fishing, voyaging, and personality

Putting together cross-cultural information on the sorts of fishing that men and women did is interesting. Oceanic women were much more involved in fishing than I had realised. The typical pattern is for women to fish along the reef or by line/net in the lagoon. Spear-fishing, deep-sea diving, offshore fishing and other beyond-the-reef activities seem to be the province of men if these sorts of fishing are present.

Bengt Danielsson's "Work and Life on Raroia", a chatty ethnography of a Tuamotu atoll, mentions that torch fishing is not men's work, as on Ifaluk in Micronesia, but the province of both sexes. Called "rama", this is when fish on the outer reef flat are blinded by some form of lantern and then whacked over the head with big knife. Good times.

Discussing the difficulty of comparative studies and their further complications by individual variations within cultures (with respect to acculturation proceses, but the point is wider), Danielsson quotes Spoehr:

Amyone who has been in an outrigger canoe out of sight of land, with a tropical front approaching, knows that it takes a very particular personality type to cope with these conditions. We could very possibly reconstruct the personality type that was a necessary and sufficient condition for the migrations into the Pacific.

This is a neglected point to think upon, possibly because it drives you mad: the influence of individuals and their decision-making on the course of cultural differentiation. But, the Benedictine "culture is personality writ large" aphorism is kinda worth unpacking when thinking about Oceanic voyaging and the disappearance of the horizon. I don't know if there's a personality type that is necessary for long-distance voyaging–possibly more a type that's unsuitable and thus gets left behind–but there are quite likely to be a certain set of values and behaviours that predominate in a voyaging population. And possibly when the population lands and expands, and Boyd-Richersonian types of cultural processes like prestige bias etc are going to be active upon them.

Of course this is all idle speculation. Time for lunch.

PS: Fun interview with David Botstein in PLoS. His approach to the value of teaching is great to hear. 

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