Ethnography of the Pacific Islands
Anthropology 350 [Fall, 1996]
Hawaii Pacific University
Instructor: Prof. Rob Borofsky
Hawaii Pacific University
Kaneohe, HI 96744
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:
firstname.lastname@example.org. 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
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
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
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
i. The Edge of Paradise: America in Micronesia by P. F.
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.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES DRAWN ON IN THE COURSE:
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
ColonialPost-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
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
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]