Robert Barclay Melal analysis

Document Type:Essay

Subject Area:Anthropology

Document 1

Rujen’s life, as Barclays portrays it shows the struggle that the people of Marshallese went through during the post-colonial period as he explores the political and social life during this period. Various themes of colonization, westernization, environmental degradation and loss of local culture are used to show how the Marshall Islands transform. Rujen’s life as an employee at a sewer plant and his two sons, one who holds to tradition and one who wants to be as American as he can be, are interesting depictions of the characters on the island. The United States testing of missiles in the Islands affected the people of the island due to the displacement and the medical effects of the nuclear testing. Although Rujen lost his wife due to cancer caused by the nuclear testing, he still embraces traditional practices of kinship, spirituality, identity, and subsistence as he observes the changes going on in his beloved homeland.

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Rujen also represents thousands of Marshallese people living in Ebeye Island, representing the highest population densities in the world. He is among the lucky few that work for the Americans on Kwajalein. There is practiced apartheid in the Pacific as entry into the Kwajalein Island is restricted to workers only. Additionally, the workers can only access the island during work only. Violators get hefty fines and other penalties. Despite the deplorable conditions, modernization has made a majority of Marshallese to love the land and even equate it to New York and other major cities across the world. Unlike rural atolls, Ebeye had electricity, beer, discos, and other modern facilities that signify the change of life from the rural setting to the modern forms of life for most Marshallese (Barclay 79).

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Within the missile plant where Rujen worked there is a lot of technological application that signify modernity. Scientific applications about the pH levels and issues of dilution are elaborated as Rujen tries to understand some of the chemical’s uses. The technology and scientific application shown in this plant were not available in the traditional Marshal Islands. Rujen’s superstition also depicts when he thinks of hs father’s spirit as the likely cause of his problems on this day. The description of Andy Thygerson, the supervisor also gives us a contrasting lifestyle of the Marshallese and the American. His dressing and walking style were all different from that of Rujen and the people at Ebeye. He was a drunk that always complained of hangover, never wanting anyone to switch on the lights in his office.

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Unlike the Marshallese, Andy was still single at forty. This made it uncomfortable for the elderly men to use the toilets in the presence of their children as it signified the loss of respect. Rujen and other men had the trouble of concealing their calls of nature due to the trouble and gossip that was eminent from the crowds. Despite breakdown of the sewage system sometimes, an alternative had to be sought for answering to the calls of nature even some place outside. This was a dangerous way of living as it increased the risk of the people of contracting diseases. As the population increased in the small island, there was increased tendency of pumping fresh sewage into the lagoon further affecting the lives of the people in the area.

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With the deplorable environmental conditions of the area, it was a place that not only had physical effects, but psychological ones as well. The events that happen on the fateful Good Friday in the Melal novel all point to the division between the Marshallese as they seem to have different feelings about their roots and the effects of modernization. Rujen’s sons Jebro and Nuke are a reflection of the division whereby some members wish to retrace their roots and others wish to adopt American lifestyles. Rujen seems to appreciate his culture after his humiliation incident at the Kwajalein Missile Range. There is a tussle in the spirit world as well as the trickster god Etao and dwarf demon Noniep argue over the direction of the universe.

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