Don’t knock, just walk in – open door policy

When it comes to tribal etiquette it’s a good idea not to assume that what we do in our culture is appropriate in another culture. This is very true when you want to enter someone’s house in the tribe. Now you might think, “What’s the big deal with that?” Well, it’s a big deal in any culture, but let’s talk about our culture first. When you approach a house in our culture you go to the front door and ring the door bell or knock so that the people inside can hear you. If no one responds by coming to the door you leave because not to do so would communicate ill intentions. Only if you are a very close relative might you be able to enter the house with a quick knock announcing, “I’m here, it’s just me!” But in our culture, very few people have that right. Most likely a grown son or daughter in most cases.

Tribal culture is completely the opposite. When I was learning the tribal language and culture the most useless thing I learned was, “Ane wiyeme filane nai?” Or “may I come in?” This was useless because you don’t need to announce your arrival or ask to enter a house; just go in. Tribal culture is open door meaning that you don’t ask to enter someone’s home. Initially I was apprehensive to walk in without asking, but I soon learned that to do otherwise meant ill intentions – completely the opposite from my culture!! You see, someone that wants to steal always checks to see if someone is home by asking to come in. It’s okay to just walk in a tribal home because their homes just aren’t private like ours. Their homes don’t have bathrooms, bedrooms or other private things that homes do in our culture. Therefore, just walk in and don’t feel like you’re being a criminal!


Biodegradable Culture

Tribal culture is traditional based on a biodegradable way of life. Now it’s no secret in our culture that we have some issues with our non-biodegradable waste. We have so much garage in our culture that billions of dollars are spent trying to manage all that we don’t consume! The classic example is the plastic bag. We use these and discard these on a daily basis. We have other plastic waste issues and my least favorite is what I call the “duck trap”. You know, the plastic deal around Coke bottles that’s really handy… until you drink all your Coke and you’re left with a plastic ring that’s thrown in the garbage. I always cut the things up before I toss them.

Tribal culture has a lot to offer us about waste management because their culture is completely biodegradable. Whether it’s housing materials or what they wrap their food in, when discarded everything is biodegradable. The people make a durable long lasting bag which is woven from a particular tree bark in their forest. What they do is strip off the tree bark and then peel off the inside fibers of the bark. When they have stripped off what they need, they roll the fibers together into string. From there they weave bags that are used to carry everything from babies to firewood and anything else they need to carry. When the bags become worn out and need to be discarded, the people will either throw them away or first use them to rub down a new canoe in order to water seal it. Which ever they decide, the bags will break down and become biodegradable. This is just one example of everything in their culture being biodegradable.

Now, back to the plastic bag issue. Today in the ocean there is a ginormous problem with plastic waste. I believe the reason for this is that many developing nations that now have access to plastic for carrying food or other store-bought items don’t realize that the plastic isn’t like their traditional items that are truly biodegradable. In their minds when they throw something like a plastic bag away, it’s just the same as a leaf wrapping on their food that they used to throw away. Unfortunately, the plastic doesn’t break down and disappear and therefore our oceans are full of non-biodegradable waste!! It’s really that simple.

Tribal kinship can be very confusing at times to an outsider. I imagine part of the reason for this confusion is the fact that western cultures have many relationships that are not part of our family line. In tradition tribal culture every connection was a relative of some sort. Before contact with the outside world, the only connections tribes had were with family or relatives; outside of those connections were enemies – that would eat you, literally. It always amazed me when a visitor showed up in the village, people knew exactly what to call the individual. It was either father, uncle, cousin, grandfather or my favorite Hamaru (two men that  married sisters would call each other this). We were adopted into a family line and soon were addressed by a kinship term in accordance with the family line that adopted us. I was addressed as yeti (brother), owai (grandfather), ofei (cousin), eite (father) and neise (brother-in-law). We learned in our language and culture acquisition that the tribe didn’t even have a word for “friend” because they knew how they were related to everyone they ever came in contact with. As the tribe’s horizons began to expand to the outside world, they had to build a word for friend in order for others to understand that the relationship was not through kin, but just a friend. The term they came up with is nati feni feni a’i or “our grandfathers were brothers two sides removed”!! When a non-relative would come visit us in the village, it took time for the tribal people to understand the concept of friend because in their culture they were literally related to everyone they ever knew!