The cultural symbolism and traditional outlook of the native people are the important concerns of the contemporary scientists. The question whether native people still invent their traditions is solved through two fundamentally different approaches. According to the first approach, established by Roger M. Keesing, indigenous people across the Pacific still create and evoke visions of the past. The second approach, illustrated by Haunani-Kay Trask, is focused on the critics of Keesing’s statements and emphasis on the great cultural diversity of the Pacific native people. Despite Trask’s harsh criticism, the arguments about customs and traditions of the natives by Keesing seem to be reliable, as they demonstrate their connection to the actual life and glorified precolonial past.
Keesing makes the emphasis on the differences between precolonial era, the epoch of colonization, and the period after colonization in the Pacific. The researcher insists on the different perception of the self, customs and traditions among the Pacific peoples. Keesing investigates political mythmaking of cntemporary Melanesia, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, where the rhetoric of custom is the strongest within the Pacific postcolonial state. Competition for state resources and political power lead to regional separatism and secessionist demands. As a result, people form customary unity that appeals to a common cultural heritage. Customs and traditions of the region are aimed at resolving the contradictions between Christianity and ancestral ways as well. The people of Malaita establish the myth that backs the tribe to ancestors and codifies the traditional rules to distinguish themselves from the Christians.
People of contemporary Melanesia have their paramount chiefs and traditional leaders who are stronger and more powerful than in precolonial times. Contrast to the past, native people have the system of chiefly authority and hereditary rank today. Political struggles against Christianity and alien law make the pagan Kwaio people from central Malaita to advance their customs to the level of ideology. New senses and traditions established by the native people are the way to recapture their own past today. Skepticism and self-reflexivity are the main issues used for scholarly expertise in the Pacific. Both the construction of their past and present traditions are not sacrosanct and are the elements of continuing dialogue and further dialectic.
Haunani-Kay Trask opposes Keesing’s arguments as based on white superiority and academic colonialism. Trask disagrees with the statements about the routes of the new traditions invented by the native people of the Pacific. The new traditions are not aimed at political mythmaking and opposing Christianity. Trask insists that there is no common background for all the natives from the Pacific. Keesing is wrong considering the modern Natives of Hawaiians maha’oi haole. Trask insists on the poverty of sources Keesing uses, his ignorance in cultural and political diversity the Pacific and Hawaiian people have. Trask is focused on offensive claims that Keesing uses regarding the Hawaiian people. “Haole”, “search for primitive”, “simple, unambiguous reality”, etc. may confirm Kessing’s superior attitude to the native people of the Pacific. The main argument provided by Trask is that orientation of the Hawaiian is that they stay in present practically, while the future is always unknown and the past is rich in glory and knowledge.
The arguments provided by Keesing seem to be credible and respectful in comparison to Trask’s criticism. Keesing is focused on the native perception of own self, their customs and traditions linked to the time they live in. According to Keesing, the Pacific natives still invent traditions and transform their outlook regarding the problems, cultural and political diversity they face. Political mythmaking is not an offensive term, but means the unity of the new customs and traditions invented by the modern natives after European colonization.