No Land is an ‘Island’ 1



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No Land is an ‘Island’1

Vicente M. Diaz

Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies,

The Program in American Culture, The University of Michigan


Draft 2 January 2011

I. Of Islands and Men

“No man is an island.” John Donne penned this celebrated insight to debunk the western notion of “man” as an intrinsically autonomous, independent being, thereby reminding us that nobody can work in isolation and that we are interdependent, social creatures. But though it is just as important for us to remember that for even smart men like Donne the category “man” still gets to stand in, and thus speak, for everybody else, one might also notice how any elision occasioned in his otherwise critical insight is accomplished through more than the process of conflating gender and keeping ethnicity or race unmarked: it can happen by how the critical impulse naturalizes the category “land.” Operating by way of what we might call a positive negation of the presumed islandness of man, in other words, any radical truth in Donne’s insight is predicated upon the essentialization of that category of land called “islands.”

This essay seeks to debunk such essential truths by drawing from lessons and embodied experiences from traditional seafaring practices from the profoundly misnamed region called the Micronesian Islands in the western Pacific. Armed thus, I will argue that no island was ever an island to begin with, and suggest further that a critical rethinking of islands from the standpoint of indigenous epistemologies, particularly from indigenous cartographies as they inform indigenous technologies and practices of movement and mobility, can help challenge prevailing assumptions that underwrite conventional views of land, indeed, of place and space, and political and cultural subjectivities conceptualized in relation to them. When we consider radically different indigenous conceptions of space and place as found, in this case, in traditional seafaring cartographies and practices, we are able to do more than appreciate the extent to which “islands” are socially constructed by people from that other land form called continents; we also become that much more cognizant of how we as native peoples sometimes unwittingly perpetuate colonial definitions of land (and self) through ways that we invoke primordial connectedness to landedness, particularly in political programs of reclaiming stolen landbases.2 Here, I echo social geographers and other like-minded scholars who argue for the need to see space, place and self as both socially constituted and always referencing or indexing, even if in unstable ways, wider political and cultural concerns, although ultimately, I want to recenter the primacy of that social constitution in indigenous narrativity as well as the radical politics of its aesthetics.3 I begin with one such story that foregrounds an oral tradition of a form/style of travel to launch into alternative technologies and practices of seafaring that can help destabilize prevailing ideas of islands and lands and identities predicated on them. Along the way I reflect on the political if not radical possibilities of this archipelagic way of viewing self and space.


II. Following Ikelap

[Image one: still from video about here].



Ikelap – the big fish we encountered precisely where our ancestors sung them to be -- should not have surprised us the least. In 1997, after having worked with him on a film and with the Micronesian Seafaring Society, I brought the late Sosthenis Emwalu, a traditional navigator from Polowat atoll in the Central Carolines, to the University of Guam to teach traditional navigation to our students.4 The first thing he did was teach us pertinent verses of the chant, Ufi mwareta. Ufi mwareta literally means “women weaving mwar”/ head leis – but in fact it is the song of the specific seaway between the Central Carolines and the Marianas. Among other things the chant names the sea creatures, and land and watermarks, to be found in the trek between the two archipelagos. At one point the chant says to look out for ikelap – the big fish -- which when sighted would indicate that you had reached east of Guam, the southernmost island of the Marianas chain. Known as “pilot whales” by western mariners, ikelap have also proven themselves to Carolinian seafarers as dependable guides for the constancy of their travel habits.

Though meeting up with ikelap where the ancient chants sung them to be was enough to give us goosebumps, we had in fact already been snagged much earlier inside the modern classroom by Soste’s exegesis of the chant. Soste explained that there was a superficial or surface meaning, and a deep meaning. The superficial meaning was the literal: the list of creatures, stars, reefs, land and sea marks, and flora – like the particularly fragrant warung plant, also known as tibo/basil, found in Saipan. When set to tune, and performed properly, this list was nothing less than an ancient and time-honored mnemonic map for travel. And successful travel, for the difference between chanting properly and improperly could also be the difference between life and death.

This “surface” level of meaning also expresses a range of historical, cultural, and political truths contained in oral traditions involving indigenous technologies of travel. The title of the chant, for instance, refers ostensibly to women weaving leis, but also signifies laterally the conflation of seafaring knowledge and women’s role, and thus, deeply, their roles as life-giving and sustaining forces and for whose care, stewardship, and protection, even if chauvinistically, men come to define their own gendered identities.5 Like the engendered meanings behind the seafaring evocation of women weaving leis, the design and function of key parts of the canoe – the sail’s rigging, for example – also represents male and female division of labor, whose successful interaction idealizes, in highly romanticized ways, local society if not the cosmos.

The “surface” level of this chant also indexes quite literally the persistence of traditional maritime knowledge and practice, and a more general recognition of Pacific Islanders, at least those of us from Oceania proper, as a seafaring people, and this recognition in turn allows us to comprehend the rather profound temporal depth to the geographic reach that is manifest in our histories of travel. The deep reach describes a very long history of indigenous geo- and oceanographic dispersal, including a specifically indigenous idea of time/space (to which I will return shortly) forged through a deep history of maritime travel. This “deep time” is a native long durée if you like, or better yet, a series of older native globalizations.



[Image 2: Map Austronesian and Outrigger Spread, from Finney 1994, about here].


This map shows the remarkable geographic reach of outrigger canoe technology as it coincides with the spread of “Austronesian” language branches. On outrigger canoes, with sophisticated maritime technologies and knowledge (two samples of which I will discuss shortly), Austronesian seafarers would fan out and settle roughly 2/3rds of the globe’s southern, oceanic, hemisphere. This Diaspora has been underway for at least 4000 years now. This temporal depth and geographic reach is also discursive, and among other discourses, it queries the line between exclusivist and ahistorical definitions of indigeneity. Linguistically, for example, the Austronesian term langit (“sky” or “heavens”) occurs in Malagasy, in Madagascar, east of the “African” continent, but also in some coastal vernaculars in “South Asia,” in aboriginal Taiwan in “East Asia,” in most “Southeast Asian” vernaculars. Chamorros in the Marianas say langit. To the south and eastwards from the Marianas, in the Carolines, langit becomes lang. Further south, in Aotearoa, New Zealand, it is rangi, and to the north Pacific, Hawaiians say lani. Likewise, variations of the outrigger technology – the signature float or pontoon that reaches across either side of a canoe hull, including its evolution into a second hull in many parts of Polynesia – constitute material cognates of linguistic cognates proper. But historical and contemporary seafaring praxis also interrogates commonplace conceptualizations and comprehensions of indigenous religion, history, culture, identity, particularly as they are still understood through binary logics. In a fieldtrip to the Northern Mariana island of Saipan, for example, Soste guided us through terrain, history, and practice among the Carolinian community (in the homeland of the Chamorro) that continue to befuddle efforts to draw heavy lines between “Christianity” and “native spirituality,” or even between Carolinian and Chamorro spirituality, whether of the native or the Christian versions, or even between 21st century global tourism industry practices and pre-colonial travel habits. At Managaha islet, a favorite sub-getaway for Asian and Euro American tourists who come to Saipan, for example, Soste guided us past the beach and its typical offerings (sunbathing, snorkeling, banana-boats, volleyball, even sex with Chamorro and Carolinian “recreation staffers”) inland, to a life-sized bronze statue of the 19th Carolinian navigator, Aghurubw, founder of one of the several Carolinian communities in the Northern Mariana archipelago.6 Commemorating one significant Carolinian genealogy in Diaspora, Aghurubw’s statue stands a few feet from his grave, which is marked by a white concrete cross, and from a distance, at the time, appeared to be littered with husked coconut shells, soda, and beer cans. On closer inspection, however, the coconuts and beverage containers turned out to be unopened, and Soste explained that even though Carolinians are now Christian (a condition, with initial resistance, of their resettlement among the long converted Chamorros), they still followed pre-Christian beliefs and practices by leaving food and drink for those who have departed the earth in human form. The presence of cans of soda and beer, he explained, was not litter, but drink, if coconuts were not readily available, which of course signals as well the permeability between tradition and modernity, the local and the global.

At the head of Aghurubw’s grave one finds a rather robust banyan tree, ao in Polowatese, whose characteristic above ground and outspread roots and trunks harbor, according to past and present Chamorros, both benevolent and malevolent spirits of the departed ones. In Polowatese, the banyan tree is also said to “voice” history. Like the ones that breach time, religion, and material commodity in the breach between life and death, the very presence and composition of this banyan tree, I would suggest, also crosses the often hard lines made between distinctly native Carolinian and Native Chamorro cultural crossings.7 These historical and cultural crossings resonated with another set, also present at this site. Accompanying us in this fieldtrip were young men, more recent transplants from the Central Carolines, who now live and work in Saipan among the older generations of the Carolinian Diaspora to the Marianas. In our group were three who work at Managaha Island as (the aforementioned) “recreation staffers” or tour guides, who are also favorite hires by tour and resort companies (typically-Japanese or Chamorro owned) precisely because of their expertise and skill in the water. One of these boys, Mark Benito, explained to me that he moved from Polowat to Saipan in order to go to college, and works at Managaha for money, and I would add in much the same way that 18th and 19th century Carolinians relocated to the Marianas and other islands in order to expand their opportunities, and found quick employment by largely colonial entrepreneurs precisely because of their seafaring capabilities.8

As mentioned, the “surface” meanings of the Carolinian seafaring chant, e.g. flora and fauna, stars, land and seamarks, constitute a veritable mnemonic map of the route from the Central Carolines to the Marianas. This route, would in turn, give us further insight into the mobilities of roots, so to speak, which, when reconnected to the wider Austronesian seafaring cultural complex, forces us to also rethink the terms, especially the limits, of our prevailing cartographies. And yet, the realization, alone, that the “surface” meanings of the chant were a time-proven map was also profound enough. Out in the watery “field” – that other time-honored spatiality for ethnographic truth -- the appearance of Ikelap precisely where they were sung to be only confirmed the integrity of our oral traditions of seafaring. But if this were superficial, what might we learn from what Soste called the chant’s “deep” meanings?

In fact, the deep meanings were metaphoric– like the scent of tibo/basil in Saipan, whose fragrance came to signify peace and tranquility that these northern islands provided to Carolinians fleeing either bloody inter-tribal warfare or natural disasters like typhoons, tsunamis or droughts. Or the gendered stakes in seafaring, betrayed in the image and sonics of women weaving mwars/head leis. Like the engendered meanings behind the seafaring evocation of women weaving leis, the design and function of key parts of the canoe – the sail’s rigging, for example – also represents male and female division of labor, whose successful interaction, as previously mentioned, is also said to represent an ideal society. When carved correctly, lashed properly, and finally, when worked competently, the conjoining of the rhurhu mwaan (“male”) spar and the rhurhu rwaput (“female”) boom maximizes the capture of the right amount of wind to propel the canoe most efficiently.9 In this way, with man and woman working together -- under the labor of the navigator who is always figured as male in a discourse that engenders the sea as the man’s domain (therefore the sea as feminine) – does a smoothly sailing canoe get to stand for the ideal society. This gendered ideal is informed by a deeper cultural value of interdependence, premised and conditioned on the virtues of reciprocity, that is said to obtain (or should obtain) between a chief and “his” subjects, a value which is also captured in seafaring discourse. In the Central Carolines, the phrase pungupungul fal wolsch (reef) uses the image of waves pounding on the reef, which is likened to the chief or navigator.10 Solid and protective like the reef, a chief or navigator insulates his people in those moments when the world comes crashing down around them. But the phrase also captures the reciprocal relationship between the chief and his subjects insofar as the people are supposed to also form a protective barrier around their leaders. Finally, this reciprocity also signifies the value of stewardship of land and community, which in turn signifies a broader reciprocity, if not the fundamental constitution, between humans and land/sea that are spelt out in a host of other cultural prescriptions, protocols, obligations and responsibilities. We can add this idea to the larger list of concepts and practices in the indigenous Pacific that signify deep and profound kinship between humans and the animal world, as well as the genealogical connections between humans and animals on the one hand with land and sea.

But if the “superficial” or “surface” level of meaning indexes a range of historical, cultural, and political truths contained in oral traditions involving indigenous technologies of travel, the deeper truths are the metaphors. At both registers, “local” traditions, particularly those that involve ways of moving successfully, indicate a substantially and substantively wider field of discursive and cultural play and resonance. But they also offer insights into, and even analytical frameworks for making sense of, much bigger things, such as to also force us to question the lines and boundaries that we have tended to accept of our subjects and cultural areas. We can also add the binary, “local vs global,” to the list of pairs still commonly understood to be fundamentally opposed, mutually exclusive, to each other, even after a time when cutting edge theorizing no longer considers such criticism to be fashionable. Indeed as I progressed in my training in this system under Soste, and then later under Manny Sikau, I would come to also learn other concepts and practices used in traditional Carolinian seafaring that could furnish me with new analytical frameworks to customize my own interdisciplinary training in critical theory and practice, indigenous cultural and historical studies, and postcolonial analyses, even for places and peoples still “waiting for the post,” that is, still under formal colonial rule. Let me turn to two examples that have been particularly transformative for my thinking about history, culture, identity, and politics in archipelagic terms.
III. Moving and Expanding the Islands

Since the 1970s, navigators from Polowat and Satawal have become famous for continuing to carve and sail outrigger canoes using ancient and methods that continue to illustrate radical cultural alterity. Two particularly good examples are the voyaging concepts and techniques of etak and pookof. Typically translated as “moving islands,” etak is the technique for calculating distance traveled, or “position at sea” by triangulating the speed of your islands of departure and destination with that of a third reference island. This is accomplished, furthermore, by plotting their courses in the celestial sky as a veritable map for the world below. A map and time piece, a way of negotiating emplotment in time/space -- or more precisely, a way of conceptualizing time/space in order to fix one’s place -- etak was a critical technological development, along with outrigger design and technology, asymmetrical hulls, and the inverted lateen sail, that permitted humans to traverse over four fifths of the globe’s southern hemisphere millennia before Europeans ventured from eyesight of their shores.

In theory and practice, it works like this: first you steer towards the stars that mark the island of your destination. While doing so, you also back sight your island of departure until you can no longer see it. At the same time, you also calculate the rate at which a third island, off to the side, moves from beneath the stars where it sat when you left your island of departure, toward the stars under which it should sit if you were standing in the island of your destination. Let me simplify: you get on your canoe and you follow the stars in the direction where lies your destination island. As your island of departure recedes from view, you also pay attention to a third island, as it is said to move along another prescribed star course.

The first modern scholars to seriously study this, and get it, described the sensation that the canoe remained stationary while the islands zipped by. David Lewis (1972) has observed, “the canoe is conceived as stationary beneath the star points, whose position is also regarded as fixed. The sea flows past and the island astern recedes while the destination comes nearer and the reference island moves ‘back’ beneath the navigating stars until it comes abeam, and then moves on abaft the beam” (134). Stephen Thomas (1987) chimed, etak “posits the canoe as stationary, and the islands move on the sea around it” (82). Thus, concept of moving islands. Interestingly, the same observers who have encountered this sensation in their studies of Carolinian navigation have also been quick to recontain the potentially disruptive or apparently illogical (to Cartesian absolute space) implications of this sensation: of course, the islands are not actually moving, but that this is a cognitive operation. For instance, Thomas argues that etak is “a purely mental construct that the navigator imposes on the real world” (82, emphases added). Lewis adds, “naturally, the Carolinians are perfectly well aware that the islands do not literally move” (132), while Tom Gladwin (1970) clarifies, “I would certainly not suggest that they (the Carolinians) believe the islands actually move” (182, emphases added). For Gladwin this sensation is in reality, “a convenient way to organize the information (the navigator) has available in order to make his navigational judgments readily and without confusion” (182). Thomas waxes philosophical contrary to the pragmatic mode in which he writes; etak, he claims,

evolves from the sea-level perspective one has when standing on the deck of a vessel observing the relative motion of islands and land features. Etak is perfectly adapted for its use by navigators who have no instruments, charts, or even a dry place in which to spread a chart if they had one (82).

Thomas contrasts this etakian perspective to that of the Western navigator who “in fact constantly shifts between the bird’s eye view he has while scrutinizing his chart, and the fish-eye view he has on the deck” (82). For Gladwin, the mental image of islands zipping by stationary canoes is something that “we can call ... a figure of literary style ... (although) for the Puluwat (sic) navigator it is not a matter of style” (182). But it is a question of style, I would insist, if by style we follow, strategically, Hayden White (1978; 1987) and other formalist critics who see content shaped by form (especially cultural and historical content) and those who insist upon form as always a political act (Jameson 1981). It is style, and more. Perhaps more to the point, I want to emphasize that the islands are moving, tectonically, as well as culturally and historically.

Even then, I don’t want to lose the profoundly discursive sense of the matter: the late Satawal navigator, Mau Piailug, often remarked how having a clear image of the destination island in one’s head was indispensable for a successful voyage. This was needed, he explained, because out at sea, the navigator will be challenged so vigorously by the elements. And the only thing that would get him through the test of nature is “faith in the words” of one’s father or grandfather or teacher. It is in this sense that land and sea, and mobility, and all staked in it, are also fundamentally discursive and narratological.

The second important technique is Pookof. Pookof is the inventory of creatures indigenous to a given island, as well as their travel habits and behavior. 11 This is also where we first encountered ikelap, the big fish, in sound. Pookof is part of a larger system of land finding by way of expanding an island, which can also be contracted to the point of invisibility, if necessary. When you see a given species of bird or fish, and you know who belongs where and most especially, their travel habits -- the pookof of an island -- you also then know into whose island home you have sailed. Thus are islands known by dint of the furthest travels of their indigenous creatures. This, we might say, is our own home grown theory of mutually generative relationship between cultural roots and historical routes, as well as the dialectic between this relationship and that between space/place and subjectivity.

The notion of expanding an island also includes knowing things, like the distinct look of clouds above and around an island, the character of currents and waves as they deflect around islands, and of course, the group of stars associated with an island and the range of stars under which an island can travel, as for instance, in etak. Navigators can also expand an island by smelling it long before they can see it, and this sense of nasality reminds us how modernity has privileged sight over other senses in ascertaining truth (Classen et al 1994; Sturken and Cartwright 2001). After all, we have become accustomed to saying things like “ah, I see” when we comprehend something, but never “ah, I smell” -- which would probably be just as well, save for the fact that it is also another indicator of the negation of that sense of perception that I think our ancestors probably used in ways that could allow them to know with certainty so much more than our present-day sensibilities permit. Like that of the fragrance of tibo/basil in Saipan, we need to learn how to smell and feel our cultural and political futures insofar as seafaring is also a profoundly visceral, thoroughly embodied, practice. For instance, in his classical study of traditional navigational practices in the Pacific, David Lewis (1994) relates a story from Tungaru, present-day Micronesian Republic of Kiribati, about a particular navigator who was so adept at his craft that he was able to detect bearings by laying his testicles upon the bow of the canoe in order to discern the slightest movement in the calmest of seas (127). Like that of the fragrance of tibo/basil in Saipan, we need to learn how to feel and smell our cultural and political futures through a sniffing and feeling out of our pasts (Diaz 2010).

However we do it, this much is certain: from the vantage point of etak and pookof, we might say that 1) islands are mobile, 2) that they expand and contract, and 3) that their coordinates in time and space are emplotted via the farthest reaches of their indigenous creatures. From this vantage point, we cannot say that islands are isolated, tiny, and remote, regardless how they have been defined, and thus marginalized, in western historical and cultural and natural cartography.



John Donne’s famous insight, “no man is an island,” sought to dispel the myth of man as an intrinsically autonomous, independent, agent. This critique would later be sharpened by postmodern and feminist deconstruction of “man” as a supposedly universal and timeless bundle of essential political and cultural characteristics. To be sure, Donne reminds us that nobody can work in isolation, and that we are interdependent. However, traditional seafaring in the doubly misnamed Pacific Islands takes the line further and teaches us that no island was ever an island to begin with, or at least, they are necessary political fictions in the constructedness of ideas of continentalness. Products of continental thinking, islands can better be understood as instrumentalities in opposition to which continental thinking could imagine itself into being, and imagine this being to be epicenters of big, cosmopolitan, sophisticated, worldly, things and peoples. The idea of islands, for example, played a privileged role in the production of modern science through evolutionary theory, which played a privileged role in the modern conceptualization of knowledge about island people and cultures.12 Islands and “Islanders” are, in a fundamental and fundamentally disturbing way, products of continental and imperialist thinking; and to continue to treat these as natural, unproblematic categories of existence and being is to also obfuscate the histories by which imperialism and colonialism in “insular” places like the Pacific “island” region are shored up through narrativizations of that form of land that has come to be known as islands. One way to begin to destabilize the stubborn definitions of “land” that remains unmarked through discourses of islandness, I would suggest, would be to juxtapose them, as I have done here, with more fluidic ideas about sea and culture scapes as taken from voyaging practice in the Central Caroline “island” region in the Western Pacific. In a region and a tradition of traveling that trouble hard lines between land and sea, as well as between many other categories typically understood to be diametrically opposed to one another, the idea of sea and identity scapes – archipelagic identities -- are also profoundly discursive in constitution, products of narrative acts. Thus, in the Central Carolines, if not in much of Oceania, a more “native” way of talking about the land is to talk about seascapes, which is also to talk about how traveling natives tell stories about themselves. Thus can vestiges of Austronesian seafaring knowledge and practice in the contemporary Pacific be recovered in ways that help us rethink the underlying terms and assumptions about indigenous subjectivity and locality that must nonetheless remain central to broader projects of decolonization and cultural survival inside and outside the Pacific region proper. This is the impulse behind Epeli Hau’ofa’s celebrated (and denigrated) call to revision the Pacific and Pacific Islanders as “Oceania” and “Oceanians” (Hau’ofa 1993). For Hau’ofa “Oceania” better captures a culturally appropriate and politically-empowering legacy of travel and interconnectedness in the face of the region’s colonial and postcolonial histories. The aim for Hau’ofa is to substitute a deep, enduring, and “belittling” colonial tendency to define the watery region as separating and insulating – and its inhabitants as fixed – in favor of seeing the ocean as connector, as long the conduit of travel, first via canoe, later by aircraft. For Hau’ofa, as for cultural studies critic and historian, James Clifford (1988; 1989; 1997; 2001), the tropes of travel in space, and travel in time, make for empowering ways to understand “native culture.” To be sure, this perspective, celebrated inside and outside Pacific Studies for different reasons (see Teresia Teaiwa 2001, 1997; Hereniko and Wilson, eds 1999; Wilson and Dissanayake, eds 1996; Wilson and Dirlik, eds 1995) has also been cautioned against for tendencies to overlook capitalist desires for transoceanic crossings (Connery 1995 and 1996; see also Jameson 1982), and for precluding the vast majority of inhabitants of the Pacific who are landlubbing and whose opportunities for offshore travel are curtailed by economics or by national policy (Jolly 2001; 2003). Still, the vestiges of traditional Austronesian seafaring viewed as analytic and as practice remains a particularly compelling example of the productive tension between the conditions and the demands of rootedness and routedness in indigenous terms, and also provide materiality for imagining networks and coalitions among indigenous peoples struggling against other histories of migration and settlement in other regions of the world. In other words, Austronesian seafaring, as practiced in the Central Carolines and the Marianas, can also furnish an analytic and practical way – a homegrown form and style -- to advance the political and cultural struggles of indigenous peoples in lands heavily-settler-colonized. These narrative scapes are as much personal as they are political, and as such, offer alternative ways of conceptualizating subjectivity in relation to (trans)locality. For instance, as a Carolinian and Filipino from other archipelagos that evidenced sustained contact with the Marianas long before European and American contact, I have come to appreciate the circumstances of my birth and upbringing – and political and cultural engagement in the region – as having precisely to do with common historical circuitries, particularly ancient trading and exchange networks in the region, that have been profoundly rearranged even if they have been obscured by more recent histories of Euro, American, and Asian imperialism and colonialism, as well as the range of Native responses to them. Such histories do not wash out difference and specificity, but rather call for theorizing and mobilizing them in relational, even fluidic, terms. 13 And one way to historicize such fluidities is to consider processes of cultural and social contact and interconnectivity not simply by valorizing movement, but by critically engaging the social and political processes of organizing space on and by which movement takes place precisely to combat exclusive categories of self and other and the bounded territoriality on which they are affixed, as western and modern, whether colonial or anticolonial, forms of nationalism and sovereignty define and constitute themselves. Grounding oneself in a canoe and an oceanic culture that survives the generative and transformative histories of imperialism and colonialism, and the politics they beget, offers a particularly deep, substantive, and compelling vantage point with which to map and move what are after all the mobile coordinates of indigenous cultural and political consciousness. Such a “grounding” interrogates in an indigenous way the underlying spatialities and cultural/political subjectivities that are born out of western imperialism and nationalist reactions to it; indeed, an examination of these fluidic matters might very well force us to rethink the underlying spatialities and subjectivities and narratives that shore up the terrain of western and nationalist notions of sovereignty itself.
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1 The technical discussion of seafaring practices in this paper, and earlier conceptual recastings, are also found in Diaz Forthcoming, and Diaz 2002.

2 This continental indebtedness to islands is treated in a variety of historical and geographical studies. See for example Peckham 2003; Kleinschmidt 2008. In the US imperial context, see Sparrow 2006.

3 In Native American studies, see Basso 1996. In social geography and “islands studies,” see Smith 2003; 1993. See also Baldacchino 2004 and 2002; Dodds and Royle 2003; and Lal 2000. The explicitly discursive character of islands is treated in Wollen 2000 and Mishra 2000. For the still potent idea of form as politics, and politics as form, I remain indebted to Jameson 1981.

4 For more on Sosthenis Emwalu, see Diaz 1997.

5 In Diaz 2007 I interrogate the gendered and sexualized dimensions of traditional seafaring knowledges and practices. For a treatment of women’s role and relations to seafaring knowledge in the Central Carolines, see Flinn 1992 and Flinn 2010.

6 See Driver and Brunal-Perry 1996 for an introduction to the history of Carolinian settlements in the Marianas.


7 In calling specific attention to the robustness of the banyan tree that sits at the head of Aghurubw’s grave, I’m riffing off David Hanlon’s (1992) critical historiography of the Pohnpeian oral historian, Luelen Bernart, whose own grave, according Hanlon, nourishes an adjacent tree in ways that signify the symbiosis between native narrative and native locality, between stories and place. In Aghurubw’s case, however, I’m noting the symbiosis between indigeneity and travel on the one hand, that also bridges lines between one set of natives and others in material and spiritual practices.

8 This is precisely the common narrative Chappell 1997 finds in his history of Pacific Islander travelers aboard European and American ships in the past four hundred years.


9 This formulation was explained to me by Sosthenis Emwalu.

10 I thank Lino Olopai of Saipan for explaining this to me.

11 My information about pookof is from Sosthenis’ teachings, followed later by studies under the master navigator, Manny Sikau.

12 This is seen indirectly, in Bernard Smith’s (1985) analyses of how western art and evolutionary sciences had relied on, even pioneered, visual conventions in their efforts to comprehend and represent that specific type of landscape called the Pacific Island, (including its flora, fauna, and inhabitants and their cultures). Islands, or at least bodies of land that are said to be cut off and isolated from larger landmasses, also figure prominently in the narrativization of the origins of human species. For one historical synthesis, see Morris 2010. The classic critiques of evolutionary narrativity are Haraway 1989 and 1991.


13 I elaborate on these themes, in this area of the Pacific region, in Diaz 1989, 1993, 2000, 2001, 2002b, 2002c, and 2010b).



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