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Exploring Minicoy

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Almost too small to be found on a map, Minicoy Island is part of the Lakshadweep archipelago, a cluster of islands off the western coast of India. But Minicoy's size is no indicator of its cultural wealth. With a rich history dating back hundreds of years, Minicoy has much to offer in its food, natural history, and local traditions.

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You are probably thinking, what does baseball or wrestling have to do with Seacology? The tale begins a little over one month ago when former development assistant Ellen Kamoe suggested nominating me for the All-Stars Among Us (ASAU) contest. This is a joint promotion by People Magazine and Major League Baseball (MLB). The purpose of ASAU is to find 30 individuals who are helping people and causes around the world, one to represent each Major League Baseball team. The nominations would be culled by the editors of People and representatives from MLB. Three finalists would be selected for each team and there would be a two week period of public voting. I told Ellen I was flattered by the thought but please don't spend more than a few minutes of your time nominating me as I doubt if I would have much of a chance of winning a national contest.

This week kicks off the 10th Pacific Arts Festival, this year hosted by American Samoa. Twenty-seven countries are expected to participate in the festival, bringing their talents, tastes, and tales to Pago Pago in American Samoa.

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The Pacific Arts Festival began in 1972 and is held every four years in a different host country. Previous host countries have been Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, French Polynesia, Australia, Cook Islands, Samoa, New Caledonia, and Palau. The festival includes workshops as well as performances and allows each participant country to share and learn from each other. Indeed, the theme of the festival is Su'iga'ula a le Atuvasa: Threading the Oceania 'Ula'.  Ula is the Samoan equivalent of lei and according to American Samoa's Governor, Togiola T. A. Tulafono, the theme represents the "coming together of Pacific people to share their values, traditions, and spirit on the soils of Samoa."





Pango Vanuatu opening.JPGIn my last entry I talked about how important it is for many of the communities Seacology works with to create a community center or public building in exchange for the decision to establish a conservation area. In these cases, when the building is finished, an opening ceremony is held at the center followed by a celebration and shared meal. If Seacology expedition participants are able to attend one of these ceremonies during a Seacology trip, they often describe it as an incredibly significant and moving event.

Sila Fiji Opening ceremony.JPGGoing back in time from this opening ceremony to when the project began we can understand how such an event can be so moving. Over the course of the previous year or more community members were discussing the project, thinking over the details, drawing plans, meeting with officials, and volunteering their own labor to make sure the construction and conservation process would result in a useful and successful change for their own generation and the next.

Ifoga: Samoan Atonement

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Samoan culture has strict ways of showing respect to one another, and the ifoga (pronounced ee-FONG-ah) is perhaps the best example of the severity of atoning for one's wrongdoing. The ifoga is a ritual apology where the offending party demonstrates remorse by begging for forgiveness.

Pandanus.JPGBefore dawn, the guilty party arrives at the home of the person whom he has offended and kneels outside the home. An important part of the ifoga is the fine mat, or 'ie toga, considered of the highest value in Samoan culture (pictured at right). Ie Toga.jpg'Ie toga (ee-ah TONG-ah) are woven with pandanus leaves (pictured at left) and take months, if not years, to complete. Fine mats represent the wealth of the weavers' community and are presented as gifts. 'Ie toga are so labor-intensive that they will never be used on the floor. Once those receiving ifoga have forgiven the guilty party, they accept the 'ie toga as a symbol of the atonement and forgiveness. Regardless of any legal action taken by a court, the ifoga remains an essential part of Samoan culture as a demonstration of sincere remorse and respect. More information is available from Samoan Sa'o and Te Papa Online.

On February 20 Samoan police presented ifoga to the family of a 69-year-old man who was killed by a police officer who was driving away from Salelologa Market on Savai'i Island. The family accepted the ifoga and the police officer will also stand trial for the crime.

In 1976 the Samoan ifoga came close to Seacology's Bay Area home. In early September of that year Herb Caen, the famous San Francisco Chronicle columnist who coined the term "beatnik" and wrote in 'three-dot journalism," angered the entire Bay Area Samoan community.

Island Community Buildings

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Naikorokoro Fiji Center.JPGAs Karen wrote in her last entry, we have a very small staff here at Seacology - only six of us. The result is a pretty efficient group of individuals who all take care of more tasks than what our official titles would reveal. While I spend a little over half my work day processing all things financial, I spend almost about as much time reviewing projects in process and communicating with field representatives and project leaders about the current state of their programs.

Sarinbuana Community Center.JPGOne thing I have found fascinating over the years is the frequent request from project partners from widely different cultural regions to have Seacology provide a public meeting space in exchange for their decision to conserve their environment. The design of these buildings is planned at the site by community members in conjunction with hired contractors and either a Seacology field representative or a project leader. This planning process involves a high degree of cultural knowledge of building techniques that are appropriate for the extreme weather in the particular area as well as what makes sense in terms of community size and purpose. (Above right: Niakokokoro, Fiji Center; Left: Sarinbuana, Indonesia Center)

Philanthropy can be cultivated from a young age, whether in the form of a lemonade stand to raise money for team baseball equipment or walking door to door collecting pennies for a fundraising drive. Some recent young donors to Seacology are inspiring me to dig in my own pockets this holiday season:

Since 1998 Huff Elementary School in Mountain View, CA has been raising money for Seacology. This past year I had the honor of giving a presentation to the fifth grade students at Huff, and I was impressed with their knowledge of Seacology and their enthusiasm for our projects. The students presented me with their donations, collected from parents, friends, and neighbors who sponsored their walk-a-thon. Huff Elementary's annual donations total almost $13,000 and are a true inspiration.

On this model Seacology recently launched an Adopt-an-Island program for teachers and their students. This free program is dedicated to promoting youthful giving and facilitating environmental education in the classroom to increase awareness about environmental threats to islands.

Naikorokoro kindergarten.JPGStudents from the Cayman Islands and Fiji in front of a Seacology-funded school in Naikorokoro, Fiji.

Bali Travel

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Map_Bali.gifIn my first three entries about a recent Seacology expedition to Indonesia I spoke about the fantastic diving we experienced in Raja Ampat. Now it is time to give the landlubbers equal time as I conclude this series by focusing on the end of our trip in Bali. Bali is one of the world's special places. This Indonesian island is unique in that unlike the rest of Indonesia the majority of the residents are Hindu. Their religion is closely related to, but is also distinct from, the Hindu religion practiced in India. As is the case with most islands the Balinese people are extraordinarily friendly. Per their religious custom they are often celebrating the anniversary of a temple or school, or some other landmark in the life of a building or person. It seems that every Balinese celebration is not complete without a line of women balancing a very large offering of fruit on their heads. They make the old film star, Carmen Miranda, look like pikers in this regard. You would also be hard pressed to find a celebration without a gamalon band playing the beautiful local music. Our wonderful guide, Dewa Adiwisma, took us to one such celebration in a local Hindu temple where the local people welcomed us with open arms. It was a very moving experience.

As a Word-of-the-Day email subscriber, I relish the exploration of language that increases my vocabulary. I am fascinated by etymology, especially the words that derive not from another language's roots--like "panjandrum," a word for an important person or pretentious official, coined in the 18th century in a piece of nonsense writing. So when I began researching the Hawaiian kapu ("forbidden") system that prevents overfishing, I was surprised to learn that Captain James Cook had brought the Tongan and Fijian word tabu back to England, which became our word--taboo. The Austronesian language family of Southeast Asia and the Pacific reveals related words for "forbidden"--tapu in New Zealand and Tahiti and kapu in Hawai'i.

Kapu Sign.jpgGrowing up with a Hawaiian-Chinese father, I was accustomed to seeing KAPU written on his dried aku (tuna) and tako (octopus sashimi), but further investigation of the kapu/tabu system reveals an ancient method of conserving natural ocean resources. At Seacology we ask islanders to establish and manage terrestrial or marine reserves, and the tabu system reveals why this approach to conservation respects islanders' traditions. The traditional tabu system outlined fishing limits to prevent depleting marine life (in addition to restrictions on eating, a chief's rights and privileges, etc). Seacology's no-take reserves respect this ancient tradition, preventing overfishing and protecting all marine life.

Balinese dance captures one's attention immediately as the dancers move to tell ancient stories through physicality and props. The picture below shows a young Balinese dancer in her costume with a flower-covered headdress and expressive fan. This photograph hangs in the Seacology office, taken in 2002 during an expedition to visit a Seacology-funded wastewater garden at Tirtagangga Water Palace. Every time I walk past the picture, I am captivated by the young girl's seriousness, her eyes so intent, her motion captured like that in so many Indian sculptures.

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Balinese dance, music, and ceremonies are offerings to Hindu deities and tell the ancient epic stories of the Hindu religion. As a former hula dancer, I enjoy art forms that pass along stories, be they through oral history, art, music, or dance. The combination of message and movement is fascinating to me and so important to passing along traditions to future generations.