Essays on the Marshallese Past

Historical Sites: an investment made by our forebears

World-wide, public education is a basic need in all societies, especially education to know and understand oneØs own cultural context. It is necessary that people understand their roots and the historic foundation of their customs as they have a bearing on their present way of life. This is becoming more and more important at a time when Pacific IslandsØ cultures are coming under the threat of assimilation. The individuality of the Pacific Islands groups is threatened by certain religious movements striving towards creating a pan-Pacific culture, as well as the overall western-style developments.

Archaeology and history can be used to make people understand their roots and their cultural identity. They can foster cultural identity by making objects and sites available and accessible to the wider public. They can provide tangible and touchable evidence of the Pacific IslanderØs cultural heritage, which, over time, may have become forgotten.

Historic Preservation efforts can document how the present culture of an island group has evolved out of its roots, and how the prehistoric people have both adapted to and modified their environment. Archaeological and historical research can show whether outside influences from other islands existed and whether they had any bearing on the islandsØ culture. Archaeology can also show that the Pacific Islanders were very well capable of handling affairs on their own, affairs such as the large stone statues on Rapa Nui (Easter Island), the ruins of Nan Madol (Pohnpei) or the HaØamonga Trilithon (Tonga). For the solution of these engineering feats no extra-terrestrials or the castaway white-skinned stranger (as often inferred by non-archaeologists) need to be involved.

In the same way as it is necessary for any population to understand their own cultural upbringing, roots and the historic foundation of their customs, it is desirable that the tourists to understands the same for the country they are visiting. If tourists come to a destination for reasons other than mindless sunbathing, they will be interested in the country they are visiting. Again, archaeology and history can be used to make people understand these aspects by making objects and sites available and accessible to the tourist; they can provide tangible and touchable evidence of the Pacific IslanderØs cultural heritage the tourist came to observe and to study. Europeans have a fascination with history, and with matters sufficiently exotic.

If we look at the economic side of tourism to historical sites, then we must treat the cultural and historic resources as an investment. An investment not made by the present generation, but an investment left behind by past generations, somewhat like a trust fund. This trust fund needs to be managed in such a manner that the maximum return can be obtained without impairing the status of the investment. Following this analogy let us consider that there are only so many visitors a historic site can take. From a point onwards the increasing number of people looking at the site will begin damaging this resource and will thereby reduce the value of the site as an attraction. This in turn will lead in a reduction of revenue. In short, the trust fund has been mismanaged and rather than making a profit, the funds become less.

There are measures which allow an increase in the number of visitors, such as regulated access; accompaniment by trained tour guides; and clearance of the site of vegetation to permit viewing, thus relieving the fragile resource of a constant barrage of visitors clambering directly on them.. Any such management measures to increase the number of visitors and thereby maximise the profits entail commitment of the managing body to a number of areas:

If such management is done well, then the resource improvement can act as a benefit beyond the site itself. It benefits a countryØs educational system, and the tourist attraction can in fact form part of the educational curricula and can function as out door classrooms.

The R.M.I. Historic Preservation Office is in the process of drawing up such management plans for the World War II sites of the Republic. Plans for other sites will follow.

Historical sites form a finite and unrenewable resource left behind by our forebears. It is our responsibility to manage this resource in a wise, and thoughtful manner. These sites have enormous economic potential, as has been outlined above.

Let us not squander these resources lighthandedly at the expense of our childrenØs generation.

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Bibliographic citation for this document

Spennemann, Dirk H.R. (1998). Essays on the Marshallese Past Second edition. Albury:

Dirk H.R. Spennemann, Institute of Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, P.O.Box 789, Albury NSW 2640, Australia.

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