Thursday, December 02, 2010
I remember reading in David Hanlon's Remaking Micronesia that the point where you could see this logic the most was during the Trust Territory period of Micronesian History. Those from outside of the Pacific, those not from islands can believe in their superiority and their fullness of view and mind so much to the point of almost defying absolute reality. Such was the case when American officials in Micronesia would produce information for islanders, including those living in atolls and how to make proper use of the coconut tree. The United State comes from a culture which has known the coconut in very superficial ways for a couple centuries at the most, whereas some people in the Pacific have known the coconut for thousands of years. But the actual state of knowledge is not important, but rather where those involved come from. The US officials because they come from the United States, the master, i manggi tano', are the ones who are supposed to know, the ones who, even if they don't even know it themselves, have the possibility of knowing all, teaching all, being all. Those from the islands, i manggi isla, are assumed to lack these basic things, and regardless of what their knowledge is, are assumed to require being finished by those from the land.
In Epeli Hau'ofa's seminal text "Our Sea of Islands" he found a way of weaving together what so many people in Pacific had felt for so long, that these things which people outside said and felt about us, and then created institutions of knowledge, texts of knowledge and governmental frameworks to perform said assumptions, were simply not true. If insular means that a place is an island or surrounded by water that is one thing, but all of those other characteristics are simply not true. Hau'ofa argued that the ocean does not limit or constrict or bar, but instead connects and stimulates. We should not lament being from a sea of islands, but forge said sea, connect said sea and nurture ourselves through the possibilities that such a sea, a vast network might represent.
That is why, I told my students that the problem here is us, we are too insular about things. We know we are not the only island in the world, not the only territory, and we know there are others out there like us, in relation to the US or other countries, but we know almost nothing about them. On Guam we see political status too often as some small issue, belonging to small-minded or narrow-minded people. Something the activists only care about, but not truly something that affects much. Few things could be further from the truth, but even that is part of our insularity. We see the US as the means of moving beyond our shores and this tiny island. We vicariously imagine the world through them, their history, their everything. And so our insularity leads us to not even try to see the world through our own terms or the truth of our terms, but rather through the truth of the United States. This of course leads to us living in a colony but knowing nothing of colonialism and knowing little to nothing of other colonies.
But this is why Dr. Corbin's talks when he comes to Guam are so important. He is very knowledgeable about the world of colonialism and colonies today, and so when he comes he brings that knowledge to us. He offers us a different sea of islands than Hau'ofa did, but one which can be just as critical or important. One of the things which people on Guam should hear is Corbin's stories of the few times in recent decades when the territories of the US or colonies of the world for instance have come together to push an issue and have either almost prevailed or prevailed. We on Guam can be too insular and about the wrong things as well. We are a colony amongst a few other colonies in this world and when we hear about the status in other colonies we should react as if their stories are too abstract too different then what we are used to, they should be common knowledge.
(The art in this post is from Kie Susuico, and is on display right now at the Isla Center for the Arts)