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Changes in Latitude: An Uncommon…

Changes in Latitude: An Uncommon Anthropology

by Joana McIntyre Varawa

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At a point in her life when she might just as well have been contemplating a relaxing retirement, Joan McIntyre longed for something else. She’d raised a son, started an international foundation concerned with saving whales and written two books, among other accomplishments, but nothing felt satisfying. Following a friend’s suggestion that she visit Fiji, where the wild and exotic “old ways” were still practiced, McIntyre set off in search of the rest of her life.

What she found, most notably, was a husband – but banish visions of tropical drinks on balconies in the romantic glow of the Fijian sunset. Romance had nothing to do with the pairing of Male and Joana, her name transformed into one more easily pronounced by her new family. Male was half her age, violent of temper but eager to obey his father, who decreed Male marry Joana because of the wealth she could bring their village. Despite warnings that Male was a bad man, Joana considers: “It all seemed so strange and yet so forthright. My offhand remark . . . had already brought me an offer of marriage. No one in the last twenty years had offered to marry me. I was intrigued.”

She accepts Male’s offer, and settles into her new role as Fijian wife, although frailer: her lack of physical strength and inability to do the hard physical work required of most wives is noted, and is attributed to the fact that she is not Fijian, rather than to her age (which may or may not be a factor). The age difference is barely discussed, interestingly, overshadowed in McIntyre’s view by the cultural differences that make up the basis for the story of this marriage. Given the overt economic basis for the marriage, this may not have been seen as an issue by anyone.

Marriage to Male includes not infrequent visits from the tevoro, the demon that inhabits Male when he is angry or cannot have what he wants, and sometimes visits his dreams. The tevoro possesses; a man does not know what he is doing. Joana describes a harrowing incident in which Male, possessed by the tevoro and holding a carving knife, seems poised to butcher one or the other of them after Joana’s refusal to give him a bottle of rum that she’d bought for the two of them to drink together; Male wanted to drink it with his cousins. Alcohol, yaqona (a mildly sedative drink, always consumed as part of a ritual), the cousins who are preferable companions to herself, her own steadfast role as an outsider, always, and as someone who is valued for the monetary contribution she can make to the village, the physical hardship – all of this is considered, as is the question of what the marriage really is to her: “I see it more clearly with Male than with any other lover, for he has little skill or interest in the complicated psychological game Americans often mistake for relationship; and instead of participating, he just gets dense and goes outside. Joking with cousins is preferable to trying to answer the elusive question – do you love me? . . . I believe that if Male and I can construct a love together – for it is definitely a construction and not a gift – then, in fact, it will be love, and not the blind panic I have previously experienced under that name.”

The book is subtitled “An Uncommon Anthropology,” and Joana, with an anthropology degree herself, remarks on the limitations of her education: “Anthropology course hardly ever mentioned flies or boils or staph infections. They were strangely silent about toilets and garbage disposal. Culture was folklore, kinship and rituals. There was no mention of heads of patriarchal clans chasing their daughters around in the middle of the night with a stick because they had forgotten to bring the water.” Anthropology is not the same field as it was when Joana wrote these words, but the distance between lived experience and an academic field, even one that takes as its subject matter the lived experience, is still considerable. Does appropriating “Anthropology” to subtitle her book give it more gravitas than it might have as simply a memoir? She provides a complex picture of another culture, describing the practices and rituals of village life sensitively and from the view of the outsider who participates. Somewhere between anthropologist and wife, Joana McIntyre Varawa has created a unique life.
  bellaluna | Sep 30, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060973196, Paperback)

In search of a new life and new horizons, fifty-four-year-old Joana McIntyre uproots her life as a Hawaiian outisland harbormaster to pursue her dream of a tropical paradise. Here two-week vacation becomes a courageous journey of self-discovery as she meets, and eventually marries, Malé Varawa, a dark, handsome Fijian fisherman nearly half her age; confronts the physical and emotional hardships of her new existence; struggles to bridges the barriers of age and cultural expectations; and learns to cross the channel between her desires and the reality of Fijian life.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:52 -0400)

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