Seleka’s profane potency

Kava artists and rebellious music in Tonga


  • Arcia Tecun University of Auckland
  • Taniela Petelo Seleka



Tonga, Indigeneity, Kava, Ritual Performance, Popular Music


The Seleka art and kava collective is found in the heart of the Kingdom of Tonga’s urban centre and capital. Seleka is a transformed nickname which is a play on the word kasele, meaning toilet or outhouse, an external othering and internal acceptance of divergence within Tongan society. Seleka is a site where urban Tongans paint and drink kava together while listening to rebellious music, incorporating some of the aesthetics and politics of these musical genres into their group. They have a broader musical playlist than most kava clubs in Tonga, which includes punk, rock and metal. This article explores the character of Seleka as a radical critique to Western introduced social constructs such as puritan respectability, which have become part of Tonga’s modern cultural norms. Seleka performs and generates mana (potency/prestige) through noa (profanity/neutralization) by desecrating the ‘sacred’ and recreating a new alternative. This act of rebellion is presented as a contemporary manifestation of an ancient Tongan practice where the ‘profane’ was used to identify and bring balance to the most tapu (‘sacred’/protected).

Author Biographies

Arcia Tecun , University of Auckland

Arcia Tecun is the pen name of Daniel Hernandez. He teaches at the University of Auckland and has conducted research in anthropology/ethnomusicology focusing on contemporary kava stories and songs.

Taniela Petelo, Seleka

Taniela Petelo is a painter, musician and MC, as well as a founding member of the Selekā group. He has travelled throughout Oceania for his art exhibitions and is based in Nuku‘alofa, Tonga.


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How to Cite

Tecun , A., & Petelo, T. . (2021). Seleka’s profane potency: Kava artists and rebellious music in Tonga. Perfect Beat, 20(2), 134–154.