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The Meaning of Mo:Place, Power, and Taboo in the Marshall Islands

Ahlgren, Ingrid Ann

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In the early 21st century, the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) published its national conservation plan, which is explicitly guided by the local concept of mo. The claim has been made that mo, a term possibly cognate with comparable concepts such as tapu / taboo / tambu / kapu elsewhere in Oceania, is a traditional conservation practice. Ethnographic and historical evidence gathered for this thesis suggests that mo, both in its historical and...[Show more]

dc.contributor.authorAhlgren, Ingrid Ann
dc.date.accessioned2017-04-20T00:08:50Z
dc.date.available2017-04-20T00:08:50Z
dc.identifier.otherb43751544
dc.identifier.urihttp://hdl.handle.net/1885/116113
dc.description.abstractIn the early 21st century, the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) published its national conservation plan, which is explicitly guided by the local concept of mo. The claim has been made that mo, a term possibly cognate with comparable concepts such as tapu / taboo / tambu / kapu elsewhere in Oceania, is a traditional conservation practice. Ethnographic and historical evidence gathered for this thesis suggests that mo, both in its historical and contemporary imaginings, is distorted by this conservation framing, and instead encompasses a diverse variety of places, resources, practices, and beliefs concerning chiefly spaces as well as dangerous elements and beings. This thesis presents the first in-depth study of taboo (mo) in the Marshall Islands, focusing on traditional and contemporary notions of place-based mo in order to understand its possible relationship to conservation logics and sacred ecologies. The broad concept of mo is considered within the context of three debates concerning: human-environment relations; the institution and ideology of chiefly authority; and existing interpretations of taboo in Oceania. External and local perceptions of the atoll environment, social relations, and spiritual organization are presented in order to appreciate and assess explanations for the variations and ambiguities observed across four atolls subject to intensive study. While the notion of mo as a conservation practice within a setting of limited resources is found to be unsatisfactory, this thesis suggests that the indigenous logic of mo is fundamentally relational. The belief-practice system of mo is best understood in terms of a cosmological pluralism that maps and guides relationships between human beings, the spiritual world, and the biophysical environment. Variations and ambiguities persist in defining, conceiving of, and practicing mo in the Marshall Islands today because ambiguities also exist in the spheres of spiritual ecology and chiefly authority, spheres which have experienced periods of tremendous social and environmental change. Today, as in the past, mo is identified contextually in terms of the significance of particular historical events or phenomena, but its meaning is also being constantly reshaped for contemporary purposes. In addition to locating and illuminating mo within the spectrum of studies of taboo in Oceania, this study also considers the intersections and integrations of indigenous peoples and practices in conservation programs at a global level. Where attempts to simplify, codify, and re-instate various taboo practices with conservation ends in mind can prove difficult for many stakeholders, an appreciation of the complex and flexible nature and application of taboo is essential to such a task. Recognition of an interactive pluralism within conservation and development discourses prevents narrow misappropriations of traditional values and customs, while defining allowable contact between complex sets of actors.
dc.language.isoen
dc.subjectTraditional Ecological Knowledge
dc.subjectTaboo
dc.subjectTabu
dc.subjectMarshall Islands
dc.subjectMicronesia
dc.subjectOceania
dc.subjectSacred Ecology
dc.subjectIndigenous Conservation
dc.subjectHuman-Environment Relations
dc.subjectChiefly Authority
dc.titleThe Meaning of Mo:Place, Power, and Taboo in the Marshall Islands
dc.typeThesis (PhD)
local.contributor.supervisorFiler, Colin
local.contributor.supervisorcontactcolin.filer@anu.edu.au
dcterms.valid2017
local.description.notesThe author deposited 20/04/17
local.type.degreeDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)
dc.date.issued2016
local.contributor.affiliationDepartment of Resources, Environment and Development, ANU College of Asia Pacific, The Australian National University
local.identifier.doi10.25911/5d70f0d84911b
local.mintdoimint
CollectionsOpen Access Theses

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