Pacific Studies Initiative Syllabi & Bibliographies



Syllabi & Bibliographies

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Pacific Island Cultures (1)

Anthropology 275

Spring 1996-97

Prof. Eric Silverman

Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology

DePauw University

Greencastle, IN 46135



Course Description

In the popular and uncritical imagination, the South Pacific Islands conjure images of palm trees swaying in the gentle breeze, sunsets over tranquil seas, coconuts, hula girls, cannibals, head-hunters, islands of love, golden beaches, surfing, colorful Hawaiian shirts, etc. This, of course, is a romantic picture of what in actuality is perhaps the most culturally complex region of the world. These images, moreover, reflect our own Western desires rather than the historical and contemporary lives of Pacific Islanders and nations. Towards achieving a more accurate and scholarly comprehension of Pacific Island societies, this course will survey the peoples and cultures of the region. Our goal is to gain an anthropological understanding of the diverse and common sociocultural institutions of Pacific Island peoples and their historical and contemporary experiences.

Since the Pacific contains enormous human diversity (over 1000 different cultures and language groups), the course is necessarily selective. However, course texts cover the major areas of the Pacific: coastal, lowland and island Papua New Guinea (Melanesia), Truk (Micronesia), Hawai'i and Western Samoa (Polynesia), and Tahiti (French Polynesia). Lectures and films will additionally include Highland New Guinea, Vanuatu, Bikini Atoll, Aboriginal Australia and Fiji, among other locales.

The early focus of the course is on the traditional or precontact lifestyles of Pacific Islanders. For most of the semester, however, we will study the dramatic historical and contemporary changes that Pacific Islanders have confronted since contact with Europeans--in some places as early as the 16th century, in other places as late as the 1950s. Often tragic, these ongoing changes are economic, political, religious, ethnic, environmental, cultural and social. They include beverage alcohol in Micronesia, the Hawaiian sovereignty movement, new gender relations, the introduction of capitalism, logging and mining, tourism, literacy, US atomic bomb tests in the Marshall Islands, and land rights. The guiding question of the course is: What is the process whereby formerly stateless peoples (the fourth world) become incorporated into emergent, third world nations? The answer to this question is what can be termed the "Pacific Predicament." It has parallels throughout the world as small-scale societies nations strive to clarify their existence in the periphery of the modern world system.

Course Structure

The course will consist of lectures (sometimes enhanced by slides), films and videos, and group discussions. The many audiovisual activities are important; you should take notes while watching them.

Your instructor will often draw on his own experiences and research among the Iatmul, a Sepik River culture in Papua New Guinea. In addition, he has considerable familiarity with Hawai'i.

I consider the group discussions and films to be vital and not trivial components of the course. If you are not fully prepared for the discussions, or fail to participate actively, then I must penalize you. When group discussions are scheduled for a particular day, I expect you to be prepared to discuss the material for the full 50 minutes. These classes are not, in the commonality of the vernacular, bullshit sessions. I will provide study guides and questions in order to foster discussion. If you are unfamiliar with group discussion skills, please ask me or visit the S-Center. (Please bring the relevant text to these classes.)

There will be a lot of reading, but it is paced at about 100 pages per week. If you are diligent and conscientious, you should have no trouble completing the readings.

Since this is an anthropological and regional survey course, there are three types of knowledge that we wish to master. First, there are general anthropological concepts (many key anthropological ideas derived from studies of Pacific cultures.) Second, there are broad ideas concerning the contemporary and historic Pacific. Third, we will study empirical information concerning specific South Pacific societies. For each assignment, I will indicate how you should incorporate and synthesize these three forms of knowledge.

Course Requirements

It is expected that you will attend class, read the texts in accordance with the schedule, complete the assignments and quizzes on time, and participate in group discussions. It is also expected that you will ask questions, take notes on the readings, prepare outlines and study topics for the group discussions, etc.


Your final grade will be determined by the following:

3 Quizzes (2/17, 3/3, 5/5), together worth 20%
2 Essays (15% each; due 3/21, 4/11) 30%
Review of literature (due by 5/15) 20%
Final examination (5/21) 20%
Class participation 10%

Two further points. First, I will periodically ask you at the beginning of class to write questions and comments concerning class, readings, films, etc. This will help me monitor your comprehension of the material, formulate study questions for the group discussions, and tailor my lectures to pressing concerns. I will not overtly factor these responses into your final grade unless there is a repetitive pattern that is unsatisfactory. Second, class participation amounts to 10% of your final grade. This refers to the quality of your attentiveness, questions, participation in group discussions, overall preparation, etc. Sleeping in class, poor attendance, working on assignments for other courses, and the like, is not acceptable.

Having said this, I also want to note that I am enthusiastic about this class. I hope that the course is as enjoyable as it is intellectual (the two, I should add, are not mutually exclusive!) My own professional research and publications concern the Pacific, so I have a special interest in this course.

Written Assignments

There are two essays. The first concerns the problems and paradoxes of development and towns in Papua New Guinea. The second focuses on beverage alcohol and gender on Truk (in Micronesia). For both essays you will read one of two books, and then to engage in collaborative learning with classmates who have read the other book. I will provide more information on these essays later.

The essays will concentrate on broad anthropological and Pacific themes. The quizzes will center on culture-specific material. I will discuss this in more detail as we near the first quiz.

You must also conduct a review of literature using library resources and the internet. You can do this alone or in pairs; if you choose the latter, both partners will receive the same grade. (Your reviews may form the basis for a scholarly journal article which I will write, in it you will receive credit for your work!) Select one Pacific Island nation, territory, state or other political entity. Then report on the number of times it was featured in major American (mainland) newspapers and popular periodicals, and what topics were covered. The guiding question is: How is this Pacific location represented in American media? There are several indexes in RoyO that you will need to survey (I will hand out explicit information on these sources shortly). I want you minimally to use the paper indexes for The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal; for popular magazines, you should refer to the Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature. I want you next to search the internet for information about your Pacific location, focusing on sources that relate to tourism. The guiding question here is: How is your Pacific location represented in touristic literature? Your written report is due no later than the last class of the semester, May 15. (At the end of the syllabus, I have provided a list of Pacific Island entities, with brief descriptions.)

Final Examination

The final examination will occur on Wed, May 21 9:00-12:00. It will be comprehensive. I will provide a study guide the last week of class. In addition, the examination will ask you to write an essay that focuses on the final text of the course, which is an epic novel written by Albert Wendt that spans three generations of social change in Western Samoa. Wendt is a Samoan writer, novelist, poet and professor of English at the University of Auckland (New Zealand). In one respect, this novel is an attempt to provide the "insider's point of view" on the history, life and psyche of Pacific Islanders that is an alternative (or a correction) to the portrayal offered by Western social scientists such as anthropologists. In the final examination, I want you to discuss the unique insights that Wendt's novel offers to this anthropology course, but also the insights that anthropology can offer to the novel. You will receive more information on this essay later.

Instructor's Office Hours

My formal office hours are: Tuesday 1:00-2:00; Wednesday 11:00-12:00; Thursday 9:00-10:00.

My office is 307 Asbury Hall. The phone number is 658-4889. I can also be

reached by email (erics), which is the best way to contact me quickly for a

question, to set up an appointment, etc. Despite my formal office hours, you are

encouraged to make an appointment for any other time in order to chat about the

course, the Pacific, anthropology and your studies. I am easily accessible.


The following books are available at the DePauw bookstore:

1. Ian Hogbin, The Island of Menstruating Men: Religion in Wogeo, New Guinea, 1970/1996. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press. This book concerns gender, religion and ritual on the island of Wogeo (Papua New Guinea). It is especially useful for understanding traditional relationships between men and women in the context of religion, wherein men are said to menstruate.

2. Miriam Kahn, Always Hungry, Never Greedy: Food and the Expression of Gender in a Melanesian Society, 1986/1994. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press. This ethnography investigates the central importance of food, feeding and "famine" in Wamira myth, social life and culture more generally (coastal Papua New Guinea).

(Note: Of the following two books, you will read only one.)

3a. Deborah B. Gewertz and Frederick K. Errington, Twisted Histories, Altered Contexts: Representing the Chambri in a World System, 1991. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. This book concerns the Chambri people of the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea, who are neighbors of the Iatmul, where your instructor conducts research. The book concerns social change for the Chambri, including tourism, life away from the village in town, the introduction of writing, and the tragic death of a young Chambri man who was a rock and roll singer.

3b. Michael French Smith, Hard Times on Kairiru Island: Poverty, Development, and Morality in a Papua New Guinea Village, 1994. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. Smith's book concerns the people of Kragur, a village on Kairiru island that is just off the coast of Wewak, the capital town of the East Sepik Province that is featured in Gewertz and Errington's book. Smith focuses on the hardships of capitalism, development and "moral failure" in this village.

(Note: Of the following two books, you will read only one.)

4a. Mac Marshall, Weekend Warriors: Alcohol in a Micronesian Culture, 1979. Mountain view, CA: Mayfield. This ethnography concerns the introduction, use and often violent results of beverage alcohol on the island of Truk. Since beverage alcohol was introduced into the Pacific by Europeans, its role in Truk social life and culture was defined by colonialism.

4b. Mac Marshall and Leslie B. Marshall, Silent voices Speak: Women and Prohibition in Truk, 1990. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. This book concerns the response by Trukese women to male drinking behavior and parallels to the American temperance movement that resulted in Prohibition from 1920-1933.

5. Victoria 5. Lockwood, Tahitian Transformation: Gender & Capitalistic Development in a Rural Society, 1993. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner. Lockwood's ethnography focuses on Tubuai island, a rural Tahitian society. She studied women's roles in Tahitian capitalistic development, and the current economic linkages between Tubuai, Papeete (the capital and urban center of Tahiti) and the global economy.

6. Noel J. Kent, Hawaii: Islands Under the Influence, 1993. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. All Americans know about Hawai'i--white sandy beaches, leis, volcanoes, luaus, Hawaii Five-O, Waikiki Beach, and vacations. But few mainlanders understand the complex history of Hawai'i--the traditional life of the Hawaiian people, the arrival of Europeans in the late 18th century, the former plantation economy, the process that led to statehood, Hawaii's multiethnic composition in which Caucasians (or haole) are in the minority, the current predicament of ethnic Hawaiians, and the sovereignty movement.

7. Albert Wendt, Leaves of the Banyan Tree, 1979/1994. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. This magisterial novel covers three generations of life and change, love and frustration, psyche and society in Western Samoa. For most of this course, we will read about the Pacific from the perspective of Western social science and anthropology. In this novel, we listen to a noted Pacific Islander tell his version of Pacific Island life and history.

Course Schedule

Week 1: Introduction to the Traditional Pacific.

Feb 3 (M): Introduction to the course; writing exercise--your first impressions of the Pacific Islands.

Feb 4 (T): European mythologizing of South Pacific islanders--From Hobbes to Gaugin (slides).

Feb 6 (Th), Feb 7 (F): Pacific geography, prehistory, language and settlement.

Reading: Hogbin, Island of Menstruating Men, chps. 1-4.


Week 2: Melanesia and Menstruating Men.

Feb 10 (M): The basis of social relations: kinship, exchange, marriage and food; Or, Generous motherhood.

*Night Film: "King Kong" (1933): Early cinematic images of race, gender and savagery in the Pacific.

Feb 11 (T): Big-men, chiefs and religion in Melanesia; Or, magical and material Polities.

Feb 13 (Th), Feb 14 (F): Group discussions: Gender in Melanesia; Or, why do men menstruate?

Reading: Finish Hogbin.


Week 3: Food and Sociality in Melanesia.

Feb 17 (M): Quiz 1 (weeks 1-2; Hogbin)

Feb 18 (T): Food myths as charters for moral social life.

Feb 20 (Th), Feb 21 (F): Film "First Contact" (actual footage of the first contact between Europeans and Highland New Guineans in the 1930s).

Reading: Kahn, Always Hungry Never Greedy, chps. 1-4.


Week 4: Wamira Food and Gender.

Feb 24 (M): Recent theories about Melanesia gender; Or, partible persons.

Feb 25 (T): Wok Meri; Or, Coffee, Women and Money in Highland New Guinea.

Feb 27 (Th), Feb 28 (F): Group discussions: Gender, food and famine in Wamira.

Reading: Finish Kahn.

**Reminder: Don't forget about the media report!


Week 5: Contemporary Predicaments in Melanesian Societies and Towns: Two Case Studies from the East Sepik, Papua New Guinea.

Mar 3 (M): Quiz 2 (weeks 3-4; Kahn).

Mar 4 (T): Early European exploration of the Pacific and the beginnings of colonialism.

Mar 6 (Th), Mar 7 (F): 100 years of change in the Sepik River.

Reading: Begin either Gewertz and Errington, Twisted Histories, Altered Contexts, or Smith, Hard Times on Kairiru Island.

Essay: Capitalism, Identity and Pathos in Contemporary Papua New Guinea: Comparing the Chambri and Kragur. Due 3/21.


Week 6: Change in Melanesia (continued).

Mar 10 (M), Mar 11 (T): Film "Joe Leahy's Neighbors." This film details Joe Leahy's fate in business, politics and social life in Highland Papua New Guinea. His mother is a PNG woman yet his father is one of the Leahy brothers who were the first Europeans to venture into the Highlands.

Mar 13 (T), Mar 14 (F): Group Discussions: Social change in two Sepik societies.

*Bring an outline of your essay to class Mar 14.

Reading: Finish Errington/Gewertz or Smith. Work on your essay.


Week 7: Mines, Minerals and Logging in Contemporary Papua New Guinea.

Mar 17 (M), Mar 18 (T): The Bougainville Copper Mine: Colonialism, Nationhood and the Armed Insurrection of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army.

Mar 20 (Th), Mar 21 (F): Film "Black Harvest," the third film in the series that began with "First Contact" and "Joe Leahy's Neighbors." It centers on Joe Leahy's coffee plantations, and includes footage of contemporary tribal warfare in the Highlands, which broke out when world coffee prices were reduced.

*Hand in Essay 1 on Mar 21.

Reading: Begin either Marshall, Weekend Warriors or Marshall and Marshall, Silent Voices Speak.

Essay 2: Explaining Alcohol, Social Change and Gender in Truk. Due 4/11.

3/24-3/28 Spring Break.

*Reminder: Don't forget about the media report!

Week 8: Alcohol, Social Change and Gender in Micronesia.

Mar 31 (M), Apr 1 (T): The colonial introduction of beverage alcohol into the Pacific; Or, drinking behavior, racism and pacification.

Apr 3 (W), Apr 4 (Th): Group discussions: How can we explain drinking behavior and women's response in Truk as a uniquely Pacific phenomenon?

*Bring an outline of your essay to class Apr 4.

*Note: One evening this week, I will show the film "Mokil," which is a wonderful and vivid cinematic portrayal of life on a tiny coral atoll.

Reading: Finish Marshall or Marshall/Marshall. Work on your essay.


Week 9: World War II and Cargo Cults.

Apr 7 (M): Film "Angels of War," which details the contributions of New Guineas to the Australian war effort, and their subsequent bitterness when the war ended and colonialism continued, thus erasing the wartime 'equality' and camaraderie between Europeans and indigenous people.

Apr 8 (T), Apr 10 (Th): Cargo Cults; Or, how to explain the material abundance of the West and inequality within the framework of Melanesian cosmology.

Apr 11 (F): Film "Home on the Range." The forced relocation of Micronesians (Kwajalein Atoll) and US testing of nuclear weapons in the Pacific.

*Hand in essay 2 on Apr 11.

Reading: Lockwood, Tahitian Transformations, Part 1.


Week 10: Australian Aborigines, Fiji and Tahiti.

Apr 14 (M): The Plight of Australian Aborigines and the concept of "Aboriginality."

Apr 15 (T): Film "Babakiueria." A witty and poignant commentary on Australia's treatment of Aborigines. The film imagines a reversal of the historic roles of colonized and colonizer, wherein black settlers arrive to colonize white natives.

Apr 17 (Th): British colonialism, indentured laborers from India, and ethnic politics in contemporary Fiji.

Apr 18 (F): Group discussions: Capitalism, development and the role of women in Tahiti.

*Bring to class on Friday a list of topics and issues from previous course work that you can add to Lockwood's analysis.

Reading: Finish Lockwood.


Week 11: Hawai'i--The Death of Captain Cook and Hawaiian History from the

Perspective of Ethnic Hawaiians.

Apr 21 (M), Apr 22 (T): You are required to see one of two films: "Act of War: The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation" or "Papakolea: A Story of Hawaiian Land."

Apr 24 (Th), Apr 25 (F): The arrival and death of Captain Cook at Kealakekua Bay, Hawai'i; Or, Mythic History or Historical Myth?

Reading: Kent, Hawaii, Part 1.


Week 12: The Hawaiian Sovereignty Movement.

Apr 28 (M), Apr 29 (T): Film "The Tribunal." Convened in 1993, the Tribunal brought the US and the State of Hawaii to trial for crimes committed against the Hawaiian people (genocide, ethnocide, annexation of a sovereign people without their consent, and illegal appropriate of lands, water and natural resources).

May 1 (Th), May 2 (F): Group discussions and debates: Should the Hawaiian Sovereignty movement be honored?

Reading: Finish Kent.

*Reminder: Don't forget about media report!


Week 13: Contemporary Life in Multi-Ethnic Hawaii; Tourism in the Pacific-- Cultural Dependence or Cultural Assertion?

May 5 (M): Quiz 3 (weeks 5-12; Lockwood; but not Gewertz/Errington, Smith, Marshall and Marshall/Marshall).

May 6 (T), May 8 (Th): Class discussion on ethnicity and growing up in Hawaii.

May Dec 9 (F): Issues in Pacific Tourism--Exploitation, Representation and Authenticity?

Reading: Begin Wendt, Leaves of the Banyan Tree.


Week 14: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Tourism in the Pacific.

May 12 (M): Film "Cannibal Tours." A celebrated film that captures wealthy European tourists who travel up the Sepik River.

May 13 (T): A critical response to "Cannibal Tours."

May 15 (Th): Last Class--Reflections on the course; review for the final; re-reading your initial impressions of the Pacific which you wrote the first day of class.

Reading: Continue Wendt.


Final Examination: Wed, May 21, 9:00-12:00. Note: I will hand out a study guide for the final. It might not be a bad idea for you to study in small groups, especially for the essay question on Wendt's novel (briefly discussed above). I would be happy to meet with you as a group at a pre-arranged time.


Note: During the course of the semester, I will show four other films. You should try to see a few of them.

"Tabu." A silent film (1931) made in Tahiti about the plight of two lovers doomed by a tribal edict decreeing that the girl is "tabu' to all men. Like "King Kong," this film portrays early 20th century myths about Pacific Islanders.

"Rapa Nui." Rapa Nui is the indigenous name of Easter Island, fabled for its huge stone heads or moaii. The film, which was released within the past few years and co-produced by Kevin Costner, is a contemporary dramatization of a traditional race by young men to retrieve the first eggs of the sooty term (a migratory bird). Nevertheless, the film can be seen as a contemporary Western myth about the South Pacific.

"Once Were Warriors." An acclaimed and powerful film about contemporary Maori life in New Zealand--alcohol abuse, domestic violence, racism, gender, tragedy and hope--based on the novel (same title) by Alan Duff.

"Moana: A Romance of the Golden Age." This is another silent film (1926) about a South Pacific Island 'paradise,' this time Samoa, complete with sexuality, savagery and exotic ritual.

Additional Information

1. This schedule is subject to change, depending on the pace of various topics.

2. Page 3 of the Schedule of Classes contains important dates for canceling classes, adding new courses and changing various grading systems.

3. Please review the Academic Policies of the University in the Depauw University catalog, which contains important information on grades, incompletes and the responsibilities of students and professors. Please also review the university's Academic Integrity Policy in the Student Handbook.

4. If you drink, don't drive. If you have sex, do it safely. Your age-set is particularly prone to alcohol-related automobile accidents and to contracting HIV (especially young women!).

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