restricted access 12. Handling Uncertainty and Loss
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152«.«.« 12 ».».» Handling Uncertainty and Loss Facing Uncertainty Rosa studied her calf for several minutes. Her right leg had suddenly become swollen just about two weeks ago and had taken on an angry red color. The appearance was worse than the pain, but still she was very nervous about the swelling. As soon as she noticed the swelling she went to the hospital to see one of the doctors. He had dismissed the problem as unimportant, giving her some mild pain medication and telling her to soak the leg three times a day. But the problem persisted. Next she had visited an aunt of hers, an elderly woman who had a reputation as skilled in massage. She remembered, years ago, her mother sweeping her hand toward a shelf filled with different kinds of medication in a pharmacy and telling her that good massage could take care of more problems than that whole shelf full of medicine. Maybe her mother was right, but massage hadn’t taken care of Rosa’s swollen leg. She had been going to get her leg massaged for a week now, but there had been no improvement. As Rosa contemplated her swollen leg, she couldn’t help wondering what brought on the problem. Could it have been her bad dealings with Rieko? For months now she had been angry at her cousin Rieko for the trouble she had been causing in the family , but her feelings had become even stronger over the past few weeks. Come to think of it, her anger intensified about the time her leg problem started. Could the swollen leg be the result of stress due to the anger she was feeling? Or maybe Rieko herself Handling Uncertainty and Loss 153 was responsible for the problem. Could she have used sorcery or some kind of curse to cause the affliction? When she was growing up, Rosa had heard hundreds of stories of such things, and now and then she would still meet someone who claimed to have had sorcery used on her. Still, she wasn’t sure that she believed in such things. After all, she was a Christian, wasn’t she? But you never know, she thought to herself. Some powers, for good and for bad, are beyond our understanding. Better to be safe when it comes to such things. Then she rummaged through the drawer for a medal of Our Lady of Lourdes, one that was said to have been blessed by the pope himself, and placed it on her swollen leg. She would leave it there for the rest of the day, she decided. The future is filled with uncertainties for us all. For islanders, limited in their understanding of the workings of the natural world and subject to the powerful social forces always operating on their lives, uncertainty was everywhere. Acutely aware of their fragile control over events, Micronesians were always looking for ways to extend this control. How to guarantee a good breadfruit or taro or pandanus harvest in coming years? How to ensure a successful fishing catch that would feed the family during the days to come? How to cure a family member who was taken sick? And in the old days when interisland warfare was common, how to safeguard people in the event of an attack? People took the precautions they could, given the knowledge they had acquired about such things. They practiced horticulture based on principles acquired through trial and error over generations. They had a supply of reliable fishing techniques and a knowledge of good fishing grounds that was accumulated over the years. They had an understanding of basic herbal medicine and massage techniques that were proven to work under certain circumstances. They had battle strategies and a defense system that offered a basic measure of security . In other words, they were equipped with whatever they could cull from their own experience and that of their ancestors to help get them through life. Still, disasters occurred. Life was filled with unexpected threats that they could not always parry with the weapons at their disposal. 154 Chapter 12 When a virulent epidemic broke out, for example, they could not turn to laboratory research to help them puzzle out the nature of the disease and devise a remedy. There was not the understanding of the basic science we take for granted today that would point them to a reasoned explanation of the epidemic and a rational understanding of how they might overcome it. Traditional Micronesians...