Urban Oceania

Exploring Urban Social Change in Oceania

Reading Group Summary: February 8th, 2021

Article Discussed: Stevens, K. (2018). Repackaging Tradition in Tahiti?: Mono’i and Labels of Origin in French Polynesia. The Contemporary Pacific, 30(1), 70-106.

Lucas Watt

Appeleation d’origine (AO), or label of origin, are known to protect various cultural products such as wines, cheeses, and meats, in France. The most famous of these is the protection of Champagne by restricting the use of the name to the Champagne region in France. These AOS are most known to be instituted within France proper, but there are examples of AOs for products in French territories such as Monoï (coconut oil scented with Gardenia flowers) from Tahiti, French Polynesia.

Stevens (2018) discusses the development of the AO on Monoï in Tahiti, and whether it provides a model for other Oceanic nations to commercialize and protect their unique cultural products. This includes fine mat weaving, string bags, kava, and carvings from the respective regions where these products are created. As the article argues Monoï does provide a certain value addition in the sense that “Monoï accounts for 56 percent of the value of coconut exports, though it represents less than 5 percent of the volume” (In French Polynesia), which could be capitalized upon for other products if marketed to similar success. Furthermore the AO on Monoï in Tahiti sustains the rural production of the raw materials needed to produce it on surrounding islands. As Stevens (2018) points out, the development of the AO on Monoï was (or became) a somewhat conscious strategy designed to temper widespread rural-urban migration during the epoch of nuclear testing in the region.

As successful as the AO on Monoï seems to have been, the potential application of AOs on Oceanic products should not be considered without assessing some of its pitfalls. As the reading group discussed, the origins of some Pacific cultural products span across national boundaries such as kava across Vanuatu and Fiji, which therefore brings up the question of how benefits should be distributed and in what format? An AO also has the potential to “flatten” variation in production of certain goods within a region of origin as codes and laws within AOs may narrowly define the parameters of production. Lastly, as seen in the case of Monoï, the AO may also define industrial parameters in which the product can be made. This not only diverts the product away from traditional forms of production, but may also exclude more grassroots producers from profiting from its production.

TransOcean is a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant project 

The project is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 802223


  • Lucas Watt

    I am a Post-Doctoral researcher on the ERC-funded TransOcean Project at the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI), Norway. My portion of the project sets out to analyze maritime mobilities, exchange, and conservation, in the increasingly securitised region of Oceania. I graduated with a PhD from the School of Media and Communications at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University. My ethnographic fieldwork in Suva Fiji analyses how rural-urban migrants living in “informal settlements” articulate tradition in urban spaces.

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