Accepted Paper:

Who controls the work?: Appropriation and restoration the Tokelau village work force  


Judith Huntsman (University of Auckland)

Paper short abstract:

Tokelau adult male village work forces were appropriated by a national Public Service in 1977. In 2001, the work forces were returned to the villages. During the intervening years there efforts were made to ameliorate the imposed incongruous national system. Why did it take so long to undo it?

Paper long abstract:

The able-bodied men of Tokelau's three atolls villages have long "worked together for the welfare of all" under the control of their elders. As directed by the village council of elders, together they fished and harvested, built and repaired public amenities. But from 1977, most of these same men worked set hours for hourly wages at jobs dictated by absent bureaucrats. They had been made employees of the national Tokelau Public Service for which the New Zealand State Services Commission was the "controlling authority". This change was part of what the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs called "administrative decolonisation", designed to lead to Tokelau's political decolonisation.

The anomalies and sheer "lack of fit" of this imposed work regime in the circumstances of atoll village life was immediately obvious to Tokelau villagers, but it took over three decades of negotiation in Tokelau and controversy in New Zealand for control of the work forces to be returned to the village elders, and then in an "evolved" form.

The paper examines the unhappy effects of the new regime on relationships in one of the atoll villages and the local strategies proposed or used to ameliorate them, drawing in part upon the perspicacious commentary of one wise man. The Tokelau villages more or less successfully moderated the imposed regime, but the New Zealand Administration and State Services Commission took years to undo what had so easily been done, constrained as they were by their own public service doctrine.

Panel P19
Audible anthropology: anthropologists in government