restricted access 7. Showing Respect
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87«.«.« 7 ».».» Showing Respect It All Begins in the Family The father and mother and children are sitting on the floor for the evening meal. With them are three other adults, close relatives also living in the household: the mother’s unmarried sister and a younger married couple in their mid-twenties related to the father. Pots of food are set on the floor in the middle of the loose circle. Two toddlers are being fed by the mother from her own plate. Meanwhile, the other children sit waiting until the adults have served themselves before they start to put food on their own plates. The children are mostly silent, now and then one of them whispering something to another. A teenage boy is sitting on one side of the room as far from his fifteen-year-old sister as he can get in the crowded room. When the meal is finished, the mother beckons her older daughter and two other girls, seven and nine, to help clean up. The teenage boy, who has never looked entirely comfortable, jumps up and leaves to join his friends outside, while his two younger brothers glance at him enviously. As the mother supervises the cleanup, her sister takes charge of one of the toddlers and places the other in the arms of an eleven-year-old girl. The father, in need of a smoke, sends out one of the younger sons for a pack of cigarettes from the nearby village store. Another family meal is finished. Respect is one of the central concepts in island culture; the word is forever being used in the islands. The importance of respect is a les- 88 Chapter 7 son that Micronesians begin to absorb within the circle of their family from the youngest age. Children learn to show respect for their parents and other elders in the family, waiting until older people have helped themselves to food and carrying out assigned tasks in the household as instructed. The mother’s adult sister is entitled to nearly as much respect from the children as their mother. The children in a village family would have called her “Mama” just as they would their own mother. Likewise, children would have referred to older male relatives as “Papa” while treating them as such. Almost as soon as the young could walk and begin to take care of themselves, they might be put in charge of a younger brother or sister. It was common to see a young girl carrying a child not much younger than herself. The girl might be expected to keep a close watch on the child for much of the day, bathing and feeding the child and handing it back to the mother when asked. At times, the girl might pass off her burden to a sister slightly younger than herself, just as a boy might ask his younger brother to do a task that he had been given. When a child was given a responsibility such as this, he was in no position to refuse the older person to whom he owed respect, but he could pass the burden down the family hierarchical chain to the child at the bottom of the line. After all, age was very important in Micronesian culture. It had just as much bearing on who was entitled to respect in the family as it did in the culture at large. Visitors to Micronesia who enter a village home expecting a loose and easygoing air are usually surprised at what they find. The tight organization in the family with its clear lines of authority is evident in even the simplest household. Although there may seem to be children everywhere, the family still impresses most of us as much more disciplined than the western family. Children talk to one another quietly, lapsing into silence when the adults are carrying on a discussion among themselves. It is rare to find children quarreling with one another or a child shouting his insistent demands to his parents—the type of unruliness that is a major part of the life of any American family. This often comes as a great surprise to outsiders, who expect to encounter the chaos of an American household in a family as large as many island families are. Instead, the family scene is a throwback to what might have been found years ago during their grandfather’s or great-grandfather’s time, when parental discipline was strong and Showing Respect 89 unapologetic...