In this society, material wealth is communal. The idea is that everyone in a family shares what they have within the family. This makes sense when you talk about gardens, food, mats and baskets. These things take a communal effort to produce, so it makes sense that they are communal property. In more recent times, this has extended to include things like clothing, phones or any form of material wealth. Of course, a family here consists of your parents, your brothers and sisters, your parents brothers and sisters, your parents in-laws, your nieces and nephews, your second cousins nieces and nephews, etc. It doesn’t take long before the whole island is family and you are sharing your material wealth with all of them. It is like communism in action.
The problem comes when we, as humans, expect to have some kind of personal belongings. We get attached to a specific mat or we really like the fruit that falls from one particular tree. Here, that isn’t allowed. You can go more often and collect that fruit, but you have to share it. So, to have some sort of personal possessions and functional economy, the going currency is information.
People have to “buy” their way into information. For example, while cutting the patterns for a red mat, the artists is literally paid mat by mat and if a young man wants to learn to do it, he has to pay to learn. In my mind, information is free. Information is to be shared, to be given freely and willingly in hopes that that piece of information will lead to another piece that will lead to another piece that will lead to an improvement in all our lives. I don’t think about information as an economic commodity, which does frequently bite me in the ass.
I missed a wedding because no one told me it was happening. I hadn’t “paid” for the information so no one shared it with me. Sometimes this feels like a simple oversight. They forget that I am not in the loop of conversation, that I don’t know language to be able to eavesdrop. I miss fundraisers that way all the time. If they’d tell me, I’d be happy to go spend money and support the school but frequently no one tells me which is their loss.
Other times, I know it is an intentional choice not to tell me, even when I ask. Usually, that is information about kastom or reasons to do or not do something. Everyone knows why the pig pen has a taboo place in it, it has been that way for years and years. Except I haven’t been here for years and years and no one is quite willing to actually tell me a straight answer about why that place is taboo. I can’t get a straight answer about why the namwele leaf is the chief’s leaf or why some people live in the bush and others live in the village.
|Teaching is sometimes considered odd.
Why would someone give away all that information?
I am not yet privy to that information. At some point, I hope to have “earned” the privilege of knowing, but I’m not good at playing the information economy. My job is to give away information as much and as fast as I can. So, how can I buy my way into knowing about the school schedule for the year or when the next meeting will be? I don’t know. I guess I’ll continue to live in blissful informational poverty.