264).” Musical instruments serve a primarily functional purpose, although they are understood to be an art as well. This is justified as Kaeppler intricately describes aspects of Tongan life intertwined with aesthetic preference. In all of the different spheres of Tongan culture, Kaeppler shows that they each have parallel levels of importance. Between the standard piece of importance that carries the story line; the most important element, which is not essential but important for completion of the object; and the drone which is least important but provides “a reference for placement of the leading part (274)”. Aspects of Tongan life do share “conceptual similarities in their underlying structure (273).” Kaeppler points out that shapes such as rectangles, squares, curved or straight lines, are incorporated by the Tongan people into their art in different ways that can show grace or structure, etc. It is clear that because of the way Tongan people have made structures within their society, they are predisposed to have certain aesthetic beliefs. Kaeppler concludes that outsiders cannot immediately understand the Tongan aesthetic because the objectives are not clear on the surface of their work, and they are not exactly like a Westerners idea of aesthetic. These concepts provide beauty as well as order in all aspects of the lives of the Tongan.