Ellen: November 2007 Archives

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.

Leapfrogging to New Technology

|

The term "leapfrogging" refers to the development concept where a developing country bypasses less efficient technology to take advantage of more advanced technology. An excellent example of this is the cell phone. Cell phone towers are being constructed all over the world, and buying a mobile phone has proven far more effective than ordering a landline phone to rural places.

Solar-powered cell charger.jpgIn Africa, where Seacology recently expanded its reach to Pemba Island in Zanzibar, many people are buying cell phones. The Kenyan man at left is showing two forms of leapfrogging: a cell phone and a solar-powered charger.

Leapfrogging has been explored in numerous articles, demonstrating its importance to the developing world: In Business Week's "Upwardly Mobile in Africa," the special report discusses how cell phones have fueled business growth and allowed people to call for emergency services like medical help. Jeffrey Sachs, a Columbia University economist, calls the cell phone "the single most transformative technology for development." Abwao Oluoch's article on AllAfrica.com discusses the mobile phone industry in East Africa, and Jason Pontin's New York Times article "What Does Africa Need Most: Technology or Aid?" debates the benefits of humanitarian aid and new technology. Mr. Pontin's article discusses his visit to the Technology, Entertainment and Design Global 2007 conference in Tanzania, coming to the conclusion that Africa needs both aid and technology.

Breadfruit: A Symbol of Island Life

|

Breadfruit trees (Artocarpus altilis) can grow to 65 feet and produce round, heavy fruit for 50 years. 'Ulu, as we call it in Hawai'i, is found on many islands around the world, and its large, glossy leaves with small bumps are a common Hawaiian quilt pattern (below). The skin of the large fruit is green and bumpy, the flesh starchy and white or pale yellow.

Breadfruit Quilt Pattern.jpgAs a food, breadfruit (always cooked) is common throughout the Pacific. When I studied in Samoa, breadfruit was served every day in the cafeteria, prepared boiled--and very bland. In contrast, roasted breadfruit (either cooked in a modern oven or the traditional underground oven) is delicious, and in Samoa the fruit is used as a vehicle for palusami, coconut milk and onions in taro leaf. This dish is one of the things I miss most about Samoa.