chapter  9
Money- bargaining and the evolution of economies
Pages 29

On 29th November 1806 the vessel Port au Prince anchored off the Haapai Group in Tonga to repair a leak in its hull. The Tongans seemed friendly, as they had seemed to Captain Cook in the same bay some years previously. But on 1 December the ship was taken by the islanders and most of the crew were massacred. The ship was subsequently run aground, looted and burnt. The cannons from the ship were taken ashore and used to great effect by the King of Tonga, Finow ‘Ulakala, in the civil war that was raging across the group. One of the few survivors was William Mariner, who was taken under the protection of Finow. Mariner was about sixteen years old at the time and spent the next four years of his life in Tonga. His experiences were recorded by John Martin, an early anthropologist, who took considerable care in checking the authenticity of Mariner’s account of his time in Tonga. John Martin published Tonga Islands: William Mariner’s Account in 1817. The Tongan experience was understandably enough adventure for Mariner, who became a stock-broker in the City of London. The interest of Mariner’s experience in the present context lies in his report of the reactions of Finow and a local chief, Filimóëátoo, to an account of the use of money. Their ‘innocent eye’ reaction gives an idea of the function of money and its impact on a social economy. A Tongan who had been in Botany Bay gave an account of the astonishing efforts of white men to get money: ‘He expressed his astonishment at the perseverance with which the white people worked from morning till night, to get money; nor could he conceive how they were able to endure so much labour.’1 This gave rise to questions from Finow about the nature of money – what it was made of; who made it; why did not everyone make it? Mariner explained that the material from which coins were made was very scarce, and only a king was permitted to coin money. The king put his mark on each coin to vouch for its validity. Martin continues:

Mr Mariner was then going on to show the convenience of money as a medium of exchange, when Filimóëátoo interrupted him, saying to Finow, I understand how it is: – money is less cumbersome than goods, and it is very convenient for a man to exchange away his goods for money; which, at any other time, he can exchange again for the same or any other goods that he

may want: whereas the goods themselves may perhaps spoil by keeping, (particularly if provisions), but the money he supposed would not spoil; and although it was of no true value itself, yet being scarce and difficult to be got without giving something useful and really valuable for it, it was imagined to be of value; and if every body considered it so, and would readily give their goods for it he did not see but what it was of a sort of real value to all who possessed it, as long as their neighbours chose to take it in the same way. Mr Mariner found he could not give a better explanation, he therefore told Filimóëátoo that his notion of the nature of money was a just one. After a pause of some length, Finow replied that the explanation did not satisfy him; he still thought it a foolish thing that people should place a value on money, when they either could not or would not apply it to any useful (physical) purpose. ‘If,’ said he, ‘it were made of iron, and could be converted into knives, axes, and chisels, there would be some sense in placing a value on it; but as it is, I see none. If a man,’ he added, ‘has more yams than he wants, let him exchange some of them away for pork or gnatoo.2 Certainly money is much handier, and more convenient, but then, as it will not spoil by being kept, people will store it up, instead of sharing it out, as a chief ought to do, and thus become selfish; whereas, if provisions were the principle property of a man, and it ought to be, as being both the most useful and the most necessary, he could not store it up, for it would spoil, and so he would be obliged either to exchange it away for something else useful, or share it out to his neighbours, and inferior chiefs and dependents, for nothing.’ He concluded by saying; ‘I understand now very well what it is that makes the Papalangis [white men] so selfish – it is this money!’3