Custom «Violence and War or Peace, the Tahitian Answer to Conflict» Essay Paper Sample

Violence and War or Peace, the Tahitian Answer to Conflict


Tahiti is one of the islands that belong to archipelago of French Polynesia. Everybody knows people living on this island as Tahitians and they are considered as very peaceful society. However, it was not so in the past. In 1767, when a British navigator anchored his ship at the island of Tahiti, he found that a hierarchical society lived there. Society was accustomed to conflicts and frequently had wars due to the constant struggles for religious and political influence (Smith, n.d.). In the beginning of the 19th century, Protestant missionaries sent by the British missionary society managed to get friendship with the Tahitian leadership. The chief acknowledged the spiritual contribution of Protestant missionaries to Tahitian society. He noted that the word of God changed mind of Tahitian people, and thus prevented them from human sacrifices, infant murder, and wars (Murphy, 2011, p. 461). Since then, Tahitian society has become very peaceful in nature. This research will explain why Tahitian society has chosen peaceful ways for conflict resolution instead of violence and war. It will also describe how Tahitians behave in conflicting situations. 

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The Origins of Peacefulness

Traditional Tahitian society is not aggressive, and Tahitians do not tend to show open hostility. Conflicts happen very rarely, and if they do, Tahitians attempt to resolve it as soon as possible. The people usually show gentleness and kindness towards each other, including visitors. Their beliefs cause them to be reluctant to control the nature or people’s behavior. Tahitians are convinced that attempts to struggle against the nature of reality will inevitably create a rebound that can ruin the initiator (“Peaceful Societies”, n.d.). While the people’s attitude seems fatalistic, they are optimists in nature. Their worldview is more positive cognitively than the view where persons think they can change many things in their lives. Such a philosophical attitude allows Tahitians to relax in conflicting and other stressful situations.

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However, learning of this attitude is not very easy, and it usually starts in childhood. During the first two years of a child’s life, Tahitians cherish their babies and give them much attention. Later, children do not receive much care from people, and they often respond by making temper tantrums. Soon, children discover that their attempts to rebel, evade, or subvert are powerless. They still receive care from their parents but cease to get attention when they are in public. As the children overgrow such a painful stage, they think that social frustrations occur because of bad behavior of their entire community. However, Tahitians provide such training for children for a purpose. It helps children to learn that resisting or altering social realities is useless. This training also allows children to learn avoiding aggression since it could result in antisocial or rebellious behavior in the community. Although Tahitian culture is rather tolerant to short explosions of anger by children, adults discourage long lasting manifestations of aggression or hostile behavior. Thus, Tahitians learn to behave without conflicts from the very childhood (“Peaceful Societies”, n.d.).

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Tahitian people have a shy culture. They do not tend to exaggerate their pride or importance. Often, they try to humble themselves and avoid standing out. This behavior can be explained by the influence of Christianity in Tahiti for a long period of time. In the past, many missionaries made a big effort in promoting literacy. This effort resulted in eradication of human sacrifice, cannibalism, and infanticide. Translation of the Bible was also a contribution of the missionaries into Tahitian culture. As a result, the morality of Tahitians has been under considerable Christian influence.

These cultural and religious factors also resulted in personality changes among Tahitians. The personality changes related to moral behavior include a greater manifestation of shame and guilt. Shame and guilt are powerful restrainers that influence social behavior and culture in Tahiti. They contribute to restraining anger and avoiding conflicts significantly (Levy, 1973, p. 354).

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The Strategies of Avoiding and Resolving Conflicts

Usually, Tahitians tend to avoid conflicts and show a great deal of patience toward each other. When conflicts occur, people involved in it, try to defuse tension as soon as possible. They do not keep hostile feelings inside but bring their emotions out into the open. Among the Tahitians, there is a belief that accumulation and the following explosions of anger can provoke the ancestors’ spirits to retaliate and ruin the angry person. They have a conviction that any emotional or physical reaction extending beyond the short expression of anger in a verbal way is wrong. Moreover, they believe that overreaction can be dangerous to the individual who harbors negative feelings. Indeed, emotional overreaction may lead to psychological disorders. To prevent these health problems, Tahitians have expanded their vocabulary to express nuances of their aggression and hostility.

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When conflicts arise, Tahitians find different ways to express their hostile feelings. Withdrawal, teasing, and gossip allow these people to release their negative feelings. Usually, they do it through dramatic events with a great care. The organization Peaceful Societies (n.d.) described it in the following way:

When an audience of bystanders is present, they can give vent to dissatisfaction, shame, fury, anger and other emotions various kinds of violent actions that do not harm anyone. For instance, a man who is furious at his wife could dramatically set fire to a pile of coconut thatching – though located at a safe distance from houses.

Tahitian men also manage to control their aggression when they drink alcohol. They do not appear to show more hostility than when they are sober, at least in public places. Sometimes, fights or any other forms of violence occur while Tahitians drink privately at home. However, even then, they try to avoid hurting each other.

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Moreover, Tahitians consider manifestations of fury or aggression to be unnatural and destructive. To deal with anger, they use various avoidance strategies. These strategies may include restraining anger, talking out frustrations and problems, expressing issues in a verbal way. If Tahitians do express their negative emotions in a physical fashion, it is rather symbolic than real. In the worst-case scenario, Tahitian men may channel their aggression into touching each other. However, they will surely avoid real violence and will not hurt each other.

Some Modern Challenges to Tahitian Culture and Customs

Translation of the Bible mentioned before also had a far-reaching effect on Tahitian culture that contributed to the human qualities like patience and sacrifice. Robert Levy, in his book Tahitians: Mind and Experience, wrote about Tahitian’s adoption of change-oriented culture. There happened a paradoxical situation when an ongoing change was first criticized but then, it has become culturally accepted and approved. This shift has happened under the influence of the biblical story about Abraham who showed his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac. At first glance, this act seemed absolutely unacceptable and evil. However, the act of Abraham served for a higher goal – obedience to God. The example of Abraham inspired Tahitians to accept ongoing changes in their society without taking grudge, and to prevent anger that might be caused by those changes. This is how Robert Levy (1973) explains this cultural phenomenon,

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If one is involved in change, in making something new happen, one must be able to ignore the short-term balances and orientations related to shame and embarrassment and some of the regulators – laws, taboos, disapproval, as well as empathy and pity – of peaceful system maintenance. (p. 352)

This shift was challenging for the majority of Tahitians, as it was not always clear when they could violate their peaceful system maintenance and when the violation was unacceptable. Now, the moral emphasis began to direct Tahitians from acts to their intentions. Since Abraham’s intention was not actually to slay his son Isaac but to demonstrate obedience to God, he could not be judged by the traditional concerns of hurt caused to other people. In the same manner, Tahitians have been challenged to make their judgment considering their motivations, not only actions. However, it is questionable if a group of men has a moral right to raise such challenges before Tahitian society. The shift of moral emphasis from acts to intentions or motivations may lead to negative consequences in morality of society, as the intentions of men cannot be validated. The acts of Tahitians are open to society’s judgment but the intentions and motivations are not. Thus, cultural approval to behave on motivational model may lead to open aggression and hostility among Tahitians. This model may also tempt Tahitians to go back to old ancestral practices of infanticide and cannibalism. The cultural model where hostility and wars are discouraged seems more preferable.

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In the beginning of the 19th century in traditional Tahitian society, there happened a shift from aggressive behavior to avoidance of conflicts. Tahitian people are not aggressive in their nature anymore. They have adopted many cultural practices that discourage manifestation of open hostility. The important role in this cultural change can be attributed to the efforts of Christian missionaries. Biblical teachings influenced minds of Tahitian people and helped them to control their behavior avoiding unnecessary conflicts and remain kind and friendly.

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