BYUH-based publication explores Polynesian perception of time and space

Written by: 
Josh Mason

The July issue of the Pacific Studies journal, published through the Jonathan Napela Center for Hawaiian and Pacific Studies, sheds light on how the peoples of Oceania manage their time and how it differs from Western society.

Dr. Tevita Ka'ili, professor of anthropology, said, “Time and space is cultural. Different cultures have their own notions and sense of time and space.”

In regards to Oceania, Ka'ili said it’s best to contrast it to how Americans perceive it. “In the Western society, time is accelerated and speed is what it’s all about. Time is money. Time is considered to be the governor of everything, especially clock time.” He said Oceanic time-space is based on relationships. “The clock doesn’t really determine when things begin, when things end.”

Ka'ili said this perception brings understanding on how the peoples of Oceania manage their time. “Sometimes people are always wondering why Polynesians are so late to things, why they just relax, take time doing stuff, and why they never meet schedules and things like that. It’s because schedules and all of those issues are a very Western way of thinking about time and space, where deadlines are important and relationships with people comes secondary.

“So, if you’re having a conversation with a friend and it’s going on for like three or four hours, that’s more important than trying to end it because you gotta meet some sort of schedule.”

Ka'ili said this perception explains why students from Oceania have a hard time when they first come to an American college. “All of a sudden,” he said, “they have these very tight schedules they have to meet, and trying to reconcile the two ways of thinking about the world is very difficult. You gotta find a way to balance the two, to mediate those two conflicting worlds of time-space.

“I’m not putting down Western time-space – it’s important in Western time-space for business and making profits and meeting deadlines. But the two worldviews of time-space collide when students first come here. They have to go through time management and all these things to readjust themselves into American time-space.”

The journal is full of articles looking at ta-va(time-space) in architecture, education, anthropology, and art. Ka'ili said, “They’re using the theory of time-space in their different disciplines.”

There are three main academic journals dedicated to research related to Oceania: the Pacific Studies journal from BYU-Hawaii, Contemporary Pacific at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and the Journal of the Polynesian Society at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

Pacific Studies was chosen by other authors to be the collection of ta-va, said Ka'ili. Other issues address topics like parenting, education, rituals, and arts or dance, all from an Oceanic perspective.

Dr. Okusitino Mahina, professor of art, culture and critical anthropology at Tonga International Academy, was one of the authors and contributors of the publication. He said this special issue benefits the people of Pacific nations in multiple ways. “[The articles] deal with various aspects of reality, within and across types of disciplinary practices and forms of social activity. The people of Moana Oceania are equipped with knowledge and skills about nature, mind, and society. That is, they help make them see things both critically and clearly as they are in themselves and in terms of their use.”

Having published three times before in the journal, Mahina said people from around the world can also benefit from the collection. He said, “These essays demonstrate the fact that, as inseparable entities given in reality, ta and va are socially arranged in different ways across cultures. Like all ways of knowing reality, ta and va are Moana Oceania’s way of seeing the world, leaving the settlement of truth a separate matter.”

This publication marks the first collection of critical essays on Tavaism, according to Mahina, who said the subject has only been featured as chapters in a few books or articles in journals.

The journal began in 1977, meaning this publication marks its 40th year anniversary, according to Phillip McArthur, the dean of the College of Arts and Humanities who acts as chief editor of the publication. He said, “This is a multi-disciplinary journal devoted to the study of the peoples of the Pacific Islands. We publish scholarly manuscripts as well as occasional visual images and literary texts.

“This journal promotes the good name of the university throughout the region and globally. We have individual and institutional subscribers [like libraries] around the world, and we are registered among numerous publication indexes.

“Many from the academic community know about BYUH as the sponsoring institution through this publication. The number of individuals outside the BYUH system that utilize the journal is significant.”

Ka'ili said the significance of having this journal published here is it encourages students to research and publish. He said, “It encourages students to share their knowledge with the world. And that’s what you do when you come to universities. You learn, and then you share that knowledge, and disseminate that knowledge. That’s how we progress [in] education. Our textbooks are all based on other people’s research and things that they’ve done. That becomes the foundation for our knowledge.”

McArthur added, “Last year we were notified by the BYU Library in Provo, who hosts a site for all our back issues, that we are the first journal among all those they host to reach 250,000 hits in an annual quarter.”

It’s also important to become more aware of our perceptions of time-space, said Ka'ili. “We’re not aware that [my] particular culture’s arrangement of time-space is really impacting the way I’m doing things. What this theory does is it makes the idea of time-space more apparent so that you can think about it and say, ‘Oh, okay. This is what’s happening. This is why I have this.’ It’s metacognition in a way.”

The journal is also important because it offers indigenous knowledge, something Ka'ili said has become more valuable to the world. He said it’s important to introduce these concepts to the academic world.

Ka‘ili said, “There are people who have lived in a place for thousands of years and they have created their own knowledge system based on living in that place for a long time. This is indigenous knowledge coming out of people from Oceania who have lived there for thousands of years.

“You know, Albert Einstein wrote about his notion of time-space, and other physicists have written about it from a Western perspective. Now we’re writing about it from an Oceanic, indigenous perspective. And people from all over the world from South America to North America have their own indigenous way of thinking about the world that universities are now beginning to value.”

Date Published: 
Thursday, September 14, 2017
Last Edited: 
Thursday, September 14, 2017

NOTE: This story's online publication was delayed because it was going to be featured in the Sept. 2017 print issue. It was later removed per decision of the editors.