Monday, January 26, 2009

Signifiers 1/27/09

Matt Bochniak
First Signifiers
Signifier Analysis

Tales of the Tikongs, written by Epeli Hau'ofa, is a collection of twelve stories about life on the small island of Tiko. These stories are written like oral tells. While reading this book, I got the sense of a great chief was sharing his knowledge. One main theme throughout this book is the Development of Tiko.

Stories like "The Big Bullshit', in which Pulu, a collector of scrawny small animals, tries to raise three cows and a bull that were given to him from New Zealand to help develop Tiko. Pulu fails, after having his three cows butchered and discovering his bull is impotent, he sells his bull and with the proceeds bought chickens and pigs to begin his new collection of scrawny animals. This story makes a couple of interesting points. First point would be how New Zealand gave Pulu an impotent bull which could not make calves. This was the reason for this development program. The second point is that by the end of the story Pulu is right back at where he started.

"The Tower of Babel" is the tale of developing a fish cannery in Tiko. In this story we meet Alvin "Sharky" Lowe, an Australian with money to loan for beginner fishermen. Ika Levu gives up his humble life of being a part-time gardener to become a fisherman. As soon as Ika got all of his fishing equipment and got thoroughly in debt, Sharky disappeared. After many failed attempts to talk to the bank, Ika sank his boat with all of the fishing equipment so that they couldn't repossess it. Ika then returned to his humble life. Like Pulu, at the end of the story Ika is back at where he started.

Both of these stories are great examples of how attempts to develop Tiko have failed. In these stories, the villain is the outsider coming to Tiko. The outsiders try and sell the people of Tiko that it’s for their benefit they're here, but the truth is that the outsiders are really the only ones that benefits. The question has to be asked, what would Tiko have against development? I believe the people of Tiko like their way of life, and fear the changes that these developers could bring.

One of my previous media jobs put me in a situation of being an outsider. Unlike the developers of Tiko, I was not a villain. For two seasons, I traveled with the Baltimore Ravens as a producer for their radio broadcasts. Everywhere the team went, I went. I was on the team plane, stayed in the team hotel, on the bus with the players before and after the game, and I was at team practices. I could easily make the connection to the people of Tiko and the players and staff of the Ravens. They are very tight group that didn’t trust new people.

For a few week of the first season I had to prove my trust to the team. Being an outsider, players and staff would watch what they said, thinking I maybe looking for some dirty for a story. During that time, I only got real basic answers to questions.

On a flight home from Denver, an event transformed me from an outsider to an insider. It was early in the morning while we were flying home from a loss. Earlier, defensive back Cory Ivy was shaken up on a tackle. He missed a couple of plays, but came back and finished the game. We were about three hours into a smooth flight when all of a sudden we heard painful cries coming from the players seating. I and others on the plane were then totally woken up by the captain of the plane, “Ladies and Gentlemen this is your captain. We are making an emergency landing in Pittsburgh due to a medical emergency. Please buckle your seat belts, we are going to be burning threw our fuel to arrive there sooner.” With that announcement, everyone was wide awake and began questioning who was hurt. About ten minutes later, we landed in Pittsburgh. Cory Ivy was taken off the plane. This was a huge story. I had to question my media ethics. Do I call my station and tell them what’s going on, or do I say nothing until I arrive back in Baltimore?

I choose to wait until I got back to Baltimore to respect the team privacy. The choice I made proved to the team that I wasn’t after the story. After that event, I was no longer treated like an outsider. Unlike the developers of Tiko, I wasn't in it for myself.

In “Our Sea of Islands”, Hau’ofa speaks about how the people from Oceania live from day to day, not really caring for the long-term benefits of aided development of other countries. These countries, like the developers in the stories have their own agendas. I have to question, but at what point does a better way of life out weigh ones sense of culture and traditions.

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