People of Taumako, a Polynesian community in the Solomon Islands, employ a variety of spatial models, some binary and linear, others concentric or radial. The existence of multiple models means that individuals, as they confront the challenges of daily life, must choose among alternatives and draw upon whichever ones appear most helpful at the moment. But utility depends on judgment, memory, and the selective focus of attention. Consequently, spatial understandings differ from person to person and, sometimes, in the same person from one occasion to another, highlighting the complex expression of spatial cultures in everyday contexts. As is true elsewhere, social and spatial cognition, to a degree, are intertwined. Perhaps owing to a relatively egalitarian political and social structure, however, the connection between spatial symbolism and social structure on Taumako seems attenuated. Moreover, “radiality” assumes a multiplicity of shapes and does not represent social hierarchy among the Taumako, as it does in such hierarchically ordered societies as Samoa.
Limitations of Language for Conveying Navigational Knowledge: Way-Finding in the Southeastern Solomon Islands06/01/2012
Investigators have tended to view navigation either through the lens of cognition or of experience and embodiment. The cognitive approach assumes that perceptually salient aspects of the environment are mapped and retrieved in the mind (so-called cognitive mapping). The alternative is that navigators “feel” their way by ongoing sensations of movement, assessing their position through the sequential, temporal order in which salient environmental information is perceived. Recently, others have challenged models of knowledge that analytically separate cognitive and experiential modalities of knowing, suggesting that the navigator combines cognitive with visual, auditory, and kinesthetic information into an integrated whole. Such a holistic approach to spatial orientation and way-finding raises an important methodological challenge to cognitive anthropology, as certain forms of knowledge are not easily expressed in words. This is particularly true of kinesthetic knowledge of a canoe's motion, which provides navigators with an indirect assessment of wave patterns. Here, we explore one of the authors’ observations during a voyage with a demonstrably accomplished navigator from the Solomon Islands’ Temotu Province who, nonetheless, appeared to provide inconsistent and self-contradictory accounts of his surroundings and performance.