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164 In Summary A Wild Ride through a Dimly Lit Place An encounter with a culture, especially a culture as different as those in Micronesia, is always a wild ride. I’m reminded of a theme park ride I took years ago when we were packed into a car that hurtled through one tunnel opening after another, each offering mysterious and sometimes frightening scenes, all of which we tried to absorb as the car dipped and tilted and plunged. I recall finishing the ride half wishing that I could see it all again, this time in slow motion, so that I could ponder the meaning of those tunnel scenes. It was a little too dark and the ride was too breakneck to catch it all the first time. Cultural explorations, like rides in the tunnel, always have to be done on the run and in dim light. Ideally we would begin our encounter with a culture by seeing it through the eyes of one born there. It would be so much easier if the cultural plan were etched onto our minds and hearts, so that it made sense to us as to those who grew up in the culture. But, unfortunately, that never happens. Instead, we encounter the culture bit by puzzling bit—witnessing smiles at the oddest moments, dry eyes when we would have expected tears, harsh put-downs of those who in our judgment deserve far better, spineless reactions when a strong response seems to be called for, and on and on. The truth is that we stumble into an understanding of a culture just as an infant learns to walk and talk and make sense of the world—slowly and awkwardly. We can read every ethnographic book in the library but we will still be surprised and often shocked by what we encounter in real life. There is no shortcut for understanding a culture. We can come to an In Summary 165 intellectual understanding of the elements in a different culture, but to grasp a culture as a whole—to appreciate how it works and to predict accurately responses from islanders—may be the work of a lifetime. Genuine understanding of a culture can only be gained slowly and painfully on a trial-and-error course over many years, and even then the image remains fuzzy and the picture incomplete. This book may not be able to short-circuit this process, but it might serve as a travel guide for those who will never have the opportunity to make the journey of cultural exploration for themselves. Like any travel guide, it can attempt to list the most remarkable features of the country, offer directions on how to reach them, and warn against tourist traps that misrepresent the wonders of the place. It can also caution visitors to avoid misunderstanding the customs of the local residents. All this I have tried to do in this little cultural guidebook on island life. If nothing else, this book may prevent newcomers from making blinkered judgments about some of the more puzzling and dubious features of island cultures. Why do island men treat their wives and sisters so badly? Why are islanders so withholding of what should be public information? What’s the point of wasting all that food at a village feast? If we can see the culture as a system with a logic of its own rather than merely a pastiche of exotic customs, there is a good chance that we might be more sympathetic to these puzzling features. At least we will understand that they are outgrowths of a cultural system that has an internal logic. That alone might make us a bit less ready to fly to the attack when we confront what we regard as an “abuse.” If it causes us to hesitate a bit and check our own assumptions before making harsh and unwarranted judgments, this book will have served its purpose. Peaks in the Micronesian Landscape There is, as I have insisted from the outset, a logic to island culture. Throughout the chapters of this book I have presented several themes and attempted to lay out my own understanding of the way in which islanders think about each subject. Along the way I have highlighted some of the differences from conventional western thinking. Here, without attempting to review everything covered in the pre- 166 In Summary vious chapters, I will try to draw a brief outline of what we might call the peaks in...


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