SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
‘I Ain’t No Hollaback Girl’ and Other Sincerities
Approaching Lau Island Group (Eastern islands of Fiji)
Ship’s Heading & Speed
315 degrees true, 5 knots
Beautiful sunny day with scattered cirrus clouds in the morning and cumulous clouds in the afternoon! Headed into a perfect night for stargazing!
Hello from back at sea! After two full days of sailing, following our departure from Tonga, I think we are all finally starting to regain our sea legs! We have had beautiful and breezy weather as we head towards the outskirts of the Fijian Islands, and will soon (aka Thursday) make our way to Suva!!
This morning my watch (B watch/bae watch/best watch) and I had our first morning class with Jeff - our Chief Anthropologist. I really enjoyed the thoughtful and engaging discussion we had surrounding two articles we read for class, how they applied to our lives, and more recently our time in Tonga.
My favorite of the two was called, "Authenticity and Sincerity in Tourism" and it addressed the misuse of the word "authentic" in regards to culture. I appreciated that the author highlighted how the word 'authentic' is actually an ideal that comes to us "constructed by hegemonic voices." Basically, people who are outsiders to a culture (often a western perspective) are, problematically, who decide what is and is not 'authentic.' We discussed how in our search for examples of 'authentic culture,' we oftentimes are looking for a historical and static perspective of what we think should represent a group of people. This keeps us from noticing and appreciating how cultures constantly change, as they are both fluid and living.
During one of our last free afternoons in Tonga, Amy, Flannery and I had the opportunity to attend a local ceremony introducing a development project, funded and hosted by the Ministry of the Environment. The project was implemented on a small neighboring island, and when I say neighboring, I mean that we technically could've walked through 1-2 ft. deep water to reach a pancake-flat island that looked like part of the coast. Nonetheless, we joined the CEO of Fisheries for Tonga, and two community representatives on a boat that sounded like it was going to give up and die on us halfway. When we arrived, we stood out for more than the usual reasons. Not only were we three white female students attending the unveiling of new composting toilets and water tanks in a small Tongan village. we also missed the memo that it was 'Pink Friday.' Fortunately for us, the community member sitting next to me (who also hadn't been told about the dress code color) rolled her eyes and told me "it's stupid to wear pink in October anyway." Whew.
Over the next hour we listened to speeches and sermons given by various government officials and ministers - completely in Tongan - while sipping on fresh coconut water. Pink decorations fluttered all around us, young kids came running home from school and joined in on beautiful and loud songs of praise, and chickens wandered around our feet. It was fascinating to see the mix of traditional clothing, the implementation of a development project, everyone on their cell phones, and postcard worthy views all in one setting. At the end of a particularly long sermon the song "I ain't no hollaback girl," came blasting through a boom box and the three of us couldn't hold back our chuckles. Moments later, the ceremony turned into a neighborhood block party and lunch feast, the perfect unexpected ending to our adventure of an afternoon.
Based on how we often define 'authentic cultural experiences,' our afternoon would be considered irrelevant. It didn't tell us about the historical practices and culture of Tongan people, and it didn't make our hosts into a single static entity. Thus, in order to validate these exchanges and unexpected afternoons, the author of the article uses the idea of 'sincerity.' By searching for sincere cultural encounters, we can have a more inclusive appreciation for our experiences and create a place where we all "meet halfway." Our afternoon still provided us with delicious traditional foods and beautifully harmonized songs, but it also included loud pop music and plastic decorations - all part of a sincere cultural experience that didn't have to be 'authentic' in order to be meaningful.
Hopefully that made at least some sense! You can check out the full article by John P. Taylor "Authenticity and Sincerity in Tourism," if you want more details!! Otherwise I can't wait to see what the next week of sailing will bring, and I am sending big hugs to any friends and family reading this!!