The Structure and Dynamics eJournal welcomes articles, book reviews, data, simulations, research material, and special issues that examine aspects of human evolution, social structure and behavior, culture, cognition, or related topics. Our goal is to advance the historic mission of anthropology in the broadest sense to describe and explain the range of variation in human biology, society, culture and civilization across time and space. Submissions of databases, software tutorials, programs, and teaching materials are welcomed, as are communications on research materials of interest to a wide variety of science and social science researchers, including networks, dynamical models, and complexity research and related genre.
Volume 9, Issue 1, 2016
Recent decades have seen a revival of interest in traditional voyaging equipment and techniques among Pacific Islanders. At key points, the Oceanic voyaging revival came together with anthropological interests in cognition. This special issue explores that intersection as it is expressed in cognitive models of space, both at sea and on land. These include techniques for “wave piloting” in the Marshall Islands, wind compasses and their utilization as part of an inclusive navigational tool kit in the Vaeakau-Taumako region of the Solomon Islands; notions of ‘front’ and ‘back’ on Taumako and in Samoa, ideas of ‘above’ and ‘below’ in the Bougainville region of Papua New Guinea, spaces associated with the living and the dead in the Trobriand Islands, and the understanding of navigation in terms of neuroscience and physics.
RESOLVING AMBIVALENCE IN MARSHALLESE NAVIGATION:RELEARNING, REINTERPRETING, AND REVIVING THE “STICK CHART” WAVE MODELS
Marshallese wave navigation remains one of the least understood systems of traditional spatial orientation in Oceania. A sharp decline in voyaging during the historic era and continuing reluctance to share the surviving family-based knowledge of the waves has led to ambiguous and sometimes contradictory interpretations, encompassing both local and anthropological ambivalence. In this article, I examine the navigational concepts of two acknowledged experts from different navigation schools in the Marshall Islands who modeled their ideas of the dynamic flow of ocean waves in wooden instructional devices, commonly referred to as “stick charts.” Of central importance is how a navigator worked toward resolving his ambivalence of these concepts by relearning, reinterpreting, and reviving the stick chart wave models. Theoretically, the selectivity of abstract models during practical engagement in the oceanic environment adds to an already powerful dynamic in the complementarity of information processing modes in Marshallese navigation and other systems of way-finding more generally.
Different voyaging communities in the Pacific use a variety of non-instrument navigational techniques for way-finding across long distances. The use of a star compass has been well documented for several groups. Wind compasses are less well documented and appear to be less utilized throughout the region. This article seeks to understand the Vaeakau-Taumako wind compass as it compares to other wind compasses, as well as how wind and star compasses and other navigational techniques compare to each other as cognitive frameworks for navigation.
This article draws on ethnographic field research in Buka, Bougainville, in order to address the question of multiple models in spatial orientation and the factors that constrain their relative salience. With respect to different Polynesian settings (Tonga and Samoa), Bradd Shore has suggested that a preference for allocentric models may be linked to pronounced social hierarchies. However, findings from other settings (Taumako) indicate that matters may be more complicated. Within the Buka area, I suggest that the relative salience of allocentric and egocentric radiality is connected to people’s relative position in local hierarchies. “Mainlanders,” who are located “above” in terms of local social hierarchies, rely more strongly on allocentric models, compared to “saltwater people” who are located further “below” and prefer to use egocentric models. I link this finding to the contrast between “mainland” and “saltwater” subsistence activities and show how “mainlanders” adopt a system of allocentric spatial orientation in their everyday activities of gardening, while spatial orientation during “saltwater people’s” fishing activities is strongly egocentric.
The study of navigation involves questions about the conceptualization of space and ways in which people share their spatial understandings with others. This article focuses on one aspect of spatial cognition, a phenomenon commonly known as “frames of reference” (FoRs). It explores the myriad ways in which Taumako islanders in the southeastern Solomons talk about spatial relations that English speakers term ‘front’ and ‘back.’ I examine how Taumako notions of ‘front’ and ‘back’ articulate with FoRs that are well established in the anthropological literature, and I explore the challenge of applying commonly-accepted FoR typologies to actual Taumako usage. In some contexts, there was little disagreement among my interlocutors as to proper use of the salient terms. In others, there was considerable divergence; and in certain instances even the same person appeared to be inconsistent from one occasion to the next. I will attempt to identify those areas in which I found widespread consensus as well as those in which disagreements were pervasive, and I will consider possible reasons for that difference.
Drawing on four years of ethnographic fieldwork in Samoan villages examining Samoan village architecture and spatial uses, I illuminate the culturalization of space in Samoan villages in terms of the front–back axis, deemed a key orientation in contemporary Samoan social life. The Samoan term for space is vā, defined as the interval or “between-ness” of entities in physical, social, spiritual, ideational and temporal landscapes. I highlight how perceptions of, and actions on, the vā in Samoa are the modus operandi by which relationships, boundaries and balances in Samoa are negotiated and determined, and how the front-back axis informs binary, mutually complementary and inter-dependent sets of socio-spatial relationships in that system. Central to understanding vā and the front–back axis is its Samoan articulation at different scales—from the architecture of the individual house, to household and whole layouts. This article builds on previous theoretical and ethnographic literature about Samoan space (Shore 1983, 1996, 2014; Allen 1993; Lehman and Herdrich 2002). Informed by both Samoan linguistic and ethnographic evidence and the Whorfian theory of linguistic relativity, the article demonstrates how front–back is primary to a Samoan radial spatial schema, a view that reconfigures Bradd Shore’s positing of a separate, sometimes conflicting, Samoan “front–back binary linear” model (Shore 1983, 1996, 2014).
The Trobriand language contains two spatial markers, o and wa, which designate types of space, space of the living and space of the dead. All geographic space in the Trobriand world is assigned into one or the other of these two categories. This essay delves into the hows and whys of this and illustrates why such a seemingly simple topic as space has proven to be so ethnographically and linguistically challenging
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Multiple disciplines offer diverse intellectual tool-kits that can be brought to bear on studies in any one. In this concluding article, I use elements of physics and cognitive psychology to analyze the material reported in this collection. In the case of the articles on navigation at sea (Genz, Feinberg and Pyrek), the physics of ocean waves, climate, and the motion of stars can illuminate the reports of interlocutors. The sensitivity of long wavelength swells to the presence of land seems widespread and is in accordance with known wave behavior and reports. In addition, wave phenomena may be related to local bathymetry and point to further lines of inquiry. Likewise, wind-compass and star directions can be directly compared with climate data and known star motions. The four articles on language and spatial orientation predominantly on land (Montague, Feinberg, Schneider and Van Der Ryn), are examined via the question: Does social cognition follow spatial cognition? As has been reported elsewhere, the findings support the affirmative.