Thursday, May 24, 2007

Land ownership and oral tradition

Thanks for stopping by. I've been thinking more of what Walter Ong has written in 'Orality and Literacy' lately under the section of 'From Memory to Written Records'. I find what I'm reading as fascinating and resonates with current issues in the Pacific, especially with regards to land. In some parts of the Pacific, like Vanuatu, land is owned solely by people from Vanuatu. It is largely inherited, passed on from generation to generation. Others can lease the land for around 75 years (see Oxfam NZ report). Land disputes frequently come before chiefs, land councils and the courts. It's a problem. Land disputes traditionally are settled by what the claimants can say about the land in question, which has to do with ancestors, lineage, stories concerning the land and ancestors, and the language of the area. The oral memory is crucial to land ownership. In the last several years there has been a push to prove ownership with written records. It would be a major step toward a very different way of settling disputes and connection with one's land. Here, the story is more than something about the land, it is vital to the future of one's family. I'm not sure where the process is at the moment, but at the least it points to how one's story is one's identity in the Pacific. What got me thinking on this was this quote from Ong on page 97:
"Customary law, trimmed of material no longer of use, was automatically always up to date and thus youthful – a fact which paradoxically, makes customary law seem inevitable and thus very old (cf. Clanchy 1979, p. 233). Persons whose world view has been formed by high literacy need to remind themselves that in functionally oral cultures the past is not felt as an itemized terrain, peppered with verifiable and disputed ‘facts’ or bits of information. It is the domain of the ancestors, a resonant source for renewing awareness of present existence, which itself is not an itemized terrain either. Orality knows no lists or charts or figures.”

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