Too Many Deaths: Decolonizing Western Academic Research on Indigenous Cultures
By Gabrielle Welford
A dissertation submitted to the Graduate Division of the University of Hawaii in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in English, May 2003
© 2003 Gabrielle Welford (

Chapter 6 - Fact and Fiction, Written vs. Oral, Linear Argument


Title Page, Acknowledgements, Abstract, Table of Contents, Preface

Chapter 1 - Introduction
Inbetween I
Chapter 2 -Approaching Scholarship
Inbetween II
Chapter 3 - The Western Academy Described: Purpose and Means
Inbetween III
Chapter 4 - Objectivity
Inbetween IV
Chapter 5 - Externalization of Viewpoint Unwillingness to be Affected
Inbetween V
Chapter 6 - Fact and Fiction Written vs. Oral Linear Argument
Inbetween VI
Chapter 7 - Modes of Thought Effects
Inbetween VII
Chapter 8 - Examples
Inbetween VIII
Chapter 9 - What Are Our Options?
Inbetween IX
Chapter 10 - Conclusion Responsibility



Chapter 6 addresses specific problems arising in differences between the ways western academic culture conceives of fact and fiction, how it values written over oral modes of conducting scholarship, and the place of linear thinking in western scholarship.

Fact and Fiction

The sixth point, another which derives from questions about objectivity, is also foundational in western cultures. How we go about scholarship reveals a foundational conceptualization that not only can we ascertain what is fact and what is fiction across universal borders, but that fact and fiction can be fairly cleanly separated. And there are two problems intertwined within this one: firstly, we still tend to use the terms "fact" and "fiction" as though there is no world view embodied in what we call fact and what we call fiction even though such ethnocentric positioning continues to be debated (endnote 1); and secondly, because of this, an extra sense--one which cannot be verified via material means--which Manu Meyer calls "awareness" and Vilsoni Hereniko refers to as "emotional truth" or "the unseen" is relegated to fiction/myth in western academic epistemology (Meyer 130-132, Hereniko 85-86). This causes serious problems when academics from a western cultural world view claim to be explicating the works of writers from cultures whose concepts of knowledge seamlessly and necessarily incorporate spirituality.

Colonization into a western view of the world includes imposition of parameters for fact and fiction which exclude much of what is regarded as information/fact before western colonial education enters the scene. (endnote 2) Many western and western-trained scholars, as Hereniko points out, continue to "charge those engaged in identity politics with 'attempts to replace history by myth and invention'" because the parameters for fact and invention differ between cultures (85). In the view of such academics, western academic paradigms which prescribe and delineate a divide between fact and fiction in ways different from indigenous cultures are to be the model for scholarship. Unfortunately, in the case of our expertise on indigenous cultures, we sometimes suppose a command of facts which are determined very differently in our culture and in the cultures we study.

As I have said, indigenous critics of western academic culture have problems with ongoing academic universalizing of western concepts. Ethnocentric views on fact and fiction are among them. Hereniko and Meyer, like Foucault, Said, and others before them have shown that what is considered to be fact (and therefore regarded as history, geography, botany, the realms of "fact-finding") is culturally determined. Meyer recounts at length in her dissertation ways in which Hawaiian learning or knowledge gathering differs from western-style empirical learning (Chapters 2 and 4). In her 2001 paper, "Our Own Liberation: Reflections on Hawaiian Epistemology," she sums these up as

* Spirituality and Knowing--the cultural contexts of knowledge
* That Which Feeds--physical place and knowing
* The Cultural Nature of the Senses--expanding the idea of empiricism
* Relationship and Knowledge--self through other
* Utility and Knowledge--ideas of wealth and usefulness
* Words and Knowledge--causality in language and thought
* The Body-Mind Question--illusions of separation (126)
Hereniko tells of ways he learned history growing up in Rotuma: his father's and others' stories, dreams, songs, poetry, dance and theater during performances and ritual, proverbs, the meanings of natural signs, the way the natural world communicated, all of these perhaps conflicting or different by a shade if they came from different sources. In his life before he entered a western-oriented school, these were his references for facts and what he relied on to determine the truth or falsity of specific matters.

Once he had entered the local school, however, the colonial education system pushed indigenous sources of knowledge to the margins, usurping oral narratives "by the dominant culture's narrative." He continues, "This process, which Ruperaki Petaia has likened to being kidnaped and Albert Wendt has called 'whitefication,' radically altered islanders' perceptions of themselves." As Hereniko realized later, after reading Edward Said, whoever gets to decide what stories are told also gets to run the show (82-83). Not only what was fact and what fiction but what fictions and what facts were to be taught shifted when western education entered the picture. The western concept of fact and fiction not only discarded the stories told by Hereniko's family and neighbors onto the side of fiction, it replaced them with a different conceptual frame altogether, in which what items are fact and what fiction remain fixed rather than fluid as Hereniko says they are in traditional Rotuma (84). Consciousness of the problems generated by this cultural disparity grows, as can be seen by recent institution of a program for teaching native sciences at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo, but in most western educational contexts, universal valorizing western models of fact and fiction is the norm.

Pueblo writer Simon Ortiz at the Modern Language Association conference in New York, 1992, spoke at length about the transition in world view he had to make as he started English language school: "If we spoke in the Acoma language, we were punished. We could not exist in our selves." Existence was to be only in the values incorporated in Standard American English, which he had to learn with similar punishments for speaking Acoma as are documented by Ngugi wa Thiongo in Decolonizing the Mind for speaking Gikuyu: humiliation, isolation, physical abuse, and the threat of failure (10-12). Ngugi says: "Literary education was now determined by the dominant language while also reinforcing that dominance. Kenyan languages stopped" (12).

Because of the continued force of a western colonial presence in the world, which provides a place for ongoing western ethnocentric concepts of fact and fiction, we can overlook extremely deep differences in what is meant by fact by people not from western cultures. We insist that only objective facts in the western meaning of "objective" count in academic discourse--for instance when we focus on teaching western style critical thinking without pausing to investigate what might be the cultural norm in the place we inhabit. As an example of the differences in our immediate surroundings in Hawai'i, Kanaka Maoli teacher and musician Didi Lee Kwai put together a script for the play, "The Queen's Women," in 2001. As she pulled in pieces from a 19th century newspaper article and other sources, she also paid very close attention to spiritual directives from ancestral guardians and the spirits of people being portrayed in the play. This aspect of the play cannot be conveniently put aside when we come to understand and write about it from within the academy unless we are willing (as so many are) to divorce the play from its Kanaka Maoli reality and place it within a foreign context and within western theory to "understand" it.

Paula Gunn Allen writes, "Literature is one facet of culture. The significance of a literature can be best understood in terms of the culture from which it springs, and the purpose of literature is clear only when the reader understands and accepts the assumptions on which the literature is based" (Hoop 54). She goes on, "basic assumptions about the universe and, therefore, the basic reality experienced by tribal peoples and by Western peoples are not the same, even at the level of folklore. This difference has confused non-Indian students for centuries. They have been unable or unwilling to accept this difference" (55). For instance, "In contradistinction to other American poets and writers, American Indian women writers have as our first and most significant perceptual characteristic a solid, impregnable, and ineradicable orientation toward a spirit-informed view of the universe, which provides an internal structure to both our consciousness and our art" (165). If we put aside such cultural realities when we are critiquing a work, we are not, in truth, critiquing that work, but a lifted illusion of it projected into and judged by our own criteria. What we say has relevance to ourselves and those willing to go on defining non-western productions in western terms, which is not only irrelevant to but also harmful and insulting to those we claim to be studying.

The input of ancestors or guides in the spirit realm is not considered fact inside the academy. It is dealt with by such means as a relevant discipline regarding and studying them as the myth making of a non-Christian "primitive" culture or treating them from a psychological or bio-chemical point of view. They are corralled by placing them outside academic reality and focusing on them as objects not intimate to the observer--"at best, semiotically, and at worst, as quaint anthropological stories of a distant land," as Meyer says (Diss. 1). This, as Gunn Allen points out, is what Elsie Clews Parson did to the stories given to her at Laguna Pueblo, and it was her academic, distanced, objectifying response to the stories that, in the Laguna world view, brought about catastrophic material disasters. We might admire, even envy, the position of people who take it for granted that such help as Didi Lee Kwai and others know is there in the immaterial realm, but it is outside what is regarded as proof for research in the western academy. Perhaps some of us, in our private lives, also call on ancestors and other spiritual help, but in western academic epistemology, there is no place for appealing to such sources. This means that when we study, write and teach about literature from cultures where these events are regarded as fact, our elucidations are incomplete and distorting.

The unseen or spiritual sources or underpinnings of materiality are not just additional criteria but they are the most important aspects of "fact" for many people in indigenous cultures. What a fact is cannot be separated from its spiritual component. Western academics, however, exist in a mono-empirical world where the factual and the spiritual are sharply separated and where material, duplicatable existence is necessary for academic proof. In Hawai'i, Kanaka Maoli project manager of Kaho'olawe Island Restoration Committee, Charlie Isaacs, in "A Kanaka Maoli Perspective," describes the differences between western Christian and traditional Kanaka Maoli perceptions of spirituality:

In Christian thought, all reverences for the sacred beauty of the world and the body is redirected away from the human and towards God, who is distant and resides in the heavens above--separate and apart from the human being. Kanaka Maoli thought expresses the interconnectedness of all things within the cosmos. The many gods can be within the human and within the elements of nature. They are ever present and all around: plants, animals, personal possessions, ocean, mountains, rain, sky--they are everywhere. (3-4)

Wood quotes Palikapu Dedman, "'I was brought up that Pele wasn't just a supernatural god as Jesus is, or other religious people may look at their gods. But as family. She was just as much alive today, and still is, in the Hawaiian's mind then as now" (Displacing 84). These are not attitudes that translate into the western world, where relationship with God is not an equal family relationship and where worship goes only one way.

In "Walking the White Path," Mary Churchill discusses fundamental differences between Cherokee experiences of reality and experiences of western academic commentators. When western academics apply western academic parameters for judging reality to Cherokee literature, art, spirituality, science, serious distortions in understanding result because of the western assumption that we can apply our criteria for fact, truth, and fiction to the worlds of other cultures. The distortions affect how Cherokee are seen both from outside and eventually (most harmfully) from within the culture:

I would like to begin...with discussing two troublesome terms that scholars of religion often must face and employ: religion and tradition. Use of these terms can lead to misunderstandings when applied to Native American ways of understanding and living in the world. Regarding religion, for instance, Joseph Epes Brown, a scholar of Native American religious traditions, notes that for American Indian cultures,

the presence of the sacred permeates all lifeways to such a degree that what we call religion is here integrated into the totality of life and into all of life's activities. Religion here is so pervasive in life that there is probably no Native American language in which there is a term which could be translated as "religion" in the way we understand it. (6-7)

Jace Weaver confirms, "the word in Cherokee usually translated as "religion", eloh,' also means, at one and the same time, land, history, law and culture" (viii). Charles Eastman (Santee) observes, "'Every act of [an Indian's] life is, in a very real sense, a religious act" (Weaver vii). Mary TallMountain lived her life in this way.

Manu Meyer adds to these observations from a Kanaka Maoli perspective. Her discussion within philosophy of education of Hawaiian epistemology, she says, cannot be separated from a discussion of the sacred. She quotes Lynette Paglinawan: "But that's what na'auao (education, knowledge) is. It's a cosmic center point. It has to do with your ancestors coming together with you. It has to do with your spiritual being coming together, it has to do with our physical being" (144). In Kanaka Maoli experience too, the sacred is not separate from the social, the economic, the scientific, or the academic. How are western scholars to comment on literature (or any other aspect of culture) of peoples who tell us their experience of the world is so different from our own without disastrous distortions resulting in colonization, the materially destructive "not seeing" Gunn Allen, Meyer, Churchill and others point out? There are westerners who do not split spiritual relationships from the rest of their lives but they do not determine the rules, especially of academic discourse. In general, the critiques western academics make when commenting on aspects of other cultures do not include the spiritual as an inextricable part of daily life.

Misunderstandings coming from projecting western criteria for a divide between fact and fiction, sacred and non-sacred, abound. A recent example is an article by writer and independent scholar Charlotte Allen in The Atlantic Monthly, January 2001, in which she argues convincingly that adherents of Wiccan spirituality can claim no historical line to a prehistoric mother goddess religion and a matriarchal culture. As part of her support for this claim, she points out that an archaeologist who excavated Catalhoyuk in Turkey in 1993, 20 years after the original excavation by Marija Gimbutas (Lithuanian archaeologist and author of The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe), found "almost all the female figurines [in] rubbish heaps; the enthroned nude woman was found in a grain bin. 'Very little in the context of the find suggests that they were religious objects,' Hodder says. 'They were maybe more like talismans, something to do with daily life'" (22). Whether or not there was actually a goddess religion, both Hodder and Allen impose their modern-day western concepts of religion and spirituality upon the inhabitants of a 9,000-year-old Balkan settlement, who, if peoples we can talk to, like the Kanaka Maoli, the Cherokee, and other modern-day tribal peoples are anything to go by, most likely did not separate daily life from spirituality either. Their ideas of what deity is may have been completely different, possibly incomprehensible to us. As Linda Smith reiterates, the ethnocentrism of western scholars is remarkable (82, 170-171). We regard ourselves as experts, which makes us impose our own values without seeing we are doing so.

In many indigenous cultures (see Churchill, Weaver, Eastman, Meyer above), the contiguity of the spiritual and the material continues to be without question. In these systems, thought can and does change things, for good or for bad, depending on the thinker's consciousness and intention. It is necessary to be very careful not only of what one says and does, but of what one thinks. When Kanaka Maoli healer and teacher of ho'oponopono Ramsay Taum talks about the concept of "thought forms," he says thoughts have material reality in the world and have material effects on people, situations and things even though we may never have spoken a word. Believing this means acting as though everything is connected and part of everything else and that therefore we have to clean up after ourselves, even after our thoughts. Spirit affects the material and vice versa. The process of ho'oponopono (a spiritual practice of making right or putting in balance) is one way of ensuring that our thoughts do not do damage in the world. The western created gap between human beings and nature, between the material and the immaterial that Soyinka decries (see above pp.40-41) does not exist for many non-western cultures, where the material depends intricately on the non-material.

Words, a material occurrence of thought, have the power attributed to them in the Kanaka Maoli saying, I ka 'olelo no ke ola, i ka 'olelo no ka make, "Words (or language) have the power of life and of death" (Pukui 129). This requires use of words in a way that is pono, i.e., with consciousness of their basis in the non-material nature of existence or the non-material underpinning of the world and with the desire to produce something that maintains harmony and balance in the world. Perhaps we may approach access to these ideas through concepts in western culture such as the logos of the Old Testament and Socrates' defense of "the good" and meaning against the Sophists. In fact, the understanding of the power of thought and words remains with western culture, revealed in their being notoriously used to produce economic and self-serving results, as in advertising and politics. But, in the western academy, we do not associate our understanding of what words can produce with their spiritual root.

Leslie Marmon Silko talks about the web of talkstory which connects each word in Laguna Pueblo (her birthplace and Paula Gunn Allen's) to every other word and she discusses the power of these relational stories to teach and reinforce a value system, to make a difference in the world ("Language and Literature" 56ff). Her novel Ceremony has this understanding at its foundation. Her protagonist, Tayo, must go through a process of clearing and cleansing to change what he is experiencing after having been thrust into battles in the Pacific during World War II. His way of experiencing the world has been shattered, and he has to be brought back into connection and meaningfulness--life--from a place of nihilism and disconnection--a living death--by means of a ceremony that connects the two worlds. This problem and its solution is connected to western academic problems with understanding indigenous concepts of fact and fiction because western academics do not include the spiritual world in what we call "fact." In western academic culture, it is no longer accepted as interfacing with material reality.

The "personal" and the "scholarly" are to be separated in western academic culture. The quote from Paula Gunn Allen at the beginning of Chapter 2 of this dissertation is a case of resistance to the western academic paradigm of what is and what is not acceptable as support for a scholarly work. Just as western-trained astronomers on Mauna Kea disregard the needs of Kanaka Maoli who know stones on the mountain to be sacred (see 200 below), western academic humanists apply western parameters for fact and fiction to the products of indigenous cultures, whether or not those cultures use similar parameters or whether or not they separate fact from fiction at all. We attribute to fiction unreality, fancy, myth--interesting maybe, but definitely not part of the material world of the senses to be counted as proof in an academic argument. This is not so among many indigenous peoples, as Manu Meyer attests:

Hawaiian empiricism included experiences during waking and sleeping states and during moments of revelation...or through the insights gained by environmental signs....The way culture influenced empiricism is reinforced in the stories of how knowledge is recognized and passed the references to...sign, omen or portent and to the host of ways 'aumakua and kumupa'a reached out to converse with their living family. (Diss. 36)

Although even hundreds of years of active denial, punishment, and "reform" have not succeeded in removing gut feeling and the spiritual from Cherokee and Hawaiian epistemology (or from other colonized indigenous cultures), separation of the world into exclusive parts and continuous and continuing description of indigenous realities using non-indigenous systems of judgement and delineation causes what Kanaka Maoli psychologist Nalani Minton describes as cultural post-traumatic stress disorder and which haole Honolulu writer Martha Noyes calls "cultural abuse." On a local television cable panel discussion, Kanaka Maoli activist Bumpy Kanahele has described himself and other Hawaiians as caught in a "schizophrenic" split between American and Kanaka Maoli cultural values. He produced a set of tables which laid out columns of opposing values to illustrate the conflict. In his daily life Kanahele says he is constantly dealing with conflicts between the two value systems and not only having to decide on a moment-to-moment basis which course of action to take but needing constantly to discern internally between two cultural imprints which are often opposed to each other, a difficulty which recalls W.E.B. DuBois' concept of double consciousness (Souls of Black Folk 38-39). Compare what Homi Bhabha says of the condition of colonized subjectivity in "Signs:"

Produced through the strategy of disavowal, the reference of discrimination is always to a process of splitting as the condition of subjection: a discrimination between the mother culture and its bastards, the self and its doubles, where the trace of what is disavowed is not repressed but repeated as something different--a mutation, a hybrid. (153)

Kanaka Maoli filmmaker and writer Keala Kelly describes the process as a "tearing away of reality," the theft of which has left (and continues to leave) peoples in colonized cultures often feeling confused and self-blaming, relying on others to define their reality, ungrounded, and in pain (Conversations). Jace Weaver calls this the application of "an outside view predicate," from McPherson and Rabb's Indian from the Inside, and quotes them as they describe it:

[T]o apply an outside view predicate to yourself is much more than seeing yourself as others see you, though it is that as well. It is also allowing them to tell you who you are. It is in a sense giving up your freedom, your self determination to others; becoming what they want you to become rather than becoming what you have it within you to become. To accept an outside view predicate, such as ugly or ashamed..., is to fit into the plans and projects of others, to make it easy for them to manipulate you for their own ends, their own purposes. It is, in a very real and frightening sense, to lose yourself, to become alienated, to become a stranger, an alien to yourself. (5)

Spiritual definition from the outside for a people for whom "every act is, in a sense, a religious act" can only be as damaging as Gunn Allen, Kanahele and many others insist.

At the AFSC forum on "Overcoming Colonial Violence: Cultural Representation & the Hawaiian Body," every contributor emphasized the harmfulness of representation of Kanaka Maoli by outsiders, and though the forum was initiated by attempted censorship of a figure made by a Kanaka Maoli sculptor, on the face of things an occurrence in the arts, the spirituality carried in the work of art cannot be separated from the work itself. For the Kanaka Maoli on the panel a spiritual reality was being distorted and threatened by the attempted censoring of the statue. Several individuals catalogued instances of harmful representation of Kanaka Maoli by outsiders. Houston Wood, for instance, told the audience that Noenoe Silva had shown him two highly insulting caricatures of Kanaka Maoli that currently stand on the street in Waikiki, representing to tourists who flood the area grossly distorted images of the indigenous people of Hawai'i. Such misrepresentations have a spiritual impact immediately co-existent with the physical. Wood, in Displacing Natives documents at length other uses of outsider representation to corral the descriptions of a colonized place within the colonizers' vocabulary, including scientific descriptions of Mauna Kea and westernized mythological descriptions of Pele. Lila Abu-Lughod points out in "Writing Against Culture," "the degree to which people in the communities they study appear 'other' must also be partly a function of how anthropologists write about them" (149). These are only some examples of the misinformation spread by those of us interested (for whatever reasons) in delineating cultures not our own. They are more extreme at first sight, perhaps, than the more subtle but also damaging definitions of western academics, but academic definitions also give false impressions both to those within and those without the cultures in question, and if we take the further step of actually listening to what respected scholars such as Paula Gunn Allen and Linda Tuhiwai Smith are saying, we will have to acknowledge that the damage goes beyond merely giving false impressions.

What is culturally recognized as fact and fiction will also affect what is recognized as evidence. In her paper "Reflections on Hawaiian Epistemology," Manu Meyer, in the context of a discussion of what is acceptable to a Kanaka Maoli scholar as evidence, as material for scholarship and learning, has a section called "Cultural Nature of the Senses: Expanding Notions of Empiricism" in which she discusses a sixth sense--"awareness." For instance, "Breathing into a chosen student's mouth is one way knowledge was given and is a metaphor for how Hawaiians engage in knowledge maintenance. It is deeply embedded in other, in elder, in spirit....To pay attention, to really listen (ho'olono) is to invoke a spirit, a deity. Listening, then, becomes a spiritual act" (132). She quotes Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell, Kanaka Maoli physician and activist declaring, "Everything is alive! You see that reflection of the sun? That's alive! It's saying something, it's sending a message! And we need to be able to receive and process that message and think and act accordingly" (134). Meyer continues,

How does one understand physical cues to 'act accordingly'? Perhaps this leads into the sixth body-centric empirical notion of Rubellite Johnson's--awareness. How we become aware of the world is an accumulation of sensual maturity, but what events then become the signposts for how this "awareness" gets developed? How does culture shape this? Many mentors described vivid and clear ways Hawaiian systems and values developed awareness, intuition, insight, and what they knew. "I think the basic idea of ancestral prompting is not na'au, but awareness. You become aware of something initially and you can either pay attention or you can just discard it. Anyway, that very first feeling, my mother always said, "Pay attention to it, then see where it goes, but pay attention to it, it needs to be there and it's telling you [something]" (Pua Kanahele, 15 January 1997). (132-133)

This is in sharp contrast to the critical teaching methods Sweet and Swanson found in their observations of western university classroom practice: "Hoping his students will benefit from this insight, he tells them that they should not settle for their 'first impressions' but rather make themselves 'go through the work' of asking 'Is that true? What can be said on the other side?'" (43). In search of ways to teach students factually supported and well thought out argumentation, the teacher Sweet and Swanson talked to had formerly spent much time in "religious philosophy and meditation," but

"[w]ith time, it seems to me most of my intuition is just kind of, what? A summation of my experiences and prejudices and not a particularly good source of knowledge. So I hammer away"...Intuition is gut-raw, a "summation of experiences," and quite obviously intellectually suspect. A far better method of knowing, he states, is being objective, giving serious consideration to ideas and arguments that oppose his initial conclusions about a subject. (42-43)

Manu Meyer speaks of trusting the first feeling or awareness and seeing where it leads, whereas the MLA Handbook and many teachers of Freshman Composition to teach students educated according to western precepts that the desirable direction for scholars is away from the personal and the gut feeling, toward "objectivity." They encourage students to consider all sides, a stepping back which will lead them to facts. Objectivity "has nothing to do with the conclusion you draw; it has to do with what you look at before you draw a conclusion and the fact that you look equally and intently on both sides" (Sweet 43). It has to do with intellectual winnowing--distinguishing fact from fiction using western academic methods.

In "Are Americans Afraid of Dragons," U.S. author Ursula LeGuin remarks on the denigration of the imagination among the U.S. public: "In wondering why Americans are afraid of dragons, I began to realize that a great many Americans are not only antifantasy, but altogether antifiction. We tend, as a people, to look upon all works of the imagination either as suspect, or as contemptible." She continues, "Such a rejection of the entire art of fiction is related to several American characteristics: our Puritanism, our work ethic, our profit-mindedness, and even our sexual mores" (40).

When LeGuin speaks of fiction, she is referring to novels, poetry, drama, short stories and so on, but educated people in western cultures also include what we call myths, legends, popular stories, and so on, and these categories are one of the ways we (especially those of us in the academy) relegate facts (especially spiritual facts) of other cultures to the realm of not-truth, not-reality. This is particularly so when accepting those facts would challenge our own ways of judging real/not-real, true/not-true, fact/not-fact. This became clear to me first when I was living in Ireland in the 1970s. An elderly friend of my partner (a farmer's son from West Cork) lived her knowledge (not belief) that fairy paths on her land (on Sherkin island off Baltimore) were not to be disturbed. One of the paths went through an entrance between two fields. When she wanted to keep her cows from wandering, she tried different ways of keeping them in one field such as tying a dog by the hedge and putting up a scarecrow, but the cows kept wandering. Finally, she agreed to have someone come and put in gate posts ready to sling a gate across the gap--something one never does across fairy paths. At the first clang of the mallet, the tool broke, and she gave up the job, letting her cows wander between the fields after that. Fairies were not a separate-from-her-life myth or a belief to her. They were part of her life, just as fairies were feared, fed, respected and honored in the countryside in England until World War I. The understanding we have from being inside a form of life or language game (Wittgenstein's terms) is very different from the understanding we have looking on from outside, as Hereniko points out (90).

Sherman Alexie, Haunani-Kay Trask, Vili Hereniko, and Epi Enari demand that non-indigenous scholars and other exterior describers become aware of and work to alter their positions of dominance so that indigenous peoples can realize and develop descriptions of themselves. The quotes from Meyer, Hereniko and others from indigenous cultures are illuminating in a discussion of colonized peoples' experience of western research and the answers they are coming up with, but the cultures they are describing cannot give us the answers we need in order to stop further colonization. Indigenous scholars do not and should not be expected to address the problem of what we are to do--what models we can adopt to help us when we decide to interrogate and shift our concentrations and methods. To attempt to take on what we think are indigenous methods without permission and/or true understanding will only be further appropriation, which we are being told is unacceptable. I will take a look at what alternative methods might be open to us in Chapters 9 and 10 of this dissertation.


Written vs. Oral

The seventh point is that western and western-trained scholars put a far greater if not sole value on written documentation. This I believe also stems from a focus on empirical objectivity, which requires that we assess truth materially, reducing it to "'something general, static, structured and simple'" (Dening in Wood, 54). Wood continues, "Semantic violence results when 'the infinite progression' of orality is translated into static, structured Euroamerican forms" (54). If oral support for claims is used at all in the academy, it is regarded more as anecdotal and secondary than is written text. It has to be transferred to writing via transcription by a western-trained intermediary in order to gain validity. My colleague's story (page 22) about the feminist theory group is also to the point here. Anecdotal, unwritten, and personal evidence is not counted as validating a scholarly claim among western academics unless it is first attributed to an authority, theorized, put in a more formal context that is acceptable academically and can be catalogued and therefore cited, looked up and verified. Examples of citable oral occasions are interviews, performances, and radio or television programs. It is interesting to note here that as I looked through the Modern Language Association's Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, I could not find instructions for how to cite a conversation or a relationship which would give one knowledge. As the Handbook says, one of the most important things to consider when using material in a western academic research paper is that the reader be able to find the exact site of the quote again so that she can check it for validity (xvii). Given the global nature of western research, this cannot be done with a conversation as it might be checked in a community situation, where one could easily find the other parties in the conversation to ask for confirmation. Thus, the requirements of western academic culture make it very difficult if not impossible for western researchers to deal adequately with the inclusion of the multiple ongoing changes of daily life--personal exchanges and relationships with oral forms of literature that exist in cultures with oral bases, even if those cultures have changed greatly due to colonization, as Hawai'i has.

Hereniko says that often, "schools, colleges and universities value the written word over and above oratory," and, in the academic view, "the written word fixes the truth." He continues:

Besides undermining oratory, the written word encourages the view that there is but one truth, and this truth can be discovered through rigorous research. Since the written word is more reliable than oratory, so the argument goes, the historian who has access to all the written sources and can interpret them accurately can find that one truth. Anyone who thinks that "truth comes from a multiplicity of sources and perspectives" (Katz 1993: 366) is therefore a threat to this school of thought. (84-85)

He points out that the slant that makes the written word more valued than the spoken, danced, sung, chanted, creates problems for students who do not have the same values: "Many island students fail not because they are stupid, but because the formal education system works against indigenous ways of learning or evaluating knowledge" (84). It also means that what is valued in the report of an interviewer, for instance, is the written word of the interviewer over the spoken word of the interviewee. In a written version of an oral tale, the word of the editor becomes valued by the reading public over the spoken word of the storyteller because it is the written word that appears in the book or article. It is the editor and publisher who have the final say on how the material goes out into the world at large, how it is organized and presented. It is the editor's vision of the work that is broadcast in print or film. The informant, whose living experience of the work gives it an ongoing, dynamic individuality that changes with each performance, has often long been lost or is subsumed in the vision of the compiler/interviewer/editor. To assume the written report is word-for-word is to be naive, and even if the report is accurate, we are not accounting for all the present-time contextual goings-on that occur in a live person -to-person exchange, and that are primary in an oral tradition (Hereniko 79-82, 84, 88 (endnote 3)).

The success of postcolonial and cultural studies as disciplines--with their cross-referencing with sociology, anthropology, philosophy, and psychology--has meant much written documentation and commentary on unwritten works, both indigenous and non-indigenous, which now come to be included under the title "literature." Orally and visually transmitted performances like songs, chants, and dances, personal interactions like signifying, traditions like tattoeing, scarification and genital mutilation (western and non-western) are now to be "read" as "texts." Definitions of these activities and judgments of their worth, as Jace Weaver notes above (page 102-103), are proffered in written reviews, clarifications, analyses, attacks and defences, and constructions of meaning that delineate their parameters in our minds from within a western academic culture that draws conclusions about events based on written categorizations.

In her famous (and now, among some, infamous) transcribed appeal I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala, Rigoberta Menchu, her words translated by Ann Wright and edited and introduced by Venezuelan anthropologist Elisabeth Burgos-Debray, relayed an account of her growing up and struggle against colonial oppression in the countryside of Guatemala. Her account earned her the Nobel Prize in 1992 and brought enormous support to liberation armies in Guatemala from those who read the book. Angry and puzzled responses to the book resulted (along with a controversy that continues today) when Menchu was accused (apparently in an attempt to call attention to assumptions made by U.S. supporters of indigenous liberation groups) by U.S. cultural anthropologist David Stoll of fabricating parts of her story. Others then joined the attack, suggesting she had taken advantage of worldwide empathy for the plight of Guatemalan Indians under a murderous regime to make a name and money for herself. Responses to these accusations from folks who actually lived in Guatemala and had had extensive contact with Menchu and other Guatemalan Indians included observations that Menchu was following a traditional practice in documenting what was happening to thousands of Indians in Guatemala by personalizing it, while others pointed out that Menchu's story was resistance literature, which does not have the same parameters as autobiography, and others again questioned the appropriateness of academic armchair "under the microscope" investigation of a work that addressed issues involving the deaths of thousands (McConahay par.15, Grandin 1, Rarihokwats 6). (endnote 4)

John Beverley, in "Comments on Stoll versus Menchu," very much to the point of what I am trying to get across in this dissertation, remarks that academics (both those who edit oral testimonies and other oral literatures and those who comment on them) have to be aware of what consequences and what responsibilities the authority we possess as western and western-trained specialists brings with it:

In my view, the debate between Menchu and Stoll is not so much about What really happened? As Who has the authority to narrate it? It is not incidental that in his Berkeley talk Stoll related his doubts about the representativity of I, Rigoberta Menchu to an uneasiness with what he called a "postmodernist anthropology."

"What I want to say," he noted in that talk, "is that if our frame is the text, the narrative, or the voice instead of the society, culture, or political economy, it is easy to find someone to say what we want to hear." But his own basis for questioning Menchu's account...are the interviews he conducted with people from the region...many years afterwards. That is, the only thing he can put in the place of what he considers Menchu's inadequately representative testimony are...other testimonies: other texts, narratives, voices, in which (it will come as no surprise) he can also find things that he might want to hear.....

It would be yet another version of the "native informant" of classical anthropology to grant testimonial narrators like Rigoberta Menchu only the possibility of being witnesses, but not the power to create their own narrative authority and negotiate its conditions of truth and representativity. This amounts to saying that the subaltern can of course speak, but only through us, through our institutionally sanctioned authority and pretended objectivity as intellectuals, which gives us the power to decide what counts as relevant and true in the narrator's "raw material." But it is precisely that institutionally sanctioned authority and objectivity that, in a less benevolent form, but still claiming to speak from the place of truth, indigenous peoples must confront every day in the form of genocide, economic exploitation, development schemes, obligatory acculturation, police and military oppression, destruction of habitat, forced sterilization, and the like. (2).

Beverley concludes his article by noting,

What seems to bother Stoll above all is that Menchu has an agenda. But this leads me to ask, what exactly is Stoll's own agenda? Why has he kept at this for almost ten years now?

It is not clear whether in questioning the validity of Menchu's account Stoll's own position is that of a dispassionate "objective" observer, or of someone opposed on both moral and political grounds to the strategy of armed struggle, and therefore predisposed to downplay Menchu because of her connection to Catholic based communities that supported the guerrillas.....

If it is important to know that Menchu went to Catholic boarding school or was a member of the EGP, it's also important to know what Stoll's personal and political background and sympathies are. As this discussion proceeds, I would like David Stoll to be more forthcoming about what is at stake for him in it. (3, 4)

Some accounts, like Menchu's, that arise out of oral cultures and must therefore be transcribed as they are transferred to non-oral cultures have been critiqued from within written cultures without appropriate understanding. Reading without Linda Krumholz' suggested double consciousness (which reminds us that we are a problem), without the humility of a guest, can lead, as Beverley and others demonstrate, to missed cues and harmful and unnecessary controversy that materially affects people we critique. Other texts carry lacunae within them that have to be understood and appreciated from within a lived understanding of the originating culture. Even then, there is a space between oral culture and its written counterpart that is only crossed (if at all) after many years of immersion, as the following example shows.

Kanaka Maoli scholar Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa calls attention, in her Introduction to A Legendary Tradition of Kamapua'a, The Hawaiian Pig God, to differences between written and oral versions of the tales about Kamapua'a, differences that do not detract from the volume's great importance to the preservation of Hawaiian culture but that necessitate that "the modern reader...provide the theater of the original production with the imagination" because subtleties essential to deep understanding of the stories are necessarily missing from the written version (viii). She notes that Kanaka Maoli who put the stories into print "could not refer to [themselves] as...kaka'olelo [orators, storytellers and counselors to the high chiefs], an exalted position that had long since disappeared, nor could [they] name [themselves] as the author, since [they were] not" (xviii). The people who wrote these accounts for the Hawaiian language daily newspapers in the mid- to late 1800s "had not composed these ancient legends, but merely remembered them and wrote them down as they had heard them" (xvii-xviii). Once it is written, the form is fixed.

She continues, "The author knew many of the lengthy chants traditional to the Kamapua'a epic, the intricate story line, and the appropriate usage of place names and wise sayings to enhance the depth of the legend, as well as the traditional stratagems employed by the Hawaiian raconteur, which in the old days would keep the audience spellbound all night" but they could not reproduce all the nuances of a live performance (xix). Kameleihiwa's version of the Kamapua'a stories comes from one of these written rememberings, and she points out that the oral performances in Hawaiian would have introduced layers of meaning that could be shifted by the kaka'olelo to "remind the audience of something similar to the present topic and at the same time slightly different" (ix). But the subtle changes that each kaka'olelo made with each telling to refine it and make it true to that moment cannot be reproduced in even the best written version.

Tongan Maui storyteller Emil Wolfgram confirmed, at a July 1999 American Friends Service Committee panel on "Foreign Religions & Native Spirituality: Seeking Common Ground--A Dialogue" at the Center for Hawaiian Studies, how each presentation of the stories brings him to new personal realizations about their relevance to him and the moment. He has to find the way, at the instant a new epiphany about his relationship to the story comes to him, to weave the vision into his telling. Such moment-to-moment developments in the orator's relationship with the tale cannot be reproduced in writing. As Hereniko says, the constantly changing nature of oral culture becomes fixed and static once transferred to the written, published, and set-in-rules that are much harder to change because they are recorded on paper rather than in people's minds (84).

Another example of how the written (especially the written by the non-indigenous representative of indigenous orality) cannot represent the oral can be found in Noenoe Silva's question to me about whether my proposed arrangement of examples of indigenous representations as alternatives to western academic models would not also be a westerner's (almost certainly skewed) envisioning and appropriation of non-western knowledge. The stories told to me, the examples given, the advice from indigenous friends, if I were to take on the task of presenting them as some kind of alternative to what western academics are doing today, would still come through the filter of my western non-oral worldview as I arranged them, chose the context, used them as a vehicle for unspoken agendas of my own, agendas that might very well be unacknowledged by me as well (even unknown to me). They would help to keep the us/them divide going.

Linda Smith remarks on how, within westernizing knowledge about the Maori, "The master narrative has been the one established from European [written] accounts, while Maori interpretations remain as oral stories" (81). What has been recorded is what is regarded as knowledge. The knowledge of indigenous peoples exists as "anecdotes and unrecorded stories" (84). In many western cultures and especially in western academic culture, what is written carries more weight than what is spoken.

In this way, as Houston Wood shows in Displacing Natives, manipulation and re-formation of indigenous knowledges into colonial knowledges in Hawai'i has taken place. In "The Violent Rhetoric of Names," "Captain James Cook, Rhetorician," "Displacing Pele" and other chapters, Wood documents instance after instance of appropriation and changing of indigenous oral realities through the medium of writing. In "Disorientation: Unwritable Knowledge," he points out how currently "people attempt to 'save' and/or 'honor' Native knowledge by reducing it to writing....[E]ven when Natives offer resistance to such translations from the unwritten to the written, Euroamericans tend to treat their protests "as coquettish modesty calculated to incite conquest'" (54). Sadly, it would not be out of character as a western academic for me to put to one side Silva's and others' suggestions and appeals that I not try to characterize indigenous scholarship in the interest of my own convictions about the importance of the work I was doing.

To understand the weight and importance of the written word in western culture (and especially in western academic culture) and how it determines our comprehension of the unwritten, some historical perspective is a help. As Isaacs, Hereniko, and Wood point out, western reliance on the written word has origins in the legal processes of the capitalist venture. (endnote 5) Isaacs suggests that early 19th century European and American traders profited in Hawai'i from the confusion between Kanaka Maoli orally or contextually transmitted traditions of gift giving and receiving, which carried spiritual, relation-creating and solidifying power, and Euroamerican traditions, which were profit-driven and relied on written documentation of debt--a relationship that does not create alliances of mutual dependence like the ones that held Kanaka Maoli society together (15-19).

Hereniko gives an example of two families in Rotuma who gave up tending a plot of land rather than oppose the written records with their own memory once the written documentation was brought into play by a local official: "In this instance, the written word fixed the 'truth,' and the response of both parties was to leave the plot of land alone in order to ward off any bad luck. If things had been left in the realm of oratory, jurisdiction over the land in question could have been discussed and resolved satisfactorily to both parties" (84). Wood has put a coda at the end of his book, one which reinforces the observations of Sally Merry's volume, Colonizing Hawai'i: The Cultural Power of Law. He documents in it how, newly passed and codified into writing, 19th century laws penalized Kanaka Maoli over all others for "crimes" ordained under western advisement, crimes that were in fact "continuing practices they had enacted without opprobrium for centuries" (Displacing 165). When the missionaries brought writing and reading to Hawai'i, Kanaka Maoli were swift to learn and begin to use the new tools, but very quickly what Hereniko calls the truth fixing function of the written word played a part in invalidating "the fluidity of indigenous history." "Genealogies, land titles, customary practices, secret rituals, disputes, religious beliefs (and so on) that were previously embedded in social relations are no longer subject to change or modification" (Hereniko 84). It is just this fixedness that gives the written word its clout in the world of western scholarship and law which extends to the world colonized by the west.


Linear Argument

Following on the matter of the effects of written material over oral transmission (including non-verbal learning, as Hereniko and Meyer show), my eighth point is that, as western-trained academics, we are taught to present our arguments in a linear construction, a quite particular cause-and-effect engendered order of arguments. I have experienced negative results of not being a natural at linear argument during the course of this degree. Western academics are expected to have thesis statements at delineated points in a piece of writing backed up by ordered arguments, all of which stem hopefully from a pre-writing stage of outlines of some kind. Houston Wood points out that the English Department at the University of Hawai'i is very large because "it was decided twenty years ago, by mostly Asian and Caucasian legislators, that Hawai'i students, Native and non-Native alike, required extra help so they might better master a dialect of English associated with an upper middle class domiciled on a continent twenty-five hundred miles away" (Displacing 2). Just as local versions of English still will not do within the walls of educational facilities (at all levels), neither does a wandering, circular, web-shaped style of writing (often the style of oral storytelling (endnote 6)) fulfill the requirements of an academic style manual. (endnote 7) Yet wandering, storytelling, association, are the natural styles of thought not only of the Pacific Island students Hereniko talks about and of other indigenous peoples but of many people (including myself) in European and American cultures. (endnote 8) And the logic of one way of speaking and writing is not the same as the logic of the other. Where the logic of two languages are different (as with physics and poetry, e.g.), what can be experienced and expressed from within one language is different from what can be experienced and expressed from within the other. This is not to say that one is better or worse, only that it is hard to encompass the one from within the other.

In "Storied Dialogues: Exchanges of Meaning Between Storyteller and Anthropologist," Blanca Chester lays out conversations between Wendy Wickwire, a white ethnographer, Harry Robinson, an Okanagan storyteller, and herself to show the slippages between their different cultural understandings. Chester remarks, for instance, "Harry responds to Wendy's questions indirectly, answering her queries with anecdotes and, especially, stories. For Harry, stories are a familiar way of explaining and teaching. To Wendy, however, the stories often appear unrelated to the questions she asks, and they are confusing" (13-14). In very fundamental ways, the western-trained academic and the storyteller do not understand each other. To the academic, telling a story is not a way to delineate a point and make an argument. For the storyteller, as Chester shows, to fire point blank questions and arrange things linearly does not make sense.

A good part of western academic training has to do with how to write a paper acceptable for presentation and ultimately for publication within the western academy, how to argue in logical sequence, how to think critically (in the western academic style). Teaching as a lecturer at the Waianae extension of Leeward Community College for a semester, my evaluators were upset that I was teaching on the beach and not requiring critical papers from my students of poetry and drama. I was told one of my prime responsibilities was to teach the students to think critically, i.e., in clear, linear, academically acceptable fashion, with researched citations, and point by point argument. Talkstory would not do because talkstory, according to propounders of a western academic way of doing things, is not acceptable as logical thinking. Just as my colleague (see above page 18) could not perceive the theory in six weeks of intense discussions about their work by Pacific Writers, the faculty at Leeward could not see critical thinking engaged in by their students in their daily lives because their model for critical thinking is restricted to a western academic structure. To raise a family on a minimum income while going to school, to extricate oneself from a history of drug dependency in order to go to school, to deal with the demands of a large family that does not recognize the value of education for a woman, all demand a level and kind of critical thinking that is not recognized as logic by professors immersed in the model of western academic thinking.

The root of this limitation is in history, as author and activist Starhawk notes in (originally her M.A. thesis) Dreaming the Dark,

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, many forms of knowledge began to take on a new economic importance. The Reformation destroyed the Catholic Church's absolute monopoly on the approval of knowledge. At the same time, the market economy was spreading into more and more areas of life. Knowledge itself began to be an "intangible commodity". It was something to be sold only to those who could afford to buy it. (199)

Academic knowledge began to be separated from "living" knowledge, specialized away from the knowledge we use every day to negotiate demands in the world and offered to those who could afford it at a price. Starhawk quotes Ivan Illich: "By the early seventeenth century a new consensus began to arise: the idea that man was born incompetent for society and remained so unless he was provided with 'education'," for which one has (still) to pay (200). This colonial class- and race-based attitude has consequences in today's classrooms.

Noenoe Silva talks about genealogy and the concept of pono as Kanaka Maoli ideologies, i.e., as unspoken operating systems for her culture and theoretical bases for it (Conversations). These concepts are not relevant to the western academy; they are nonetheless vital parts of the theoretical framework of Kanaka Maoli culture. That western academics do not recognize theory or critical thinking or logical argumentation in non-western discussions, presentations, ceremonies, storytelling, demonstrations, and so on, does not mean that there is no theory, critical thinking, or logic in them. For instance, the storytelling which author Leslie Marmon Silko says infuses the language of Laguna Pueblo with webs of interconnected meanings and which teaches the values of the culture to all who speak it does not have the linear structure of a western academic argument or of a logical proof. What it has is its own internal logic, a complex structure that carries its ideology/theory within it as surely as western academic modes of language carry their ideology within them. Vilsoni Hereniko speaks similarly about the history he learned by partaking in the stories, ceremonies, jokes, dances, and songs of Rotuman culture just as he later learned European history from linearly presented textbooks at school.

It continues to be a requirement that those in the western academy in Hawai'i and other non-western places, whether they be 18-year-old freshmen who intend to become receptionists or 50-year-old professors presenting papers at national conferences, adopt a linearity of thought that emulates, as Houston Wood points out, "a dialect of English associated with an upper middle class domiciled on a continent twenty-five hundred miles away" (Wood 2). It is still a cementing of power, however we cloak it in claims that we are helping local populations achieve employment in the world western colonization has and continues to impose on them. The academy continues to govern the regulation of what is and what is not clear thinking at higher levels of education.

The following linguistic (and therefore thought) colonization experienced by local speakers of English in Hawai'i did not take place in the academy but reproduces academy-supported attitudes that pidgin (or Hawaiian Creole English), the structure of which is very different from Standard English, will not get you a job in Hawai'i. It is necessary to learn Standard English, which is taught to students from elementary school on up through college. At a camp-out of Parents Without Partners in 1997, I fell into conversation with a haole woman who had recently arrived to engage in business in Honolulu. She said that while her company was interviewing young local students for entry-level jobs, she noticed that all of them maintained a steady level of Standard English throughout the interviews but went on to exclaim with disgust that during lunch, the young folk fell into talking to each other in pidgin. "Of course, we didn't hire any of them," she explained, confident that I would understand the reasoning of this incredible craziness. She could not fathom the anger with which I told her what I thought of the practice of coming into someone else's territory and dictating in the most materially damaging of ways what language they were to use not only in their daily work but on their own time.

I have lived in two places, Ireland and Hawai'i, where I have been personally confronted with the fact that getting a decent job depends to this day on speaking, thinking, writing, and acting a certain way, but my first encounter with this (what I consider) criminal truth was in my own father who was born and raised poor working class in Yorkshire, who could translate the Jordy language for fellow workers on building sites in Newcastle on Tyne on the border of Scotland, but whose mother forbade him to speak with a Yorkshire accent while he was growing up. She knew, coming from the servant class herself, that his only hope of getting higher level employment, of working his way out of the slums, was to speak (and think) as though he was not from the slums. He would joke about how he practiced in the mirror to perfect an upper middle class accent, and the only times I heard him speak Yorkshire were when he was spoofing or singing Yorkshire songs. As children, we experienced my father's rage at the upwardly mobile uprootedness he had been driven to choose.

The spread of Standard English (or BBC English as it is called in Britain) is now global and results, as Ngugi wa Thiongo painfully points out in Decolonizing the Mind, in

The destruction or the deliberate undervaluing of a people's culture, their art, dances, religions, history, geography, education, orature and literature, and the conscious elevation of the language of the coloniser [sic]. The domination of a people's language by the languages of the colonising nations was crucial to the domination of the mental universe of the colonised. (16)

The colonization that rests in educational systems worldwide, including in Hawai'i, makes sure that parents forbid their children to speak native languages (or with local accents) in countries where Standard English, French, Spanish or some other colonial language has become the touchstone for gaining higher levels of employment (Ngugi Decolonizing 11-12). When language is changed, as Ngugi makes clear, the underlying cultural assumptions change too, as they did for my father, since culture is carried within language. As Samuel H. Elbert says in his Preface to the Hawaiian Dictionary, "Because language reflects culture, when a culture goes, so too goes much of the language" (x). Ngugi continues:

Language as communication and as culture are then products of each other. Communication creates culture: culture is a means of communication. Language carries culture, and culture carries, particularly through orature and literature, the entire body of values by which we come to perceive ourselves and our place in the world. How people perceive themselves affects how they look at their culture, at their politics and at the social production of wealth, at their relationship to nature and to other beings. Language is thus inseparable from ourselves as a community of human beings with a specific form and character, a specific history, a specific relationship to the world. (15-16)

Change in linguistic and therefore in thought form also carries with it the consequence that modes of communication, record keeping, decision making--formerly spiral or web-like and based on storytelling, anecdotal, association (as Hereniko points out and as they were for my father and many others)--are transformed into a western model (84). (endnote 9) We then label the reluctant recipients of western education "stupid" if remnants of their own linguistic and cultural models persist within ours (Ngugi Decolonizing 18).

Visiting Cornwall for the first time in 18 years in the year 2000, I went to look for my grandparents' unmarked grave. I thought I had found it but wasn't sure, so I phoned the verger of the church to discover whether there were any records. The verger, who was not Cornish, lamented that, "You know, once you cross the Tamar, people don't keep records. The Cornish don't believe in records." The graveyard at another village, St. Keyne, where I had lived when I was five and eight, was full of Clemens graves, relatives of my best friend there. She can tell me because it is history in the family, who lies in each grave. No need of records. In places that have been colonized, the linear structure of record keeping attempts to replace the web of storytelling that is record keeping in oral cultures. Fortunately, memory of other ways of documenting is kept alive, but it is a delicate balance and ongoing struggle to make this so. The verger at the church saw the lack of records in Cornwall as stupid and difficult--a colonial attitude--but it is the survival of an older way of remembering and recording history.

Linguist Braj Kachru, in "Meaning in Deviation," discusses how the internal logic of a language is culturally determined and how a speaker/writer/student from the colonies or from non-Standard speaking regions of the home country will insert her native language's logic into her use of Standard English, thus appearing "stupid" to the colonizer. (endnote 10) Kachru quotes Robert Kaplan:

"The expected sequence of thought in English is essentially a Platonic-Aristotelian sequence, descended from the philosophers of ancient Greece and shaped subsequently by Roman, Medieval European, and later Western thinkers... [L]earning of a particular language is the mastering of its logical system"...."the foreign student is out of focus because the foreign student is employing a rhetoric and sequence of thought which violates the expectations of the native reader"....The teacher's reaction, therefore, is likely to be that the student's paper 'lacks cohesion, organization or focus'." (326)

He goes on to confirm that underlying cultural assumptions are the most important factors in the way a language is logically structured and to insist that the way an English speaker from a colonized place speaks and writes English has to be read and respected from within the local context rather than having an extraneous logic placed on top of it:

In relating the strategies, styles, and domains of language use, a configuration of factors must be considered, the most important being the underlying cultural assumptions. The verbal strategies and culturally determined innovations are, therefore, not necessarily "linguistic flights" (Whitworth 1907) to be avoided, [just because] these are not part of a native speakers' linguistic repertoires. These strategies and devices are meaningful to the "insider" who actually uses the variety of English, though in an "outsider's" judgment such innovations might "jar upon the ear of the native Englishman" (Whitworth 1907). The question then is: Who is to judge? (330-331)

From Kachru's discussion it is clear that he, like Homi Bhabha, sees the "problem" of the different form of English in the colonies as a problem for the colonizing English speaker rather than for the colonized, who is often at home with many languages and accents, i.e., at home "in multicultural and multilingual speech communities" or whose hybridity, for Bhabha, "terrorizes authority with the ruse of recognition, its mimicry, its mockery," the authority being the native carrier of the "mother" tongue (Kachru 330; "Signs" 157).

It is western and western-trained academics, along with those we teach to think as we do, who insist on re-making languages when we arrive in colonized places, a re-making necessary to us because we insist that our way of structuring thought is "the right" way. We are here to teach, rather than to learn. And it is we who have the power, if we wish, to turn this state of affairs around by questioning an ethnocentric "mental cramp" (as Wittgenstein called it) that demands standardization in the image of our culture: one language, one standard of truth, one logic of argument, one way of presenting claims, and so on (Malcolm 50). It is not, as Kuhn makes clear, an easy matter to shift embedded ways of thinking, but it is certainly possible by prioritizing intention and focus on change.

1 See for instance, Meyer, Hereniko, Gunn Allen, Gates, Palumbo-Liu, Best, Gendlin, and Sweet and Swanson.

2 See Beth Tobin's Superintending the poor: charitable ladies and paternal landlords in British fiction for a description of how public education was used in England and other parts of Europe to forestall popular revolutions at the end of the 18th century, especially pages 113-123.

3 "The scholarly practice that says that the first to publish certain facts or information about a culture has 'ownership' over that material ensures that knowledge that belonged to an indigenous slowly appropriated by the colonizers. It does not matter that indigenous people have owned certain secrets or principles about their cultures since time immemorial. If a native reveals certain knowledge to a researcher, who publishes it in a book or journal, the researcher is the one cited in the works of other academics. Until Western scholars are taught to cite their oral sources of information in much the same way they acknowledge written sources and until academics are willing to admit that much of what they common knowledge to the elders of these cultures, they will continue to pass off as their own what is really native property." (Hereniko 88)

4 Other commentators are Pat Young, Sam Pawlett, and Peter Waterman, to name only a few.
5 Linguistic historian John Fisher chronicles how the written word itself became codified to cement the power of the dictated words of King Henry V of England in the mid 15th century over his colonized subjects, and what we call "Standard English" is a copy of his (long-dead) style (8ff). The formalization and standardization of the written word has continued from that time, as Hereniko, Wood, Isaacs, haole historian Sally Engle Merry, and many others show, to lend a hand to the standardization of colonized cultures toward the ideal of the colonizer.

6 Tongan storyteller Emil Wolfgram told us at a recent panel on "Native Spirituality and Foreign Religion" that he and friends had once talked for nine hours wandering all over the map. They began talking about the meaning of a word that meant the place imprinted on the sand by someone's foot as he or she sat and idly swung it, then talked through hours of stories and related meanings to arrive back at the foot in the sand again.

7 For a thumb-to-the-nose-at-the-academy adventure into circularity, punning and other hilarity, see James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, of which more later.

8 See for instance my paper, "A Poetics of Wandering," in which I look at writing of avant garde Modernist women as validating a wandering style, where wandering is seen not just as a mode of writing but as a way of learning, gathering knowledge. Virginia Woolf's documentation of her process of writing in A Room of One's Own is a case in point.

9 My father recounted that his father belonged to a group of working class men who met regularly to recite poetry they knew by heart. His father, he said, was a great storyteller and would entertain the extended family for hours at night, but the culture that went along with large families getting together to tell and listen to stories had passed, and when my father, in turn, told his own stories, we often regarded them as tall tales, which made us distrust him, rather than regarding him as a great storyteller. We bemoaned the fact that we never quite knew when he was making stuff up and when he was telling the truth. I believe he told stories in a tradition that embellished and embroidered but which we no longer had the context to appreciate, as the storytelling of Patrick Bronte was horrific to the sisters' middle class friends. We wanted the stories to tell us about his history as we understood it, whereas his reality included the fantastic and hopped from the real to the imagined and back again without such stricture.

10 Composition theorist Mina Shaughnessy used a similar recognition to recommend the understanding of a student's underlying cultural assumptions in order to comprehend the "mistakes" he is making.


Too Many Deaths: Decolonizing Western Academic Research on Indigenous Cultures
By Gabrielle Welford
A dissertation submitted to the Graduate Division of the University of Hawaii in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in English, May 2003
© 2003 Gabrielle Welford (