How My Anthropological Research in Polynesia Morphed into Community Engagement

October 13, 2022

Rick Feinberg

Since my doctoral fieldwork in 1972 – 73, I have been connected to Anuta, a remote Polynesian community in the Solomon Islands. Over that time I’ve studied topics that range from language and kinship to navigation and voyaging. I’ll discuss how I became connected to Anuta (following a suggestion by Raymond Firth), how the topics I’ve explored are tied together, and my development of a lasting personal connection to the island and its people. That connection has led to my son being installed as a ‘chief’ and my establishment of a small fund to aid young Anutans who must travel overseas to continue their education beyond sixth grade. Administration of the fund, in turn, has led to a surprising-often exasperating; sometimes amusing-set of further adventures.

The two accompanying photos show: (1) me in 1972 attempting to call the administrative center on a short-wave radio powered by a hand-crank generator, and (2) Mark Rongokavea in 2020, dressed in cap and gown, upon graduation from medical school in Fiji with assistance from the Anuta Scholarship Fund.

Richard (Rick) Feinberg grew up in Queens, New York, attended the University of California, Berkeley, and earned graduate degrees from the University of Chicago. He completed his doctorate in 1974 and was a faculty member at Kent State University until retirement in 2018. He served for two decades on Kent State’s faculty senate, including one year as chair. He has conducted research on remote Polynesian islands of the western Pacific, with the Navajo of the southwestern US, and in a semi- rural community near his Ohio home. He currently is president on the Kent State University Retirees’ Association. He serves on the executive boards of the Fulbright Association’s Northeast Ohio chapter and of Folknet, an organization promoting traditional Americana music. In 2019, he was Fulbright distinguished chair of anthropology at Palacký University, Olomouc, in the Czech Republic. Last year, he joined the Association of Senior Anthropologists’ executive board.