The Sacred Remains: Myth History and Polity in Belau

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Based on two years of fieldwork in Belau, an Austronesian culture in western Micronesia, The Sacred Remains is an outstanding example of the new approach to ethnographic writing that challenges Western views of the history of non-Western societies.

Richard J. Parmentier employs semiotic methods to analyze both linguistic and nonlinguistic signs representing Belauan history, showing that these signs also organize social and political structures. He identifies four pervasive semiotic patterns that appear rhetorically in myths, chants, and historical narratives and graphically in the arrangement of certain classes of stones, including village boundary markers, burial platforms, exchange valuables, and monoliths found at abandoned sites in the islands.

While not neglecting historical evidence from Western sources, Parmentier contends that the history of Belau cannot be understood without taking into full account indigenous categories of space, time, and transformation and without recognizing the importance of Belauan social actions that construct, interpret, and transmit historical knowledge. Supporting his analysis of Belauan history with concrete ethnographic demonstration, Parmentier presents a work of central importance for Austronesianists, anthropologists, and historians.

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About the Author:

Richard J. Parmentier is assistant professor of sociology and anthropology at Smith College and research fellow at the Center for Psychological Studies.

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