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Subject: Review: Lieweila: A Micronesian Story
From: Jeff Marck <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Jeff Marck <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Thu, 11 Jun 1998 12:38:35 +1000

text/enriched (101 lines)

Cinta Matagolai Kaipat and Beret E. Strong

Lieweila: a Micronesian story. Videotape. 57:30 Minutes. US$30. Boulder.
c/o Beret Strong [log in to unmask]

Reviewed by Jeff Marck

When I first went to Saipan in 1976 to work on the <italic>Carolinian
Dictionary</italic> the chief of one of the prominent Carolinian clans
became quite concerned when he learned that I had degrees in
anthropology. It was clear why he might be concerned as his small
community was being dragged into the nexus of so many international
political and economic interests. Cultural survival was uncertain and the
chief especially did not want a general ethnography produced that would
give those interests a handbook for manipulating Carolinians.

Now the Carolinians have begun telling their own story, their own way and
have done so in a video produced through the collaboration of Cinta
Kaipat, the Northern Mariana Carolinians’ first lawyer, and Beret Strong,
an anthropologist. It seems they must of turned over every stone in the
archives of the Marianas, Hawai’i, Washington and Tokyo. Fantastic
historical detail, in word and images, is woven into a general treatment
of how the Carolinians have come to be where they are at this point in
time. The film begins with a general discussion of the cultural geography
of the Caroline atolls and the Marianas at the time of Western contact
about five hundred years ago and the breakdown in contacts between them
after the Spanish secured the Marianas. The arrival of desperate
Carolinians to Guam in 1859 was recorded by the Spanish governor of the
time and passages from his diary are read by the film’s narrator, Kaipat.
Arriving from Satawal, the people had been forced to flee due to an
earthquake and subsequent flooding of the island. The governor allowed
those Satawalese to settle on Saipan and the islands north, those first
Carolinians settling along the western shore of Saipan.

The film goes on through "Spanish times", "German times", "Japanese
times" and "American times", some of the most vivid images being the
interment of the Carolinians and Chamorros in American prisoner-of-war
camps long after the battles had ceased and the Japanese were removed.

The film says that many of the Northern Marianas delegates to the
political status negotiations in Hawai’i in 1975 or early 1976 were in
favour of stronger ties with the United States after the United Nations
Trusteeship ended. Although that is true it is also true that they had a
mandate from the voters for independence which they found the United
States would not accept. Or rather the United States would accept
independence only in the context of a complete and total end to aid of
any kind when such status was achieved. The American Central Intelligence
Agency had bugged the private meeting rooms of the Northern Marianas
delegation, as Patsy Mink, the United States Congresswoman from Hawai’i
later revealed. The CIA closely monitored the delegation’s reaction to
the threat of aid’s end and the American position (the demand of a
Commonwealth Status like Puerto Rico) prevailed. The film’s insinuation
that the Chamorros were the main proponents of a closer and more
permanent relation to the United States is the closest thing to a slur
against the Chamorros in the film. In fairness we must note that the
Chamorros also went to Hawai’i with a mandate for independence. And when
they all came back Carolinian delegates also campaigned for the
Commonwealth as they, too, were convinced all forms of aid would end if a
vote against commonwealth status prevailed.

But the film does not dwell on such issues and is more concerned with the
triumph of Carolinian survival. It is joyful but not joyous. The flood of
foreign interests and influences has reduced time and space for
traditional pursuits and much of the later portion of the film consists
of footage from interviews with Carolinians, prominent and humble, who
give a feel for how they see it all slipping away from them.

There is much aerial footage of Saipan and the Northern Islands and the
scenes of Carolinians dancing, working or conversing are normally set
against the backdrop of the sea washing at the edge of the island a few
feet away. Even the "home" environment is exquisitely revealed with
footage of Satawal given over to Kaipat and Strong by Stephen Thomas
(<italic>The Last Navigator</italic>). Other footage, still and action,
is taken from archives in the localities previously mentioned. The film
is a spectacular visual and acoustical accomplishment and had a great
deal of specialist photographic and editorial input. It is narrated by
Kaipat, who is an engaging presenter and speaks from the heart.

Jeff Marck                                 61-2-6249-5626

Linguistics-RSPAS-ANU and                  61-2-6249-5614 (fax)

Health Transition Centre-NCEPH-ANU   61-2-6249-1454 (home)

Canberra ACT 0200 Australia

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