The Slug of Modernity: Economic and Cultural Entanglement on Pohnpei, 1844-2019

Jonathan Gourlay, Salve Regina University


Two stories: in one, the author opens a small store on the island of Pohnpei in Micronesia at the turn of the 20th century. In the other, a trader in the 1840s, Shetlander Andrew Cheyne, attempts to build a sea cucumber curing station on the same island. The connections between these stories serve as frames through which to investigate the meaning of modernity and how it changes, or doesn't, traditional cultures. Using anthropology, economics, philosophy, and history, The Slug of Modernity describes the gift-based traditional culture of Pohnpei and its centuries-long clash with the technology of capitalism. Heidegger's ideas regarding technology and its toll on human freedom serve as a means of understanding the consequences of this entanglement of cultures and economies. The study uses narrative to describe the social reality of what it was like to be on Pohnpei in the 19th and 20th centuries. What did it mean to be sea-cucumber trader Capt. Andrew Cheyne in 1843? To be a Pohnpeian when his ship sailed to your harbor? What happened in the moment before sea cucumber and human alike became commodities, when cultures and economies met and mixed? The logbooks of Capt. Cheyne, Pohnpeian folklore, Shetland island history, and the United States' approach to governing Micronesia after World War II combine to paint a complex picture of very different ways of organizing society and show how this conversation between cultures, between ways of being human, has continued from 1844 to the present day.

Subject Area

Cultural anthropology|Economics|History of Oceania

Recommended Citation

Gourlay, Jonathan, "The Slug of Modernity: Economic and Cultural Entanglement on Pohnpei, 1844-2019" (2019). Doctoral Dissertations. AAI13866091.

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