Endeavors to preserve esoteric domains of cultural knowledge in Oceania face severe challenges. Paradoxically, revitalization projects risk recontextualizing specialized knowledge and this weakens its cultural significance. In this article, I draw attention to the complexities of this predicament by providing ethnographic details on an ongoing voyaging revival in the Marshall Islands. I examine the competing cultural imperatives to simultaneously safeguard knowledge-based positions of identity, maintain deferential relationships with chiefly authority, and revitalize the cultural heritage. The navigational knowledge is being carefully guarded within families despite, or perhaps because of, decreasing numbers of custodians of a unique wave-based voyaging tradition. Now, Marshallese are navigating through unknown routes to uncover knowledge that has been lost, forgotten, and fragmented, and this suggests possibilities for new models of collaborative research that are sensitive to the politics of culture and tradition as they address the practices of cultural recovery.
The Contemporary Pacific – University of Hawai'I Press
Published: Mar 26, 2011