Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
In Oceania, the seascape is understood as a living history with associated myths, stories and legends that provide moral and cultural guidelines, embody narratives about human origins and ancestors, and create culturally significant signposts that map corporeal and non-corporeal movement. Supernatural or non-human beings and domains are ontologically real, normal, explainable, and perceptible, and not ‘super’-natural to the society in question, nor inextricable from their real geographies. Historically, when such information hasn’t easily mapped onto foreign-originating charts, it’s left out. Yet indigenous knowledge is increasingly considered “highly pragmatic, observable ‘tools’ in handling problems posed by the environment” (Hviding 1996).
At the most recent session for the UN’s Convention on the Law of the Sea addressing marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ), discussions led by the Big Ocean Sustainable States (or Pacific Small Islands Developing States) highlighted the increasing demand for traditional Pacific knowledge of the High Seas. Transcending and challenging the existing standard of 200-mile boundaries for countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones, indigenous knowledge of distant areas has implications for political and economic expansion, as well as critical environmental impacts.
Is there an ethical and useful way of mapping indigenous knowledges with their corresponding cosmological pluralisms that acknowledges and respects overlapping and shifting “world enlargements” (Hau’ofa 1993)? This paper considers the visualizing of ‘real’ and ‘imaginary’ cosmographies from the Marshall Islands to elucidate – as well as complicate – the need for, and the practical difficulties of, ‘mapping’ or ‘counter-mapping’ indigenous conceptualizations of space, place, and resources therein.