Facing Outsiders: Palauan cultural dynamics in coping with the economic changes
|Keywords:||帛琉;經濟適應;文化變遷;密克羅尼西亞;palau;economiy;cultural;dynamics Micronesia||Issue Date:||2011||Abstract:||
This research contributes to how capitalism affects local economies by focusing on
the juncture of the local and global, and examining the ways that local communities
participate in and are affected by these interconnections in a Pacific country, Palau.
The Republic of Palau, located in Micronesia, is a small nation‐state. The total area is
458 square kilometers, and the population was estimated at 20,879 in 2010. Palauans are
Austronesian speakers, but the origin of the Palauan people varies, with some coming from
the Philippines and Sunda island, and most coming from Micronesia. In addition to these
diverse origins, Palau was controlled by different colonial governments, Spain (1866–
1899), Germany (1899–1914), Japan (1914–1945), and the US (1945–1994), and Palauan
culture shows a blend of these successive colonial influences.
Since its independence in 1994, Palau has had the highest economic achievement in
the region. Some Micronesians have commented that “Palauans would break any tradition
to pursue modernity.” Contemporary Palauan culture is highly mixed, with different cultural
elements, and there is a debate about whether receptivity to change is one of the most
marked features of Palauan culture. Barnett asserted that Palauans’ attitude toward change
has deep cultural roots and enables successful adaptation (Barnett 1953). Force asserted
that the changes in Palau after WWII were directed by many forces, such as introduction of
a cash economy, education and modern bureaucracy, and adaptation was an essential
means of survival (Force 1960). Some researchers tried to prove that Palauan culture is
never static, and that it changed with significant historical events, such as the visit of an
English Captain Wilson in 1789, when a local chief cooperated with him to fight other
villages, and changed the political alliances on the island (Pamentier 1987; Smith 1983).
However, these explanations do not really tell us the details of how these changes
happened, what role “culture” played in this process, and whether Palauans have agency
toward these changes.
In this research, I focus on two themes. One is value systems. I use Graeber‘s actioncentered
theory of value to analyze Palauan valuables— land and Palauan money—to
explore how this local value system changes and engages with the foreign values. The
second theme is to correct the static cultural concept by adding historical and power
dimensions. By these two approaches, I demonstrate how Palauans cope with these rapid
changes in their economic situation under the influences of globalization.
People and Local Entrepreneurs
Japanese colonization not only brought some culture influences, but a significant
amount of biracial people were born after the war. They formed a special group with a
different social position in Palau. Most of them had good performance in different fields,
and I focus on those successful entrepreneurs. I found some reasons for their success. The
first is that their ambiguous social status made it easy for them to run businesses in Palau.
They were a little excluded and lacked financial support from their natal fathers, so they
strived to earn money in the modern economic system. On the other hand, they didn’t need
to work for their father’s family, and could neglect some customary obligations. Also they
had more freedom to work and make decisions independently, and refused to give credit to
their relatives. When they acquired wealth in the modern economy, they turned this wealth
into the traditional values, such as acquiring Palauan money, land, and titles.
II. Land, Law and Government
The value of land in Palau not only is a means to produce food, but also serves to
preserve each family’s migratory stories, so that people could recognize their relations to
each other, which define their rights to land. The meaning of land changes in the process of
colonization and nationalization. During the Japanese period, they registered the land with
five legal categories, and made a land registry book, Tochi Daicho, which resulted in land
disputes after the 1970s. With the introduction of Western law and the legal process, local
people started to struggle with this complicated procedure of registering their land and
filing lawsuits. At the same time, the local government also wanted to acquire land to
develop the tourism industry for revenue. ”Land” became a battlefield between people and
the government, entangled with the concepts of traditional land tenure, Western laws, and
the needs arising from commercialization.
Under the pressure of being self‐sufficient, the traditional meaning of land has been
gradually lost, and has gradually been commoditized.
III. New Money and Old Money
While the value of land has gradually shifted to that of a commodity, the value of
Palauan money has increased in importance in Palauan society. When the fund of the Free
Association Compact came to Palau in the early 1990s, the amount of US dollars and turtle
shell money, Toluk, circulating in traditional customs increased dramatically. In addition,
the Palauan money, Udoud, is still the most important valuable in customary exchange.
These Udoud are ancient ceramic beads, and the numbers are limited. Some Udoud are so
valuable that they bear a specific name, and have some stories attached. Some low‐ranking
people didn’t have Udoud, so they went to Bali Island to buy some antique beads, and
circulated them in customs as Udoud since 1980. They refer to these fake Udoud as “Bali.”
The value of Palauan money, which represents a person’s prestige and is known as
the “light of a family”, has not faded with the prevalence of the modern economy, but has
instead become more precious. Even the “fake” Palauan money acquired names, and
started to accumulate transaction stories. Rich men, poor men, high‐ranking people, and
low‐ranking people are all still eager to get Palauan money even though they are all deeply
engaged in the modern economy.
Many researchers have pointed out that Palau’s society and social organization are
never static due to the high frequency of contact with outsiders. I focus on the economic
phenomenon to examine the value of valuables and those traditionally considered “low
ranking” and “poor”, or multi‐racial people to see how they reconceived these old values
when they attained new economic status in the modern economy, and how they promote
their social status in contemporary life and traditional life. The result of this research might
solve the ethnographic puzzle of whether Palauan culture has changed or not by correcting
the concept of culture as something which is not static, but an action‐centered idea.
|Appears in Collections:||人類學系|
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