The Impact of Capitalist Inroad

  ASB 340

 Professor Koptiuch

February 25 2003








     Voyages: From Tongan Villages to American Suburbs, by Cathy A. Small, is both interesting and entertaining reading. This ethnography of social change of a Pacific island nation, is a fine example of how a system of chiefdoms evolves into a monetary system. It also served to demonstrate how this process affected immigration in mainstream America. My first reaction stemmed from a political theory class I took. This in conjunction with, sociologist Saskia Sassen’s article “Why Migration” , about the reasons why migration has become a key element of contemporary global society, brought to mind the writings of Karl Marx.

     Marx who lived from 1818-1883, write extensively on the capitalist form of government and criticized it openly. Although I do not agree with the Marxist school of thought in general, I saw many truths in the things that he proclaimed. Among these he addressed the inroads of capitalism and its corruption of other societies. These issues, along with the many readings we have had, brought to the forefront some of my own feeling of discontent with our present society and world globalization, a discontent different and at times very similar to those who migrate.

     In “Why Migration?”, Sassen  states, “The central role played by the United States in the emergence of a global economy over the past 30 years lies at the core of why people migrate here in ever increasing numbers”(Sassen 14). The author goes on to tell how the flow of capitalist goods, services  and information creates links between the United States and other countries. These links become bridges across which migrants, like the

Tongans flow. With this in mind I could not help thinking how right Marx was, and how well he had forecasted Tongan transnationalism.

     In “The German Ideology” Marx writes, in  reference to capitalists and their goods, “in place of old wants satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants requiring for  satisfaction the production of distant lands and culture.” He also writes, “In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations” (Marx 162). This to me best sums up the transition of Tongan society. It seems to be the epitome of the issues Sassen raised in “Why Migration?”, issues that were relevant in Tonga’s new found transnationalism. 

     “Villages” is an excellent example showing how outside influences, such as world globalization can change and destroy a self-sufficient culture. Globalization of Tonga demonstrates how these influences can take a culture with no hunger or homelessness and entangle it with another creating a dependence. An example of this kind of entanglement is the islands growing dependence on remittance from relatives working in other countries like the US. This type of change is and element of capitalism that is sad indeed, sad in that it takes an independent society and makes it dependant to the point that its residents must emigrate to another country in order to remain Tongan.

     Anthropologist Small is effective in describing the intricacies of the cultural differences and the changes that had taken place over time. The Tongan traditions had changed both and for the Tongan immigrants in the US. A good example of this change was the tapa cloth making traditions and methods, a change so slow that many of the younger ones had not realized it had changed at all. It was not until the memory of one of the elders of the culture was able to provide us with some oral history, that we were able to see how far back the process of change had begun to take place (Small 32-33). The changes would later result in it becoming an exported good. This as well as the other Tongan exports would become luxury goods and a symbol of wealth and prestige to those Tongan families in America. On the other hand money and western imports would become luxury  imports into Tanga. The Tongans would not just receive western imports but the  western influences of thought, education and the monetary system.

     Along with this exchange of goods came an exchange of laborers. Tongans would suffer the humiliations of what western culture calls, the immigrant. Tongans as other immigrants suffer at great lengths to satisfy our lifestyle, that like it or not, depends on cheap labor to provide us with the affordable prices of manufactured goods. The article “The Heartlands Raw Deal: How Meatpacking is Creating a New Immigrant Underclass“, shows how the unions that were created to protect the laborers here in the United States has opened the door to a global economy. The need of business to make a profit and the desire of the American public for a low prices drives businesses to find cheaper labor. The search for cheaper sources of labor and raw materials have affected much of the world and will continue to do so if it is to survive. It is also necessary if we as a nation are to survive and live in the manner in which we have become accustomed to. It is not right and it is not pretty. It is however a process, which has already been set in motion and can not easily be changed or stopped.

     Luxury imports and exports have existed throughout the rise and fall of civilizations, as has immigration. The Tongan’s themselves immigrated to their island in 1500 BC. There are many reasons why people immigrate, things like drought, war and better hunting grounds have often been cited as reasons for immigration. It seems to me that immigration and change is a natural course of history and that the search for a better life, in whatever form is what drives us to migrate.  


Works Cited


Cooper, Mark. “The Heartland’s Raw Deal: How Meatpacking is Creating a

     New Immigrant Underclass” The Nation Feb. 3 1997: 11-17


Marx, Karl. Selected Writings. Indiana: Hackett Publishing Company, 1994.


Sassen, Saskia. “Why Migration?” Report on the Americas 25(1) 1992:14


Small, Cathy A. , Voyages: From Tongan Villages to American Suburbs.

     New York: Cornell University Press, 1997.