Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: pacific
Tuesday, 15 March 2011 13:38

New Media in Anthropology and the Lau People


Pierre Maranda is a distinguished cultural anthropologist, and his academic career is renowned for its broad scope and the development of highly innovative research methods. His main innovation is concerning the structure of anthropology, which took root early in his career when he worked on the island of Malaita Province in the Solomon Islands with the native Lau aboriginal tribes. He combines the research methods of social and cultural anthropology, philosophy, literature, mathematics and other disciplines. In 1996 he was awarded the Molson Prize from the Canadian Council for the Arts. The panel of judges praised him as follows: "The international impact and recognition of his research are remarkable. Pierre Maranda is a talented professor and communicator whose lectures and publications have contributed to the dissemination and application of his research findings."

He has worked in various scientific journals and books, published over 150 papers, and participated in more than ten international conferences in Canada, the United States, Brazil, Australia, Britain, France, Sweden, Japan and other countries as well as holding seminars and special events and giving speeches. In 1998 he was granted L'Ordre des Palmes académiques in Paris.

In this interview Maranda introduces the website www.oceanie.org and how new media can be used to reform anthropology:

Alternative (for those readers in China)

In a second interview Maranda gives us an account of his anthropological work in Malaita in the Solomon Islands and his attempts to retain traditional institutions against a tide of fundamental evangelicanism and modernization, which was later chronicled in his documentary film:

Alternate (for those readers in China)

Below is a summary of Pierre Maranda's key-note speech to the "Mapping and Unmapping the Pacific" conference, held in Taipei in February 2011.

Pierre Maranda  - Key Note Speech (Abridged)

First, I want to congratulate the organizers of this conference for the formulation of its theme and its bearing. They are questioning current ideas about Oceania through a double inversion, actually a paradoxical title. A paradox is a statement contrary to commonly accepted ideas and that seems self-contradictory or absurd, but that may in reality express a possible truth. The first inversion consists of a statement, “mapping” and its inversion, “un-mapping”. The second resides in the contrast between “island” - here understood of course as the thousands of Oceanic islands - and the term “continent”.

Such a paradoxical approach is a most productive dialectical heuristics. Turning an idea upside down questions - which is disturbing - common assumptions. Indeed inversions compel one to work back and revise completely one’s thoughts and feelings on a given subject. Provocative, paradoxes are dialectical in that they trigger disputation or debate aiming at exploring differences between two opposite views so as to come up with a renewed, transcendent one. Accordingly paradoxical statements are heuristic because they lead to higher levels of knowledge. And that in turn, when one reflects on one’s mental processes, leads to what is currently called meta-cognition.

The theme of this conference echoes Epeli Hau’ofa’s important and most relevant essay A New Oceania: Rediscovering Our Sea of Islands. Like the title of this conference that of his essay is actually a paradox.

A quick reminder of who was Epeli Hau’ofa (he passed away in Janyary 2009) - http://savageminds.org/wp-content/image-upload/our-sea-of-islands-epeli-hauofa.pdf

In the words of our colleague Alex Golub of the department of anthropology, University of Hawai’i,

“Ethnically Tongan, born in Papua New Guinea, educated in Australia, and a naturalized citizen of Fiji, Hau’ofa’s life exemplifies the vibrant, diverse, and connected image of Oceania he promoted throughout his life. Those of us who study Papua New Guinea will remember him as an ethnographer of the Mekeo, but his influence expanded far beyond his ethnographic work — indeed, he is most often remembered as a novelist and author of short stories, and his humorous, satirical writings about the fictional but too-close-to-home Tikongs are widely read both in and out of the Pacific. […] In “Our Sea of Islands” Hau’ofa argued against the then-common (and still-common) presumption that Pacific Islanders lived in small, isolated, remote communities separated by a massive ocean. Instead, he argued that Pacific Islanders were connected by an ocean which facilitated movement and connection. Like all great ideas, it was an inversion of popular understandings that was so true and so timely that in retrospect it seems impossible to imagine how we lived without it (emphasis added). (http://savageminds.org/2010/11/01/anthropology-and-the-long-essay/).

However Hau’ofa did not touch on an important point. Indeed what would be the common language, the lingua franca of the “sea of islands”, what would be the continent’s idiom that would enable Oceanians, proud speakers of their native tongues, to communicate with each other? Pijin? English? And how about French Polynesia and New-Caledonia? A lingua franca to the detriment of mother tongues? Actually, as is already the case for instance in the Solomons, Pijin has become the mother tongue of young adults… Will consequently the so many different native languages be doomed? I would doubt it because so many Oceanians have been multilingual for generations in their numerous interactions with people of different ethnicities with whom they maintained trading and other relationships.

Keeping alive the irreducible diversity of native languages is a fundamental issue that must be addressed when considering remapping Oceania. One way to do it is to provide texts in native languages both for the population at large within a linguistic community and more specifically for use in schools. There is a great need in that respect and TSPS could contribute very significantly to meeting it so that whatever lingua franca predominates, it will not jeopardize the people rootings in their own cultures. Oceanians must remain firmly planted in their most fertile Pacific soil in order that their branching out does not entail losing their specific identities that warrant their survival instead of transforming them in pseudo Whites. Solomon Islanders have so often told me

Our guts ache, because we no longer know who we are. We know that we are not White people, we know that we are not sons and daughters of savages as they have called our fathers and forefathers. Christians tell us that our kastom is the work of the devil, that the stories we believe in are all wrong, but how about their own stories, their Bible? We too have stories about dead men resurrecting. But we know that it is no longer so. Is it not the same with their story about the resurrection of Jesus? We don’t know what or in whom to believe.

Years ago, I have witnessed pagan priests arguing with missionaries in Malaitan market places. They told them “David’s and Jesus’ genealogies are good for you, but we have our own genealogies that are good for us and we don’t ask you to learn them. Why should we learn your own genealogies? Then it says in your Gospel that if one has faith, one can move mountains. You have faith, no? Well look, there is a mountain right there, behind you: tell it to move and if it does then we’ll believe you”.

Oceanian identities are function of what is written in the Synopsis of this conference which

aims at identifying the ways of mapping the Pacific in time and space that have been developed by islanders, especially by Austronesian populations. Such "mapping" has taken place through migration roads, tales, songs and genealogies, as well as by astronomic or geographic charts and artistic renderings. Taking these representations both in their irreducible variety and as an organic whole may help a new generation of scholars to challenge the usual ways of looking at the Pacific world, thus enabling the inhabitants of this "oceanic continent" to enrich and develop the interactive process through which they understand their history and destiny.”

In Epeli Hau’ofa’s words(emphasis supplied),

if we look at the myths, legends and oral traditions, and the cosmologies of the peoples of Oceania, it will become evident that they did not conceive of their world in such microscopic proportions. Their universe comprised not only land surfaces, but the surrounding ocean as far as they could traverse and exploit it, the underworld with its fire-controlling and earth-shaking denizens, and the heavens above with their hierarchies of powerful gods and named stars and constellations that people could count on to guide their ways across the seas. Their world was anything but tiny. They thought big and recounted their deeds in epic proportions (Appendix 1, p. 7).

And the Synopsis voices a rejoinder to Hau’ofa’s statement under “Sacred Space-Times”: “Sacred elements in traveling and mapping, missionary routes and their rationale, conversions, new religions and the blurring of traditional religious mappings…”

The tack we have taken in CHEO (Cultural Hypermedia Encyclopedia of Oceania) to represent Oceania rests on the fact that there are major thoughts underlying language and actually structuring the ways their speakers use it, i.e., semantic syntaxes. As a dynamic substratum to different yet interconnected linguistic families such thoughts constitute a thesaurus of collective representations, i.e., ideas and feelings that shape worldviews, and that give people the conviction that they belong together. Some such major themes are universal and cut across linguistic families, others are culture-specific within linguistic families. According to the French semiotician and computer scientist François Rastier (1991, 1992) there are some 350 such major ideas - fundamental “keywords” - in Western societies : God, man, woman, sex, work, money, etc. Of course many other societies share all or some of those basic vectors of thoughts, feelings and behavior. Yet each society maintains identity vectors that enable its members to stand up and let other people know who they are. Here we fully endorse Fr Benoit Vermander’s (2005: 8) statement to the effect that

Though identities are mobile and changeable, they are still discrete entities, and the solutions to our common challenges will remain localized and different in substance. However, throughout the interpretative process these particular solutions will considerably vary from the ones suggested by the traditional understanding of one’s culture and identity, and the array of solutions devised form [sic] one’s culture or group to another will then be legitimately understood as a correlated set of attitudes, choices and decisions.

The “correlated sets of attitudes, choices and decisions”, networks of basic thoughts and feelings - “ontologies” in contemporary terminology -, depend on heavily loaded and deeply engrained culture-specific cognitive processes generating the fundamental “ideas” that structure ideologies. Expressed in cultural keywords as it were they “grip our guts”, Oceanians tell us. And such correlated sets form the ballast of societies, act as gyroscopes that maintain them on course in spite of difficult times that challenge their deep identities and ways of life. As both identities and ways of life must be reshaped without losing their groundings especially in times of crisis, we call those heavy and dynamic keywords “attractors” as I will explain below (Part 3). And, again in Fr Vermander’s words (p. 8),

In this perspective, all cultures, creeds and world-views are perpetually reshaped, and what defines them is never taken for granted but rather is being discovered and challenged throughout the process of exchange and interpretation. Thus, the core of our identity is never “behind” us, it is always “beyond”, it cannot be “essentialized”, it is rather “related to” the Other whose identity is similarly challenged and reshaped. At the same time, this ever-evolving reshaping of one’s culture, creeds and world-views does not lead to a confusion or a mix, it does define and sometimes sharpen one’s sense of belonging and core values (emphasis supplied).

Stimulated by the thought-provoking paradoxes of the title of this conference - powerful mental instruments to map and remap worldviews - are we now ready to take up rethinking and redefining the Pacific islands as Oceania? Perhaps we can try by moving beyond language, beyond native idioms and lingua franca, viz., to reach a level of collective representations that would remap and reshape Oceania. Is there a shared ontology that would “not lead to a confusion or a mix” but “sharpen one’s sense of belonging and core values”? Before showing CHEO’s approach to explore it I will briefly recall the importance of Taiwan as regards that endeavor.

 

 

 

 

 


Monday, 21 February 2011 15:29

Ocean, waves and literature

*2011 Life Sustainability Awards Recipient*

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Syaman Rapongan is from the Tao minority on Lanyu (Orchid Island) off the southeast coast of Taiwan. He writes about the intimate relationship between his people and the ocean.


Monday, 21 February 2011 15:24

Playing the drums of life

Ibau of the Paiwan tribe in Taiwan comes from Tuvasavasai (Qingshan), Pingtung. Field studies from her early research experiences have became important inspirations for her writing.

In 1999, Ibau started studying theatre performance. She practiced drumming, martial arts and meditation at Laoquan Mountain’s U-Theater in Muzha.


Monday, 31 January 2011 12:17

Going on a Pacific island 'holyday'

When discussing Taiwan’s links with the Pacific islands, it is well worth considering the religious dimension.  I have previously written about the connection that Taiwanese religious groups, in particular New Religious Movements, are seeking to forge with Mainland China[1].  However if we look in the other direction, from the gritty megacities of China to the lightly populated islands of the Pacific Ocean, we can see another current of religiosity that is circulating belief, culture and innovation.

The New Testament Church (NTC) is a small charismatic Protestant Church based at Mount Zion in Kaohsiung County in southern Taiwan. It was founded by a Hong Kong movie star in 1963 and has managed to survive leadership disputes, struggles with the Taiwanese government and natural disasters to now be in its fifth decade.  No small feat for a modestly sized and socially marginalized group. You can watch me give a brief introduction to the NTC here and here.

The NTC believes that God has chosen Taiwan’s Mount Zion instead of the traditional and better-known Mount Zion in Israel.  The mountain serves the important roles of not only being God’s home, but also the venue for the impending Tribulation (when Jesus will descend to Mount Zion and members of the NTC will ascend to heaven).  The NTC has developed Mount Zion into a community of around 300 adherents, complete with agricultural and educational facilities.

Furthermore, the NTC is a passionate and dedicated exponent of organic agriculture.  The rationale behind choosing organic farming over conventional (that is, pesticide-based) farming is that it is the ‘God-based’ way to farm. The NTC equates God’s law of creation, as outlined in the bible, with the natural method of farming.  As the bible does not contain any directive to use chemicals, the church therefore refrains from doing so.  In avoiding such pollutants, the NTC can more easily recreate their ideal of a holy and “Edenic” environment.  It seeks to do this on Mount Zion and at its properties abroad.

Mount Zion is an interesting place for tourists to visit, and one of utmost spiritual importance to the NTC.  However the spiritual power of the mountain is not limited to the peak in Taiwan – other places around the world also share in it.

The NTC has developed a series of ‘Offshoots of Zion’ around the world.  These rural properties are places where the NTC’s international adherents live, worship and farm.  Mostly scattered around Malaysia and the Pacific Rim, there are also two Offshoots of Zion on Pacific Islands – Eden Isle (伊甸島) on Tikehau, Polynesia and Mount Tabor (他泊山) on Tahiti.

Just as in Taiwan, the NTC’s community in the Pacific developed out of the Assemblies of God church. Having established Mount Tabor in 1985, the NTC has around 300 “exclusively Chinese” adherents in Tahiti[2]. The church has not limited itself to one island though, expanding elsewhere in the region.

Inhabited by the NTC since 1993, Eden Isle is a small island where the NTC has an organic farm and open-air church.  Based on reports by visiting sailors, the number of people living on Eden Isle seems to vary between 5 and 10.  This number can swell exponentially when international members of the NTC arrive for religious celebrations and various types of exchange programs.  There are a number of online reports from sailors passing by Tikehau who have been welcomed in by the NTC and given tours of the island[3].

In considering these two Pacific island spiritual centres, Mount Zion in Taiwan, and the NTC that binds them, we can get a glimpse of the dynamics between the two regions.  The main temple on Mount Zion was rebuilt in the late 1980s using indigenous Taiwanese techniques and designs.  In turn, the venues of worship on Eden Isle and Mount Tabor reflect the style of Mount Zion’s temple. Mount Tabor’s temple appears to be an almost perfect copy of Mount Zion’s temple. The Eden Isle temple is smaller and more open than that of Mount Tabor, yet remains true to the form of the temple on Mount Zion.  Yet it is not only a temple template that the NTC has imported.

Representatives of the NTC have been keen to point out to me the work that the church has done in the Pacific with regard to organic farming, particularly innovations in composting methods.  Indeed, the French Polynesian government has even engaged the NTC to provide consultancy services and training in organic farming techniques [4].

However, the flow of knowledge and religious concepts is not simply one-way.  Children from the NTC’s ‘Eden Homestead’ school system spend time in the Pacific centres learning about agriculture, in both its practical and spiritual dimensions.  These children are not just from Taiwan and Malaysia, but also Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA.  In this sense, Eden Isle and Mount Tabor have become the metaphorical hub of a trans-Pacific ‘spiritual wheel’, circulating the beliefs of the NTC around the Pacific Rim.

The traditional costumes and accoutrements of the Pacific islands have also made their way back to Mount Zion. For instance, whereas once couples were married at Mount Zion wearing western-style wedding outfits, now they dress in more simple outfits that demonstrate a Pacific influence (through accessories such as floral garlands, shell belt buckles and bare feet)[5].  Alternatively, dressing like this could also reflect Taiwan’s own indigenous traditions.  Either way, it contrasts starkly with the modern wedding traditions that are so popular in Taiwan.

The New Testament Church is only small and has a fledgling presence in the Pacific. Nevertheless, it is a pertinent example of how a decidedly non-mainstream Taiwanese organization has created a presence in there. The NTC's exchange of ideas – be they religious, agricultural or cultural – is multifaceted and of use to us when trying to conceive how Taiwan sits in relation to its Pacific Island neighbours.

Photo: P.F.

[1] http://www.erenlai.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3982:an-overview-of-religious-life-in-modern-taiwan&catid=688:october-2010&Itemid=331&lang=en

[2] http://chinaperspectives.revues.org/1118#tocto2n3

[3] http://www.thebigvoyage.com/the-pacific/tikehau-day-2-lagoon-excursion/

[4] http://tahitipresse.pf/2009/12/le-bio-une-voie-davenir-pour-lagriculture-polynesienne/

[5] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UeFTDGwo8sA


Friday, 28 January 2011 19:09

Looking south: Taiwan’s diplomacy and rivalry with China in the Pacific Islands region

[inset side="right" title="Fabrizio Bozzato"] is a doctoral candidate in International Affairs and Strategic Studies at Tamkang University. He is researching Taiwan’s diplomacy in the South Pacific.[/inset]Six of the twenty-three countries that currently bestow diplomatic allegiance on the ROC are in the South Pacific. Therefore, the Oceanic region is of prime geopolitical importance to Taipei. The chief motivation behind Taiwan’s activities in the Pacific Islands is the defense of its ‘diplomatic space’ by countering China’s efforts to extirpate Taipei’s diplomatic presence. In addition, Taiwan uses its aid policy as a means to raise its international profile through promoting itself as a humanitarian power and aims to further its access to the natural resources of the area. Over the last decade, China’s growing economic power vis-à-vis Taiwan, and Beijing’s sturdy response to the ‘Taiwanised’ diplomatic policies of Taipei’s past presidency, have intensified the Sino-Formosan diplomatic conflict in the South Pacific. As a result, today the dynamic of the Cross-Strait rivalry - together with Taiwan’s until-recently runcinate relationship with the regional dominant power, Australia - deeply informs and shapes the relations between Taipei and the Pacific Island countries. At the same time, it appears that the island states have developed a greater understanding of the two dragons’ diplomatic competition, thus becoming more skilled aid extractors. The current Taiwanese administration has latterly educed a ‘diplomatic truce’ with the mainland and started meeting Canberra’s demands by reforming its aid policy and delivery. The diplomatic armistice with China allows Taiwan to improve its relations with Australia and foster its image as a responsible regional stakeholder. However, being fundamentally a Chinese concession predicated on concessions from Taipei, the truce is still precarious and reversible.

Part 1

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Part 2:

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Fabrizio Bozzato gave a speech on this topic during the conference "Mapping and Unmapping the Pacific" held in Taipei (Feb. 2011). The complete paper of the speech is available here.



Sunday, 23 January 2011 15:21

A new world begins

“Where land ends, the world begins.”
This quotation sets the tone as we present our Focus on Taiwan in the Pacific, transcending land’s natural boundaries and turning our attention to the ocean, as we explore a world so unfamiliar to Taiwan. Most of the authors in our Focus are members of the newly established Taiwan Society for Pacific Studies, the creation of which is not inconsequential to Renlai. As the publication and website of the Taipei Ricci Institute, Renlai and eRenlai are key components of the research organisation originally set up by a group of foreign missionaries. Back then, these Jesuits were also navigating bravely beyond the boundaries of their own lands in Europe and America, to experience their own new world beginning.


Tuesday, 18 January 2011 19:16

Taiwan: Apart from or a Part of the Pacific Region

Professor Tsang Cheng-Hwa (Institute of History and Philology at the Academia Sinica) discusses the need for researchers to work across disciplines on an international scale towards a more comprehensive understanding of the Pacific and Taiwan's current and future role there.


Tuesday, 18 January 2011 17:04

Dispelling Cultural Imperialism: Taiwan's Gaze towards the Pacific

Professor Tung Yuan-Chao discusses the problems of anthropology in the contemporary world, given the questionable moral origins of this academic field. She attempts to define a new framework in which Taiwan can look at its Pacific neighbours without echoes of Western imperialism affecting their gaze. As well as discussing how body habits can be more important to identity than ancestry.


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