SC/SS 115 Ethnobotany

Spring 2002 Fx

During this past term SC/SS 115 Ethnobotany has learned about how people, plants, and culture interact. The use of traditional plants for healing, food, material goods, and psychoactive effects were the four major areas that were examined.

Throughout the course the importance of local language, cultural knowledge, and the traditional uses of plants has been emphasized. The course has presumed that the transmission of traditional knowledge and stories is important.

The course has also asserted that local languages and culture are both under threat from imported languages and culture. The primary threat has been the English language and modern American culture.

While cultural knowledge is carried forward by a community, the choices made by members of the community are individual choices.

The choices that individuals make often differ from choices that might best transmit the culture and language to the next generation.

Take a look at the choices your instructor is making in his personal life in the four areas the course studied:

The stories he tells his children come from a Dr. Seuss book. His children also watch Barney and Teletubbies on cable television. When his children are old enough to attend school they will probably attend a private school in Kolonia. None of these choices supports the transmission of Micronesian cultural knowledge to his children.

Some of these are choices many other families are making. Many families have cable television and buy food from a store. Many families want a cement house.

Even the choice to have a telephone in the house has an impact on culture. Before the telephone and the car came to Micronesia the only way to send a message was by foot or canoe. That meant going to their home in person. Upon arrival food and drink would be offered. "Fahra mongo!" "Kohdo mwenge!" These interactions supported a traditional social structure and offered more opportunities to share cultural knowledge. Food cannot be offered through a phone line.

Most families send their children to school, and almost all Micronesians say that education is important. Yet education separates children from their families and the culture of the land five days a week for eighteen to twenty years. School teaches the children non-traditional knowledge such as mathematics and science. School also damages local language acquisition by moving the students into English. The traditional leadership on each island in Micronesia is male, be the leader a Soumas en kousapw on Pohnpei, a pastor on Kosrae, or a village chief in Chuuk. In education there are schools and classrooms led by women.

Micronesians are making choices that damage the transmission of cultural knowledge to the next generation. Many Micronesians realize that these choices are bringing about the end of their culture and language. Yet Micronesians make them anyway. At some level there must be reasons for bringing an end to the culture and language.

Here then is the essay topic:

Discuss and describe the reasons why the loss of culture and language is a good thing, a desirable thing.

Note that the question is the opposite of the presumption of the course that culture and language are valuable. Your essay will take the viewpoint sometimes known in English as the position of the "Devil's Advocate."

I am not asking you to discuss how foreign impacts have damaged culture. On the contrary, I am asking to discuss ways in which the foreign impacts and their damage to traditional culture is beneficial.

I want you to argue as convincingly as you can in favor of the foreign impacts that so many of us have chosen to have in our lives. I want you to argue against cultural preservation and language retention.

This will be difficult for some of you. Every lawyer and debate team member knows, however, that your strength in arguing a position you favor depends in large part in understanding and being able to argue the opposing view.