Material Culture I

Many long years ago I went to a kamadipw and was bemused to note that the menindei was wearing a koahl over a pair of western pants. Then, five years ago, a student wore a koahl in class - over his jeans.

I realized that Pohnpeians were now shy to be seen outside of strictly cultural contexts in what was once their everyday wear. Compare Postel's 1828 drawing with similar image from German Pohnpei in 1907. In eighty years the clothing style had not changed. Even posing for a formal photograph circa 1907 was done in traditional attire. No embarrassment for these warriors of Kamar either.

Sometime in the last one hundred years this all changed. A couple days after the 2005 material culture presentation I saw a koahl for sale. I took this as an invitation and accepted the opportunity presented to me.

The result has been that some are possibly either shy to look directly at me,
 while others are genuinely bemused by my attire.
Either way I cannot blame them - some mehnwai with an Iowa's farmers tan is babbling on about devolution and the loss of material culture.
For the past five odd years I have conducted the lecture on the loss of material culture in a traditional setting wearing only a koahl and kei. Next to me are bottles of marekeiso, lehnkalahngi, and kei. All are actually kei, matter I cover in my lecture presentation.

Prior to the class I sent out a coconut oil uses spreadsheet. I also sent out the following questions to help frame the lecture presentation.

Did you spend last night under a roof made from thatch?
Did you ride in canoe made from a tree to get to class?
Did you sleep on a pandanus mat last night?
Have you tattooed yourself with locally available plant based dyes?
Did you bring your lunch in a local basket woven from palm leaves?
Are you wearing clothes woven from local plants such as hibiscus or banana fiber?
When your skin is dry, do you use local coconut oil?

These are all questions that concern the use of material culture. Were you able to answer any with a "yes"?

Only the last question received some nods. One could drop most of our students into Iowa in summer and no one would particularly notice them as being different based on their clothing or accessories.

This lecture presentation remains a topic which I tackle with some hesitation. There are cultural sensitivities involved. My primary goal is to simply get the students to think and to reflect on the almost unconscious material culture choices that they make on a daily basis. Like a good philosophy class, I want my students to walk away asking themselves questions about their own cultural life and their own personal cultural choices. 

There are no right and wrong answers - only choices made consciously.

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