Chuuk 101.3 More Random Facts About the Culture. July 5, 2012

There is a paradox in pride–it makes some men ridiculous, but prevents others from becoming so.–Charles Caleb Colton

In general the Chuukese, and most Micronesians/Pacific Islanders don’t like to draw attention to themselves.  Anything remotely resembling pride is a serious no-no. This includes, but is not limited to, answering direct questions.  To speak above a barely appreciable whisper is frowned upon. This fact makes getting a class discussion started difficult. Few people will participate, and those who do are practically inaudible.

Celebrations of success like graduations and other accomplishments are rarely held and if so in private among family members. These are said to be quiet affairs.

This is different in Palau which is the only of the local island cultures that does celebrate success.  Recently a Palauan man received his PhD.  His entire community came out to celebrate in a big rally for him upon his return.  In Chuuk and the other Micronesian states this would be seen as showy and strongly frowned upon.

A lot of kids play the ukelele.

The Chuukese  are incredible singers.  To the person–everyone can sing.  Everyone I have come across has perfect pitch.  One of the volunteers at the school just told me, “It’s everybody. There is a gift for singing among these people.  Anyone can sing the melody, and then people on their own will just add harmonies. I’ve never heard anything like it.”  As I type this, the students from the different programs are singing behind me to practice for a mass.  These are kids from various schools, most of whom don’t know each other–about 100 in total.  They certainly have never sung together before, but it’s in perfect harmony.  Ritchie, one of the high school kids I work with told me, “You should hear my sister and me.  From the time we are little, we sing.”

Micronesians never say “no.”  It is a grievous wrong to deny someone a favor or help or anything.  Therefore, Micronesians will say yes to everything asked whether or not they intend to follow through.

The Marshall Islands are a separate country. They could have been part of Micronesia, but when the area was being chopped up for cartographers, the Marshalls formed the their own country.  The reason for this is that when the U.S. was awarding support grant to the different islands, the Marshalls received more than the others because they allowed the nuclear weapons tests on their territory.  When it came time to break the territories up, the Marsallese did not want to share their money with the others so they formed their own country.

Spitting is socially acceptable.

The Chuukese have a custom called “budget” like the English word.  If someone has an excess of something–say I have two mangoes for example–and someone, usually a family member walks up to me and says, “budget”, I am obligated by custom to give him one of my mangoes.

Whenever someone has their picture taken, they give a peace sign. It’s like a reflex.

In Chuuk, people don’t live day to day.  They live event to event.  Although celebrations are not big showy galas, events are important.  People might not know to meet me on Tuesday, but if I say meet me the morning after the so and so’s funeral, they will know.  I mention a funeral because these are the biggest events. One funeral might last for three days.

Clan and family is important here.  Prestige is not based on your job or title, it’s based on how many people you know and what clan they are from. For example, admission to the High  Achieving Program in which I’m teaching is based on teacher recommendations. Now, a teacher might recommend a student, not because of  academic merit, but because of clan or family status. There are still clans who are the families of chiefs, and chiefs still hold political power.

In the Gilbert Islands there is a House of Chiefs which is separate from the parliament.  When laws become

Iroij or Irooj (chief) Kabua 1895

before the parliament, they meet with the House of Chief to confer before voting.  They may not always take the chiefs’ advice, but they give them a role in the process, and that role is taken very seriously.

  In the Marshall Islands, they recently elected their first president who was not originally a chief.  That said, people still look to the chief’s family for leadership, especially on cultural matters.  It had always been that the Paramount Chief over all the islands was elected president, but  a schism over allowing gambling in the Marshalls challenged this tradition and brought a commoner into the office.  This brought about a huge awakening for both the people of the Marshalls and the Kabua clan of the Paramount Chief..  After electing the current president, the Marsallese had an expression, “Our eyes have been opened,” meaning that they can see that power no longer need be in the hands of one family.  As for the Kabuas, they see that parliament and the voice of the people can threaten their hold on power for the first time since democracy arrived on the island.  All this said, there is a relationship with the people and culture as well as a prestige and power that lies with the chief that I as a westerner, may never fully understand.  As one person put it, ” If I got bumped up to first class on a plane, and a iroij (chief)  boarded, I would give up my seat. You bow to the office if not the man.”

A compound I passed while walking through the forest.

Walking through the jungle today, I came across a village where most people were outside hanging out.  They were training for the upcoming Sapuk Games, a track and field competition among the villages in the Sapuk municipality.  Kids in flip flops or else barefoot were running up and down the dirt “road”, racing each other.  Alongside the road, villagers were standing or sitting, watching the races.   Get ready–here comes one of those stumbling through the flow of life moments.  An elderly man was sitting in the grass.  Local etiquette dictates that when an older man is sitting down, it is disrespectful for someone younger to pass in front of him without bowing.  The rule is that the passer must never be higher than the elder.  This holds true when walking between people as well.  Children bow so as to be lower than either a sitting adult or if passing between two standing adults. It is especially disrespectful if a female passing and elder male.  I noticed this the other day when, at the end of the school day, I was sitting in a doorway.  Every girl who passed asked for permission or apologized while passing with a low bow.  One of my coworkers came out and told me to stand up otherwise, the girls will be uncomfortable walking by.  As I approached the man in the grass, he nodded to me and with a sweeping gesture of his hand gave me permission to pass without bowing.  He smiled, and as a local teacher with whom I was walking told me, had I passed without his doing that, it would have been a  “Them’s fighting words” kind of moment.  But the man obviously knew I was foreign and permitted the passing to save face and deflect the affront.  However, next time…

Breakfast of Chuukese Champions.

Mixing the fix.

Finally, the snacks eaten here are insane to me.   It is common to see someone chowing on raw ramen noodles with the flavor packet sprinkled directly on it.  This is then eaten like potato chips.  Or, if they don’t have the noodles, people will just eat the flavor packet, dipping their fingers in and licking off the sodium drenched bullion crystals.  But by far the favorite is Kool Aid.  Who doesn’t like Kool Aid?  I liked it as a kid, and occasionally as an adult.  But I drank it. I mixed it with water and drank it.  I didn’t eat it straight.  Not only did I not eat it straight, I would have never thought to sprinkle hot sauce into the envelope along with ramen

They start to swoop in like crack heads.

seasoning before doing so.  KIds around here all have discolored fingers from this practice.  Index fingers dyed wild cherry are everywhere on the kids who eat this out of the packet fun dip style.  I asked Wilson, one of my Xavier students, if he ate Kool Aid with tobasco and ramen.  “No he told me,  That’s messy and disgusting.  I dip jalapeño spicy Cheetos in and eat it that way.

He says he likes it. And people wonder how the holes got in their teeth.

The lollipop dip is a popular delivery system.

Categories: Uncategorized | 8 Comments

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8 thoughts on “Chuuk 101.3 More Random Facts About the Culture. July 5, 2012

  1. Joel Young

    Chris, these are great reflections. I look forward to each one. Hope you are and Happy Independence Day. — Joel

  2. Bonnie Jacobson

    I am eating it up with a spoon. Keep ‘me comin, mon.

  3. Anne Williams

    I am so enjoying your reflections. I’m Nancy’s friend in SF, her traveling companion. As a kid we used to open the jello packages and dip our fingers in!

  4. Thanks for reading; I’m glad you like it. I’ll keep posting

  5. Kayleen Billimon

    aawww Wilson ur soo big now…i miss you lil.bro…

  6. hi this is Michelle Otenis and I just want to say im from chuuk and I LOVE the facts about chuuk. TOLOWAS NEMIN kapwong ngeni momy sally and Setcy me papa setirick pwan Junior.I LOVE YOU AND I MESS YOU SO MUCH.A.K.A SALLIBO OTENIS. Kapwong ngeni nei we sense JOSEPHA#1


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