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Gossip and the Everyday Production of Politics$
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Niko Besnier

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780824833381

Published to Hawaii Scholarship Online: November 2016

DOI: 10.21313/hawaii/9780824833381.001.0001

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Sorcery and Ambition

Sorcery and Ambition

(p.166) 7 Sorcery and Ambition
Gossip and the Everyday Production of Politics

Niko Besnier

University of Hawai'i Press

This chapter focuses on the way in which gossip colludes with other forms of discourse and explores how intimate and official discourses constitute the warp and weft of the same power loom, in which one person gets caught. It analyzes the events that led to and followed the downfall of Paanapa, an ambitious man who had served as the elder of the Nukulaelae community on Nauru. These events bring to the fore the fundamental ambiguities in Nukulaelae’s political makeup that was investigated in Chapter 3. Alongside their overtly articulated idealization of a strong leadership structure and clear-cut hierarchy (the “discourse of nostalgia”), Nukulaelae Islanders see powerful and ambitious leaders like Paanapa as a threat to social order (the “discourse of egalitarianism”). Paanapa was guilty, in Nukulaelae eyes, of loving power and prestige too much. Yet because Nukulaelae people value strong leadership in some respects, he could not simply be disgraced for exerting authority. The solution was to invoke sorcery. And again, the “multiple orders of reality” that background sorcery and its accompanying agents and practices (spirits, spirit mediumship) on Nukulaelae stretched a web of ideological complexity across the path of the victim that embedded gossip into a vast array of other communicative practices, with serious consequences.

Keywords:   gossip, Nukulaelae community, leadership, social order, powerful leader, sorcery, intimate discourse, official discourse

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