Saturday, September 24, 2011

Changing one's mindset...or not

I've been reading The Burning Island by Pamela Frierson. It's a book about the volcanoes of Hawai'i, and in it Frierson talks about: the geology, how Westerners bring their own perceptions of volcanoes to these volcano islands, and about the mythologies of Hawai'i.

Frierson realized, some time or other, that Westerners bring their own perceptions of volcanoes -- founded on the Abrahamic religions -- to Hawai'i, and that this colors our understanding of Hawai'i culture and the volcanoes there. She spends several chapters on this topic, and I would like to share with you just one example that she provides. This particular example is the below painting, and here's what she says of it: "Cole's painting, with its juxtaposition of wayward nature (the volcano) and wayward female (Eve) suggests to me that the volcano may symbolize something more than the wild -- perhaps unholy? -- side of nature" (91). I could probably spend a few paragraphs discussing this quote (there's a lot packed into it!), but the basic and relevant idea here is that, according to Western thought, volcanoes are wild, unholy, ungodly, destructive, and basically bad things.

"The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden" painted by Thomas Cole.

Frierson seems determined to avoid Western ideas of volcanoes, which I think is why she spends so much time discussing those ideas -- so that they can be recognized, acknowledged, and then ignored or extinguished. Only then can she/we really understanding Hawai'ian culture, mythology, and the volcanoes properly. So you can imagine how amused I was when she slipped into Christian terminology.

When discussing volcanic activity in 1868 Frierson says "These campers, if they had such dreams [of paradise], jolted awake to a living hell" (180). What is this if not reference to Christian mythology?

I guess this shows that when you grow up in one culture/mindset it is difficult to remove it completely from your thinking.

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