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Citation Information

Type Journal Article - The Journal of the Polynesian Society
Title Tonga in turmoil
Volume 120
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2011
Page numbers 349-367
URL http://www.jps.auckland.ac.nz/docs/Volume120/JPS_120_4_04.pdf
In November 2006 something incredible happened in Tonga—a country noted
for its calm—a demonstration degenerated into a terrible riot which caused
eight fatalities and destroyed 80 percent of the Central District of the capital
city Nuku‘alofa. Such violence had never erupted in the Kingdom since the
19th century civil wars. What comes directly to mind as a trigger event is the
civil servants’ strike in 2005. It was only the second strike in Tonga—the first
was the nurses’ strike in 1979-80—and this time it was a real turning point
in the life of the kingdom, socially, economically and politically speaking.
This 2005 strike was highly significant because it was a lengthy strike with
thousands of participants, it found strong support among the population, and
the upshot was a victory including significant wage increases and the promise
of a constitutional reform. That strike was “the writing on the wall” for the
2006 events, which does not mean that it was not preceded by particularly
interesting events. The strike and the riot did not come out of the blue. I
present here an analysis of these events up to the day of the riot; I will not
attempt to analyse its aftermath. In my analysis I will speak especially of the
role played by the middle class. Actually in 1989 I wrote an article trying to
show the birth of middle classes in Tonga. In 2003, i.e., 13 years later, Kerry
James (2003) published a paper with an abstract beginning with my name,
claiming that I was completely wrong1
and that there were no middle classes
in Tonga but rather an educated elite.2
This is why I have first to return briefly
to my 1989 thesis. Thereafter I will discuss the birth of middle classes in
Tonga and then continue with an analysis of the social movement. In the final
section I will discuss this evolution to see if it confirms my analysis about
the role played by the middle class and whether I should take into account
other factors to correctly analyse these events.

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