Kihleng, Emelihter
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
The title of my Honors thesis, Saledek, is a Pohnpeian word that expresses a way of thinking about the world. To be saledek is to be free in the truest sense of the word: free to laugh, free to go and do as one pleases, a carefree state of being that for Pohnpeians does not exist outside of Pohnpei. Pohnpeians often use the phrase "Pohnpei sapw saledek," meaning Pohnpei is the land to be free. When I conducted my oral history interviews in Pohnpei, the people I interviewed would on numerous occasions say that they returned to Pohnpei after living away because Pohnpei is saledek. They meant that on their island they are free from the demands of a capitalist economy, such as that found in the U.S.. In Pohnpei, most indigenous Pohnpeians don't have to pay rent or engage in wage labor, and therefore are free to live as Pohnpeians in their own land. At home, Pohnpeians also have the support of the extended family and their larger community. However, in many ways this freedom is not an everyday reality in contemporary Pohnpeian society; perhaps it is more a state of mind. Many of the people I know would say that they enjoy living in Pohnpei because it is saledek, and in the next sentence say that they miss making their own money. These statements provide insights into many things about life in Pohnpei today and also reveal a tension that results from the ways in which the island has been influenced by its long colonial association with the U.S.. Pohnpeians cannot be saledek when living in a capitalist economy although even in Pohnpei, a person needs some form of money to survive.
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