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Spontoon Island "Custom"

Spontoon Island "Custom" and "Tourist Custom"

Many Spontoon Island cultural intitutions begin by 1899. Among these was a deliberate re-invention of the common history and mythology of the mixed set of plantation workers. The agreements for the shared mythological history (back-dated of course) were set up after debate and agreement among the "wise". They assumed that some sort of common cultural hertiage was necessary to defend against religious or political disruption. It was taught to kids in the same spirit as we teach about Santa Claus. It is the local religion in much the same way pro sports is for us.

Elements of "Custom" had started in the 1880s with tall tales for vistors and missionaries, and artifacts manufactured for anthropologists (amatuer and professional).Telling Outsiders (usually Europeans/North Americans) what they want to hear, moved from paranoia--to a huge shared joke--to a recreational pastime.

About 1926, after years of development by the Spontoon Island "natives", the growing tourist trade acted as a catalyst to develop the Spontoon Island national sport: "Customing" the tourists. Starting out as a created mythology of continuous occupation and shared culture among some very dissimilar plantation workers, it mutated as it was used to bullshit foreign politicians and Victorian anthropologists. Constructing artifacts was fun, artistic, and profitable! Good mythological story-telling could get you a free dinner! Tourists liked to be spoofed, and one could nudge them into respectable (or ridiculous) behavior!

During the 1920's developing "customs" became a growing pastime among the villagers on the main island with much thought going into the mutual interlocking mythology that would be necessary. By the mid-20's this included a lot of practice in what would be now called "historical re-inacting" of an idealized Polynesian culture (with some unusual elements of Philipine, Formosan, AmerIndian, and Icelandic culture mixed in!) Buildings and features of some of the villages were re-built to reflect this re-constructed history (the NW Coast Indian Villages on the north side of the main island being the most spectacular example, with totem poles and long houses.) Advice was sought from the original cultural peoples. Some were pleased, some were amused, some thought the effort to be a distasteful farce. (By the late 30's, many Polynesians who know the origin of  Spontoon "Custom" accept it as a creative art form. Anthropologists in the know, come to study the construction of the "custom" culture (and try to avoid being spoofed!))

Euros and tourists are actively discouraged from visiting the main island--the whole "custom" culture would be shadowy and unknown in detail, except for the coming of the tour boats and tourist resorts. It became too tempting to display the "custom" culture to the tourists. One village on the south side of  South Island was started just to be a "Custom" village for the entertainment of the "native" population.The tourists were the entertainment. The Islanders enjoyed playing the role and watching the tourists believe it. The Dance Schools on Casino Island, open to casual tourists or dedicated students, are evolved from early "Custom" schools for the Islanders only. The "Custom" role-play has become part of the relations most natives have with any outsiders now. The local Euro community has some very mixed reactions when they come to live among the Islanders and discover how "Custom" works! Your car mechanic looks forward to her 3-days-a-week at one of the South Island resorts, becoming the local Moon Priestess! When a visitor sees through the usually benevolent role-play, an Islander would prefer to have the surface play continue as a shared joke. Many visitors have trouble recognizing an Islander they've met, if the islander is not costumed and playing "tourist custom".

Skill at doing "custom" is one of the reasons Spontoon Island has ended up being a major location for motion pictures. The Islander "extras" are happy to practice modifying their Polynesian identity to fit a Hollywood script. Those who choose to grow up in tourist "custom" usually make comfortable, natural entertainers.

October 1998--Ken Fletcher
This material is granted to public domain.
Published in Spontoon Island Guidebook 2 in October 1998