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Ifaluk Previous | Next

To be updated!

Excerpted from Peaceful Societies.

World & Ecology

The 2000 census of Yap State recorded 561 people living on Ifaluk Island, a coral atoll in the Pacific Ocean nation of Federated States of Micronesia, which was formerly called the Caroline Islands.

The primary economic activities of the Ifaluk are fishing and gardening. According to the 2000 census, 89.3 percent of the adult population engage in subsistence activities.



Food, tobacco, and other goods on Ifaluk are shared; they are viewed as “our” food, “our” cigarettes, and so forth. The Ifaluk will share a cigarette around a group, divide one fish among many people if there is only one, and share the work of household tasks. The stingy person is disliked throughout the island as much as the hot-tempered one. People can’t give away as gifts these kinds of items, since they belong to everyone anyway, and anyone who tried to take credit for a gift of food would be condemned. On the other hand, clothing, bush knives, and certain personal possessions clearly belong to the individual.

Sense of Self

The Ifaluk do not have a fixed boundary between self and other, since people assume that it is natural to be influenced by the thoughts and feelings of others. They use the first person plural pronoun (we) in preference to the singular (I) a great deal: instead of saying, “I would like to do x with you,” they would say, “we should do x together.” They will use what Westerners might call the royal “we,” when the first person singular is implied in normal English usage. People are reluctant to set themselves apart from others or to indicate a desire to do something that does not involve other people.

Raising Children

The Ifaluk do not often discipline their children with physical punishment—they prefer lecturing to spanking. They fear that children who are hit could “go crazy,” kill themselves, or become aggressive. They teach their children proper values when they are about five or six, and they display song whenever the child misbehaves and metagu, fear, in the presence of strangers. To reinforce the feelings of metagu, adults teach children that a ghost will “get them” if they misbehave. Sometimes, one of the women, dressed up in a ghost costume, appears menacingly near the home threatening to eat the wayward child. The terrorized child quickly associates its antisocial and aggressive actions with its metagu and with the parents’ song.

Avoiding and Resolving Conflict

While interpersonal violence is almost nonexistent among the Ifaluk, whenever people do become justifiably angry, they recognize the possibility of aggression and they expect their mechanisms of self-control to prevent it. People will remind the angry person of island values: everyone will laugh at you if you fight; reject your angry feelings; remember that other family members will be frightened if you should fight. Noted emotional counselors will speak quietly, calmly, and politely, perhaps suggesting a solution to the problem or recommending that the angry person forget it. The object of the anger soon hears about it, becomes anxious and fearful about the situation, so apologies are given, fines are paid, or gifts are sent to restore the peace.

Strategies for Avoiding Warfare and Violence

One way the Ifaluk avoid violence is by fostering feelings of horror for it. On several occasions since World War II, United States Navy vessels stopped at the island and showed American films. The violence displayed in those movies–people being beaten and shot–panicked the islanders, terrifying some into illnesses that lasted for days. Many subsequently refused to watch American films. They constantly reviewed and talked about the violent scenarios, reinforcing their safety from violence. Their hierarchical social system and the benevolent authority of their chiefs also help maintain an almost complete absence of crime on the atoll.

But How Much Violence Do They Really Experience?

Edwin Burrows reported that during his six months on Ifaluk he never heard any expressions of anger, even when people had had too much to drink. The Ifaluk are as kindly and non-aggressive in actuality as they think they are. During the year that Catherine Lutz lived on Ifaluk, the most serious act of aggression was one man touching the shoulder of another—which resulted in a stiff fine. Betzig and Wichimai, in an article that questions Ifaluk peacefulness, indicate that there is one man alive who remembers his grandfather’s tale of the time he tried to sneak into a village after a woman, but he was intercepted, chased, and beaten by the villagers.

Time & History


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