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Pursuing Respect in the Cannibal IslesAmericans in Nineteenth-Century Fiji$
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Nancy Shoemaker

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781501740343

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501740343.001.0001

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Social Class

(p.132) Chapter 5 Marama
Pursuing Respect in the Cannibal Isles

Nancy Shoemaker

Cornell University Press

This chapter describes how Mary D. Wallis's comfortable middle-class status sprung from the forced labor of Fijians, which became increasingly oppressive with the rise of foreign trade and from which all Americans in Fiji benefited. In Wallis's time, the term “middle class” had yet to enter the American vernacular as a form of self-identification, but as can be seen from the Wallises' self-positioning, the aristocratic terms lady and gentleman had trickled down and become accessible to the masses as claims to social distinction. Redolent with connotations of superiority and lifestyles of comfort and leisure, these titles embraced by the Wallises later in life shielded them from the taint of manual labor. Indeed, the enhanced status the Wallises achieved owed much to the coerced labor of Pacific islanders half a world away. The trade's exploitative labor practices had two underlying causes. Traders found an advantage in the power of turaga levu to command a labor force. And the American public was blind to the issue of foreign labor even while, within the United States, the issue of labor justice gave rise to acrimonious disputes pervading newspapers, novels, lecture halls, political speeches, and sermons. Many Americans, especially those engaged in maritime trade, occupied a gray area of ambiguous labor practices invisible or peripheral to the moral conscience of their home communities.

Keywords:   Mary D. Wallis, middle-class status, forced labor, Fijians, foreign trade, Americans, Fiji, labor practices, foreign labor, maritime trade

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