Cultural Encounters: A Journal For The Theology Of Culture Volume 11 Number 2 (Summer 2016) - Page 102

FOOD, CULTURE, AND THE ACT OF EATING - Nokar Food as a Symbol of Joy and Life The second reason food is involved in every aspect of Chuukese culture is because it symbolizes joy and life. When Chuukese people are happy, they express it by lavishly sharing food with others. Just as the abundance of wine symbolizes the abundance of joy in the Hebrew culture,2 the abundance of food symbolizes abundant joy in our culture. Conversely, when Chuukese people grieve, they refrain from eating food and close off their food sources on both land and sea from the rest of the community. Sorrow is expressed in abstaining from food. Thus, the availability of food to share together within a community expresses the joy that is felt within the heart of that community. For this reason, food is also the means by which hospitality is expressed in Chuukese culture. People express joy they feel towards their guests with food, and to reject such a gesture of hospitality is considered offensive. In brief, hospitality is highly valued within Chuukese culture so much so that, on the one hand, neglecting a person while being one’s guest is unthinkable and brings shame to the host. On the other hand, treating one’s guest with warmth and care is considered a great honor. Accordingly, Chuukese people delight in sharing food with their guest because they are honored to have the person as their guest. As a matter of fact, it is the joy and pride of a Chuukese person to give his or her food to his or her guests—especially when that means he or she will be without food in the next few days. A Chuukese person would rather starve to ensure that his or her guest is well taken care of, than to let his or her guest go hungry or feel unwelcomed in any way. To illustrate, a typical way hospitality is expressed is seen in the following account: a pastor was invited to speak at a church on another island so he took his boat and went to this island. Throughout the three days that he stayed on that island, they served him breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Although he could not eat any more, still they brought some more food in case he wanted to eat in-between meals. When the day came for him to return to his own island, they filled up his boat and three other boats with more food and sent him home with them. While this may sound strange to some, this is really the Chuukese people’s way of expressing happiness and hospitality. Food also symbolizes life in Chuukese culture. Sharing food with another person is sharing life with that person. For the Chuukese people, food is our livelihood. When we speak of food, we are speaking of the lives that are and will be sustained by it: the lives of our present generation and the lives of the 2. See G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, eds. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 431. 99