Part 1: Pacific Islanders: The people, their culture and their life
The Pacific Islanders inhabit between 20,000 and 30,000 islands in the Pacific Ocean. These islands are sometimes collectively referred to as Oceania traditionally grouped into three; (1) Micronesia meaning the black islands consists of New Guinea, Papua New Guinea, Maluku, West Papua, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands). (2) Melanesia meaning small islands are found on the North of the Equator and consists of Guam, Wake Island, Marshall Islands, Northern Marianas, Palau, Nauru, Kiribati and the Federated States of Micronesia) and (3) Polynesia meaning many islands are found south of the equator and consist of Hawaiian Islands, New Zealand, Midway Islands, Rotuma, Samoan Islands, Tuvalu, Tonga, Tokelau, Cook Islands, Niue, Wallis and Fatuna, Easter Island and French Polynesia. The Pacific Islanders have maintained unique and beautiful cultures based on hospitality, humility and love throughout their existence.
Various agencies and sociology studies have named the Pacific Island countries of Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea among many others as the friendliest countries in the world (Strathern, 2002). Pacific Islands embody the oneness of human nature and prove that indeed, man was created social being. The people are never in hurry about life and always seem satisfied with the much they have. Strathern, (2002) notes that to the typical Pacific Islander, material wealth does not count as much as it does to people in many other parts of the world. While in many western countries wealth is based on how much money or assets one has accumulated, in the Pacific Islands, wealth is based on how much one can give away. Sharing holds the communities together (Thomas, 2010). The Pacific Islanders live on a philosophy that urges them to look for ways to repay kindness rather than exploiting the hospitality and goodwill that is extended to oneself. Gifts and acts of kindles are appreciates and reciprocated in equal measure.
The Pacific Islanders live very social lifestyles. This may be due to their subsistence lifestyle that is essential their survival in the small Islands. Many Pacific Islanders live in families with their immediate and extended families. The people work together and are very friendly to members of their own culture and to outsiders. The small sizes of the islands and the scarcity of food, land and other resources also mean that the people have learnt to share and live harmoniously (Strathern, 2002). The separation of the countries from the world’s continents as well as the distances of the islands from mainlands has also limited outside cultural influences on the native culture of many Pacific Islands (Chang & Subramaniam, 2008). In many Pacific Islands, the people live close to each other in villages where they participate in cultural events such as music, dances, storytelling, sporting competitions such as sumo wrestling among other activities. So notable and distinct has the village co-existence among the Pacific Islanders been that in all Hollywood movies depicting an issue about those people has to bring an elaborate scene in a typical village. A scene depicting a night where some foreigner is shown dancing in grass costume at night in beside a bonfire with the tattooed natives as drums are pounded is very common!
The friendliness of the Pacific Islanders borders on extreme communism. They have a traditional “laid-back” lifestyle that seems to alienate and seemingly make it hard for them to survive in the competitive capitalistic societies such as the United States where more than 1.2 million of them live (Chang & Subramaniam, 2008). Economic analysts fear that the approach of the Pacific Islanders to life is not suitable in today’s capitalistic societies where restraint in communistic tendencies seems to be the driving force of the world’s most developed countries. In spite of these views, the Pacific Islanders have maintained a culture that is founded on ancient principles that promote noble and honorable lifestyles.
Pacific Islanders have other unique cultural aspects. Religiously, many Pacific Islanders are united by their honor and belief in mana-spiritual power from the gods. In dressing, early and some modern pacific Islanders valued body art and specifically tattooing and body piercings which they used to express their social and political standings (Thomas, 2010). Traditionally, Pacific Islanders used to wear bark cloth (straightened fibers from the inner bark of the mulberry tree), especially on the lower part of the body. Although modern dressing codes have been adopted in the Islands, the natives still wear the traditional dressing dominate the islands especially during ceremonial or ritual occasions. Firewalking in Fiji, use of oven earth in Fiji and Polynesia where it is known as lovo and is common umu respectively, land diving in Vanuatu, presentation of a whale’s tooth (tabua) in Fiji among other unique and sometimes bizarre cultural aspects that define the culture of the Pacific Islanders (Strathern, 2002). The cultural aspects have been passed down from generation to generation through music, storytelling and dance.
In order to gain more insight in the culture of the Pacific Islanders, I carried out an interview with a Hawaiian middle-aged man named Hani. I interviewed him on general issues about his culture such as gender roles, religion, cultural holidays, and foods among other issues that helped me gain more insight into his culture. As I conversed with Hani, I found out that Pacific Islanders are very friendly, respectful and majority are very humble. Hani confirmed that in all Pacific Island countries it is common to see people smiling at each other, chatting and basically getting to know each other. In a straightforward response to a question I posed, he stated that the culture of the Pacific Islanders has for long been stereotyped as grass skirts and pounding drums.
He also stated that people perceive Hawaiians and generally all Pacific Islanders to be lazy but this is not true since their culture teaches them to be hardworking and responsible. Hani stated that though the grass skirts and pounding drums are part of their culture a variety of outstanding cuisines, dances, dressing and traditional music lies at the heart of the culture of all Pacific Islanders. Some foods native to the Pacific Islands include Pwah-Sun Croo (tuna or halibut with coconut milk, and a variety of vegetables), roasted pork, Lomi lomi (smoked salmon salad with some tomatoes and onions), kava (crushed root of the pepper plant, bananas and sweet potatoes among many other foods. Some of their holidays include the Lei Day, celebrated on 1st May is a Hawaiian holiday in which the natives make, give and wear leis (flower wreathes). The festivities on that day include native music, and making lei-making contests. The Kamehameha Day on 1st June is another holiday which unites the Hawaiian people under their monarchy
The Gender roles are very distinct among the Pacific Islanders as I learnt from Hani. Men are leaders of their families. They are responsible for providing and protecting their families. They also lead their families in observing rituals and makes sure that the children receive relevant education as they grow up. Men in the Pacific Islands also take on what is are considered in many societies to be females roles such as cooking and cleaning for the family. The roles of women have since ancient times centered on child-bearing and rearing. The women teach children spiritual matters and guided them emotionally. Before the Pacific Islands were colonized and taken over by Western countries and the US, Pacific Islands’ women faced great inequality in their society. The kapu system denied women the right to eat certain types of food, eat with men and they were segregated at child birth.
However, when western laws were introduced, the Pacific Islands have had appreciable levels of gender equality. The missionaries played a crucial role in transforming the culture of the Pacific Islanders from some retrogressive practices such as gender segregation and unfair treatment to women. Currently, the Pacific Islands have fair and just societies. Although families are largely patriarchal, Pacific Islands’ women enjoy as many rights as those in many western countries. Hani confirmed that in his native Hawaii and also in almost all Pacific Island countries, gender equality has increased and stabilized. Although the Pacific Islands consist of many different nationalities, the people are unified by very close cultures that are founded on love, hospitality and humility.
Chang, T., & Subramaniam, P. R. (2008). Asian and Pacific Islander American Men's Help-Seeking: Cultural Values and Beliefs, Gender Roles, and Racial Stereotypes. International Journal of Men's Health, 7(2), 121-136.
Strathern, A. (2002). Oceania: an introduction to the cultures and identities of Pacific Islanders. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.
Thomas, N. (2010). Islanders: the Pacific in the age of empire. New Haven [Conn.: Yale University Press.