Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cultural Diversity...

I don't really do souvenirs.  I have been on other cruiser's boats that are decorated thoroughly with shells, carvings, relics from dives, you name it, from all the various places they have visited throughout the world.  Once in awhile I do come across something that pushes that particular button and I literally have to it. 

While in the Solomons, I learned that the people on Malaita Island hunt dolphins and use the teeth as a form of currency.  This is rare as most people have a reaction to dolphins that remind me of the section in one of Moietessier's books where he is trying to convince a fellow sailor that hunting dolphins for food isn't such a good thing.  His arguments are along the lines of how they aren't fish at all and that they are playful, intelligent, etc..  While in Honiara, I met an American expat that had a "dolphin eco tourist" lodge that was pretty much a front for an operation where he would use natives to catch live dolphins and then sell them to rich Saudis as pets.  Needless to say, this particular expat had embraced the dolphin hunting culture with enthusiasm as the laws regulating his chosen business were pretty lax.  On a less grand level, involvement with this "taboo" culture found its way into me as the desire for a token souvenir.  I tried all the tourist jewelry stores and got the reflexive politically correct reaction and the cold stares.  I ended up in the market talking to Malaita women selling vegetables and soon had a whole gang of them around me trying to shake me down for as much as they could when one of them finally decided to sell the necklace from around her neck.  The valuation process comes down to counting all the teeth in the necklace and comparing them for quality to agree on an acceptable average that then translates to a price per tooth.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Tikopia Guestbook images

I have a few items from Tikopia looking for a new home.  I blogged about them here.  

Here are a handful of pages from the Tikopia guestbook.  Tikopia was one of my favorite places that I visited on my trip.  An island that still has traditional Polynesian culture but is politically and geographically part of the Solomons. 

Today if one visits a remote place where the wildlife are not afraid of humans, one is surprised.  Humans haven't been part of the environment long enough in these few places for the animals to realize they need to get the hell away.  Tikopia felt like this but with the difference being the way the indigenous population understands white Europeans.  For the past several hundred years with all the various explorers, missionaries, trading companies, WWII, etc., Tikopia came through with minimal impact.  Of course there has been some, but not enough to essentially displace their original sense of identity.  In Vanuatu, where I had spent over a month cruising immediately previously, there was a long history of occupying Europeans. Not all the memory was bad and in fact the older locals I met wished independence had never happened.  Even with some positive view of European influence, the difference between Vanuatu and Tikopia was light years in terms of how they understood their standing in the world. Note that the physical distance between the northernmost part of Vanuatu and Tikopia is only 140 miles! 

Any backpacker visiting remote places has their share of of anecdotes that reveal "cluelessness" about the outside world.  I remember being in the villages of Nepal on a trekking trip years ago when a local, upon hearing I was from America, asked how Michael Jackson was doing as if he and I were neighbors in the same village.  In Tikopia I remember when one of the chiefs explained to me that they had heard about the tsunami of 2004. He proudly explained how the 1000 or so Tikopians pooled their resources and were able to collect a total of $75 that they sent to Indonesia.  Normally, I would chalk this up as another example of "cluelessness" but the thing about Tikopia was that it didn't feel like cluelessness at all... Instead, every example of how their understanding of the world as a place not dominated by hundreds of years of white colonialism  made me question what sort of foundation and identity my own society had given me...

*Other Tikopia blog posts in archive (June 2008)