Pacific Studies Initiative Syllabi & Bibliographies



Syllabi & Bibliographies

Internet Resources

Ethnography of the Pacific Islands

Anthropology 350 [Fall, 1996]
Hawaii Pacific University

Instructor: Prof. Rob Borofsky
Hawaii Pacific University
Kaneohe, HI 96744
tel: 808-263-0902
fax: 808-261-9092

This course explores the cultural patterns and problems of various Pacific groups in Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia and how these groups interact both with other Pacific Islanders and with "outlanders" from outside the region. It considers: What are the different ways people come to know and write about the region? How can we best understand the Pacific and its diverse peoples through such writings?

TIME: TUESDAY 5:15-8:10

OFFICE HOURS: Just before class and after class for as long as help is needed. I would encourage students to call me at home if they have questions or problems that need immediate resolution. My telephone number is 263-0902. If I am not in (or am in the middle of a long distance call) please leave a message and I will get back to you by the end of the day. My e-mail address is: My fax number is 261-9092.


a. Adventuring in The Pacific: A Sierra Club Travel Guide by Susanna Margolis

This book provides an overview of the Pacific as seen through the eyes of a travel writer. Margolis provides introductory glimpses to the Pacific's different island groups and draws us into exploring a key question in the course: How might we best learn about the Pacific - through travel guides, through anthropological ethnographies, through novels?

b. Tahitians: Mind and Experience in the Society Islands by Robert Levy

This flowing, thoughtful description of Tahitian psycho-dynamics is a classic. We gain a sense of Tahitians as individuals and come to understand what is meant by the Buber quote at the book's beginning: "What a good and bright world this is if we do not lose our hearts to it, but what a dark world if we do."

c. Fruit of the Motherland: Gender in an Egalitarian Society by Maria Lepowsky

The book combines an ethnography of the Melanesian Vanatinai with a broader question regarding male/female equality. It suggests that males and females can indeed be "equal" and considers the conditions and contexts that foster such equality. Because of the issue raised, it has garnered tremendous public attention.

d. Making History: Pukapukan and Anthropological Constructions of Knowledge by Robert Borofsky

Written as an ethnographic puzzle, the book examines how indigenous inhabitants and outside anthropologists construct differing accounts of a Polynesian atoll's past. The focus is on how both groups "make history" in the process of "preserving" the atoll's traditions.

e. Articulating Change in the "Last Unknown" by Frederick Errington and

Deborah Gewertz

A set of ethnographic studies, dealing with the Melanesian Karavans, that explores how this group both resists and absorbs outside influences in the process of shaping and reshaping Karavan identity in meaningful ways. The volume also gives a sense of how anthropologists consider issues of change.

f. Mr. Bligh's Bad Language: Passion, Power and Theatre on the Bounty by Greg Dening

Through an analysis of the events surrounding and following the mutiny on the H.M.S. Bounty, we gain a sense of the "outlanders" who came into the Pacific in times past and how they interacted with indigenous populations. Dening depicts, with subtlety, the drama that surrounded these interactions.

g. Tales of the Tikongs by Epeli Hau'ofa

A humorous indigenous perspective on the dynamics of development in the Pacific. Using a light touch, Hau'ofa raises important questions about in what ways and to what degree, development actually "develops" a country.

h. The Papalangi collected by E. Scheurmann

A Western impression of how a Samoan might describe Europe if he or she were to write an ethnography about it. The book raises questions regarding how Pacific Islanders perceive the European way of life and how Europeans perceive Pacific Islanders perceiving Europeans.

i. The Edge of Paradise: America in Micronesia by P. F. Kluge

A reflective, personal account of the American colonial and post-colonial experience in Micronesia. The ironies inherent in development and underdevelopment, in change and continuity become clearer in this volume.

j. Potiki by Patricia Grace

A novel by a New Zealand Maori writer regarding Maori-Pakeha relations. The novel, winner of the 1987 New Zealand Fiction Award, explores how Maori are adapting to change - and, in the process, attempting to preserve a sense of cultural identity. Seeing the process of change through an indigenous perspective provides an interesting comparison to the perspectives presented by Kluge and by Errington and Gewertz.


Hawaii is rich in Pacific resources. It has perhaps the best library collections in the world for the Pacific and has a rich range of individuals versed in the region's dynamics. If all goes as planned, I expect to have three videos (The Trobrianders, The Navigators, and Man Blong Custom) and three speakers: Davianna McGregor (Hawaiian Sovereignty); Joan and Judge Ed King (Being American in Micronesia During the Colonial–Post-colonial Transition); and David Hanlon (Writing About Micronesian "Development").


1. Anthropological and Historical Perspectives on the Region (Weeks 1-8)
2. The Problems of "Development" (Weeks 9-15)


1. There will be TWO ESSAY EXAMS, one at the end of each unit. Each essay exam will be worth 20% of the total grade.

a. Students are allowed to take over the first unit exam - to improve their grade - under the following conditions:

1. to qualify for retaking an exam, a student must obtain at least a score of 50. Students who simply take an exam without studying for it and fail with a score of 49 or below will not be allowed to retake the exam.

2. the make-up exam must be taken the next class after the initial exam is returned (to prevent procrastination).

3. if a student fails to show up for an exam, without having obtained prior permission to do so, the student will be considered to have failed the exam with a zero grade and no possibility will exist for retaking it.

2. There will be TWO EIGHT PAGE PAPERS, one after each exam. These are meant to provide students with the time to creatively think through a critical issue related to a unit's readings. Each paper will be worth 20% of the total grade.

a. the papers must be typed and presented in a professional manner appropriate to a college level course.

1. the paper will be graded in terms of (a) coherent organization, (b) appropriate grammar and spelling, and, most importantly, (c) degree to which it creatively integrates class readings, discussions, and the students own innovative ideas to provide a focused paper that thoughtfully and cogently argues a particular position in respect to the question(s) of concern.

2. papers under six pages are unacceptable and will have to be redone by the student to obtain a passing grade.

3. papers passed in late, without a reasonable excuse, will have points deducted from the student's grade.

3. There will be UNIT GROUP DISCUSSIONS - above and beyond the normal class discussions - on the readings for each unit. Students will be expected, in groups, to frame central questions regarding a unit's readings and think through possible answers to them. The unit discussions should be perceived as another way of showing mastery of a unit's readings - that is, being able to discuss, with others, the readings and their implications. There will be two such discussions - one after each unit exam. Each discussion will be worth 2.5% of the total grade.

4. There will be ONE GROUP REPORT. The report will involve three to five students, working together, on a project that emphasizes different ways group members perceive a "Pacific" event. The group presentation will be worth 5% of the total grade.

a. Students will need to decide:

1. what constitutes a "Pacific" event they can collectively observe

2. explore how different people with different backgrounds perceive the event. To what degree do they perceive the event in the same way? To what degree do they perceive it differently? Why?

5. PARTICIPATION IN CLASS DISCUSSIONS will be worth 10% of the total grade. Allowances will be made for the range of diverse personalities that exist in any class - from shy to verbose - but the student is expected to express an involvement in topics of concern to the class.

a. Class lectures and discussions are crucial to the learning process in the course. Students are strongly encouraged to attend all classes (unless having obtained prior permission from the instructor).

b. Students should know that more than ONE absence from class - without receiving the instructor's prior consent - will seriously affect their grade.

6. Students caught cheating on an exam or plagiarizing on the paper will automatically fail the course.

[Subject: Anthropology; Pacific/Comparative]

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