I have been passing the time by the pool reading Pacific by Simon Winchester which is an excellent easy read. It looks at the Pacific region through the prism of select historical events – everything from the invention of surfing to the looming clash between the US and China. Whilst reading the section on the history surfing one phrase caught my eye. Over the years there had been much debate as to both the origin of the Polynesian people and their habit if grabbing a large plank of wood and riding waves with it. As to the origin of the Polynesians those of us who are old enough will remember growing up and hearing stories of the efforts of Thor Heyerdahl and his Kon-Tiki expeditions that attempted to add weight to the hypothesis that Polynesians as descended from sea faring South Americans. Along with this it had long been claimed by Peruvian anchovy fisherman that they had invented surfing based upon the fact that the sit astride small boats constructed of reeds to check their nets.
Unfortunately for Heyerdahl DNA testing has shown that Polynesian was settled by Asia and that surfing is a uniquely Polynesian invention. In pointing out that surfing was not invented by Peruvian anchovy fisherman the fisherman had their last amulet of worth removed from them. This phrase has stuck with me as being immensely sad since it indicates that these people had nothing else to cling to from which to derive the currency of their identity. What makes this statement poignant is that I see it in people – I see it in people whose only currency is their physical appearance or their athletic ability. These things are granted to us courtesy of the flowering of youth and the sweetness of youth turns bitter for all us at some stage. None are immune from the relentless flight of times arrow in only one direction.
This got me thinking about the need for identity to be malleable and based upon a multifaceted approach to life. It also got me thinking as to whether my own approach to life and therefore identity was too one-dimensional .