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A study of the relationship between tradition and cultural identity in Pulap, an atoll in the western Pacific


Diplomas and Thatch Houses examines the people of Pulap, a tiny atoll just north of the Equator in the western Pacific. Pulapese consider themselves and are known to their neighbors as the most traditional islanders, a situation they regard as an asset and not as a sign of backwardness. Pulapese deliberately wear their lavalavas and loincloths and practice traditional dances and rituals. Rather than being just a remnant of the past, tradition for the Pulapese is created and displayed as a means of asserting cultural identity.

Like other Micronesians, the Pulapese view a person less as an isolated, independent individual and more as a link in a network of relationships. Behavior, more than biology or descent, shapes identity. The Pulapese manipulate their "traditional" identity as a political tool--as an adaptive strategy to contend with the rapid changes wrought by a foreign administration. To the Pulapese, tradition is politically valuable; they fiercely contend that their customs and patterns of behavior entitle them to prestige and power in modern Micronesia.

Diplomas and Thatch Houses is an important contribution to the literature on ethnicity, nationality, and cultural identity, as well as to Micronesian/Pacific studies.