Thursday, January 29, 2009

Outside a Foreign Culture

The longer I stay in Tonga the more I feel my own foreign-ness.

The first three months, I did what every other person on holidays does - I "fell in love with the place!" Does that sound familiar? A superficial understanding of the culture, the novelty and excitement of The New, it all contributed to the love I felt for Tonga.

As the months since then have passed, and my understanding of the complexities of Tongan culture has grown, I feel more and more unrelated to this place, and less and less love for it. Because it is not my home, and it is not my culture, and I am a foreigner here. That doesn't mean I can't appreciate it for what it is, because I do. But I cannot love it, because that kind of love is blind and uncritical, and I lack the time (and, in all honesty, the inclination) to develop a greater depth of love.

I am too enculturated elsewhere. I can critique my own culture, but any other culture I merely criticise. You have to really comprehend it - what lies behind it - to critique something, and I think that's impossible for a culture you have never lived. Everything else, then, is just criticism.

Perhaps this is my way of dealing with all the frustration of my work, of being apart from my partner, of being thus isolated - to just distance myself from the culture. Maybe it's a cop out. Or perhaps, in getting to know Tonga, I have fallen out of love with it.

If only all romances could end with such clarity!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Still Wondering...

On Mu'a, the ancient capital city of Tonga in the 14th century: "Some...sites are in a pitiful state of dilapidation. The site is utilised as an extension of the backyard to store rubbish, build a pit latrine etc. ... [It is necessary to] devise a program of public education, in order to stop the use of the langi (ancient royal burial tombs) and other sites as welcomed extensions of the backyards of the people. ...An explanatory trail has been planned for the area and has been funded by the Australian Government."

On the Ha'amonga a 'Maui: "An explanatory trail has been planned for the area and has been funded by the Australian Government."

Sia heu Lupe: "The slopes of the site have been planted with bananas, the top of the site bears some pawpaw trees. ... Gardening on the site will increase the erosion."

19th century fortification: "Continuous building activity and levelling of depressions will continue to obliterate the ditch system. ... Archaeological Importance - Very Important. ... If possible filling in of the fortification should be prohibited..."

The list (dating from 20 years ago) goes on. After starting several paragraphs and deleting them (so as not to be accused of inflammatory commentary) all I can legitimately write about is my own frustration with the fact that I have been enculturated to perceive the material remnants of history as being important. That is my own cultural bias, and it is fueled by the fact that it is the industry in which I work. And, in this particular instance, I feel somewhat righteous in my frustration, because I was brought here specifically to interpret these historical remnants, in order to promote cultural tourism to Tonga.

But at the end of the day, I must constantly remind myself that if the Tongan people, who legitimately own this heritage, don't mind its destruction, then why should I? (And through gritted teeth I reply that it's because it is what I do).


Friday, January 16, 2009

Sometimes I Wonder Why I'm Here...

I am currently flicking through Appendix no.2 of a report written 22 years ago, by a consultant archaeologist on the "Improvements of Tourist Attractions, Notably Historic and Archaeological Sites Within The Kingdom of Tonga". This report is an excellent appraisal of the work needed to, well, as the title suggests, to improve (while also preserving) some of the unique heritage of Tonga.

The author, Dr Dirk Spennemann, quotes frequently from a previous piece of archaeological research on the sites dating from 1929. So these archaeological sites are not unknown, and have, presumably, been on the radar for "improvement" for many years. Meanwhile, I am supposed to be involved in doing Heritage Site Development plans, which will supposedly be enacted by some NZAid funding, in some unforeseeable future. What I want to know is, WHY? Spennemann did the work over 20 years ago, and NOTHING came of it. He sets out why each individual site is important, how to further develop it, and how to make it accessible to tourists. This resource has been available since 1987, and I do not need to reinvent the wheel.

It would possibly be slightly better if the TVB retained a complete copy of Spennemann's report, instead of just the second appendix (which does not include any of the sites on the main island on which I am based), and which doesn't look like it's ever been read anyway.

And in the intervening years, how much of this heritage has been lost or destroyed? And even if I do create my own set of paperwork, talking about interpretation possibilities and prevention of further destruction to sites, what will come of it? I am fairly (cynically) sure nothing at all.

All I can say is that I am glad it is not MY cultural heritage that is being eroded by cyclones and eaten by moths.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

My Little Gecko

There's a little gecko who lives in my room. When I'm in bed reading, he comes and hangs out on the wall next to my bed, snapping up any bugs that are attracted by the light.

Lately, he's been joined by a second gecko. I don't know if it's a female, or a young one, but it's smaller and more timid than My Little Gecko. I haven't been able to get any pics of her yet, she's too fast. But sometimes they both come, one on the bedside table and the other on the wall, and they just look at me. I wonder how I feature in their own mythology, if at all?
This is the closest thing I have to animal companionship in Tonga.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Coming Back to Earth

So, I'm back in the Tong. And I really DON'T want to be here right now.

Having seen my home, and now returned here, I feel so deeply all that I have given up to be here. And the lack of work CONTINUES. I have set myself the goal of getting it sorted by the end of the month. If, in fact, there is no work for me, or if I am expected to wait an inordinately long time in the expectation of work, I am going to pack myself up and go home.

Perhaps I'll feel different next week, when the immediacy of my home environment has faded into the tropical humidity. But I doubt it. After all, my main reason in coming here was for the work. All the other perks, of volunteering, of living and working overseas, they are not enough on their own, there has to be a function and a purpose for me being here.

My boss - the primary instigator of all the tasks I have accomplished since my arrival - has been sacked, so the future really is uncertain. There is no point in me staying here if there is nothing for me to do. If, on the other hand, there IS something for me to do, then I'll accept that I need to stay longer, and be away from my lover and my home, much as it's paining me right now.

I did sign up for 12 months, I knew there were going to be challenges, etc etc, yes yes I know! And I have invoked the Power of the ICM to assist me, so I am doing all I can to push on.

Though the way I feel right now, I'd almost prefer the no-work-and-go-home option.