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Clowning as Political Commentary: Polynesia, Then and Now

Vilsoni Hereniko
The Contemporary Pacific
Vol. 6, No. 1 (SPRING 1994), pp. 1-28
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23701588
Page Count: 28
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Clowning as Political Commentary: Polynesia, Then and Now
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Abstract

Improvised or rehearsed clowning, in ritual and secular contexts, is an important avenue for the criticism of the power structure and those who ignore the norms of society in Polynesia. The humorous nature of criticism as well as the distancing effect of theater create a context in which those being criticized rarely take offense. In the 1990s, however, the nature and the role of this traditional institution has changed dramatically, owing largely to the influence of introduced religions and colonialism. The disappearance of this traditional outlet in many islands in contemporary Polynesia means the loss of a safety valve for the release of tension and for healthy criticism that contributes to the improvement of the quality of life. This article examines a traditional institution that has been overlooked by scholars until recent years and argues for the importance of avenues—traditional or modern—through which the oppressed in society can channel their grievances and needs in a nonthreatening and creative manner to those who wield power over them.

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