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Thomas Malm, Photo.

Thomas Malm


Thomas Malm, Photo.

Shell Age Economics : Marine Gathering in the Kingdom of Tonga, Polynesia


  • Thomas Malm

Summary, in English

This monograph analyses marine gathering in the Polynesian Kingdom of Tonga from ecological, social and cognitive perspectives. The overarching issues explored are (1) the significance of marine gathering in the past and present, (2) how seaweeds and marine invertebrates have been perceived, classified, named and used, (3) how they have been implicated in social relations, and (4) how the integration of the islands into the modern world system has affected the marine environment and the exploitation of its resources. "The anthropology of land- and seascape" is analysed in terms of Tongan perceptions of the marine environment in its topographical and mythical aspects, and in maritime practices. Special consideration is given to indigenous topographical terminology; how the world was believed to be organized and controlled by the gods; the relationships between commoners and chiefs, gods and sacred animals; the Tongan relationship to water; and the division of labour by gender, topographical zone and technique. The ethnobiological aspects are first explored by focusing on how indigenous knowledge is differentiated according to specialized expertise, social class, age and gender. The system developed to classify and name marine organisms is then analysed, and more than 230 names and 50 uses of gathered marine organisms are presented. The last part of the thesis concerns the over-exploitation and destruction of the environment, a Tongan "tragedy of the commons". In Tonga, the replacement of communal property by Crown/state ownership has reduced the local community's capacity to regulate the use of the marine resources. European influences, a high natural population increase, migration, urbanization, and technological and economic change have combined to result in increased pressure on the marine environment and its resources. As a result, we observe the breakdown of communal-property mechanisms for regulating access and exploitation of the environment.


  • Human Ecology

Publishing year





Lund Monographs in Social Anthropology



Document type



Department of Sociology, Lund University


  • Social Anthropology


  • chieftainship
  • cosmology
  • demography
  • marine tenure systems
  • "tragedy of the commons"
  • seaweeds
  • marine invertebrates
  • gender roles
  • indigenous knowledge
  • maritime anthropology
  • Tongans
  • Tonga
  • Oceania
  • Polynesia
  • totemism
  • Cultural anthropology
  • ethnology
  • Kulturantropologi
  • etnologi




  • [unknown] [unknown]


  • ISSN: 1101-9948
  • ISBN: 91-89078-97-7
  • ISRN: LUSADG/SAAN--99/1007--SE

Defence date

1 December 1999

Defence time


Defence place

Carolinasalen, Kungshuset, Lund


  • Edvard Hviding (Associate Professor)