Mote's Story

Mike Lieber (U28550@UICVM.BITNET)
Sun, 12 Mar 1995 11:53:00 CST

I was a grad student doing my disstertation research when I first met Mote.
I had already worked for 5 months in the Kapingamarangi community on Pohnpei
Island and could speak Kapingamarangi at the time I first got to Kapingamarangi
Atoll (on the government ship). I already knew who he was from reading
Kenneth Emory's book and from the many stories Kapinga people told about him.
Mote was one of the first people I met as I got off the ship, as he grabbed my
hand and spoke his rapid and nearly unintlligible English. He was an old man
by then with a full and articulate repoertoire of English curses, which he
never tired of using on me.

Mote was from Nukuoro Atoll, the only other Polynesian atoll in Micronesia, 164
miles north of Kapingamarangi. He had married a Kapinga woman before World War
II and had lived on Kapingamarangi ever since. In many ways, he was a typical
Nukuoro--very bright, mentally quick, with a rough charm and a ready wit. He
was also a con man of the first order. I had collected a pile of stories about
the many schemes for making quick profits that he had proposed to various
people, duping them out of money, tools, utensils, food, produce, and just
about anything else that could be of possible use to anyone. He did his
numbers on me as he had everyone else, but as I reminded him of some past con,
he'd drop it and call me "Son of a bis," whereupon I would appear to be cut to
the quick, which gave him some satisfaction as he stamped off.

In 1950, while Kenneth Emory was completing his research on Kapingamarangi,
people seem to have had enough of Mote's cons. The men's house meetings were
rife with proposals to get rid of Mote, and finally, the pressure on the
chief, King Tuiai, was too much. At a monthly community meeting, the proposal
to deport Mote back to Nukuoro was floated, and it seemed that victims of his
schemes came out of the (breadfruit) woodwork. The vote to deport was nearly
unanimous. The government ship arrived shortly thereafter, and Mote took his
few belongings and silently stood at the beach waiting for a canoe to take him
out to the ship, head down, looking at no one. Tuiai, both a chief and a
pastor, could not bear the sight. He led Mote back to his own house, fed him,
and bade him sin no more, an interdiction that he knew was useless. No one
complained about Tuiai's decision.

Tuiai's son, one of the brightest and wisest men I have ever learned from,
explained it this way. "We all knew who he was, and we all knew what sort of
things he did. So if he fooled someone, whose fault was it? No one ever
believed him who did not want to believe him, who did not have greed in his/
her heart. Would those people be less greedy if he left? Would they be more
aware of their own insides? Would they know better why they could be fooled
so easily? I remember that meeeting. I think that people just had to say
what they said and to do what they did. But no one complained when he stayed.
We knew he would never change, but he doesn't fool anyone any more. So maybe
we changed."

Were these atoll people less wise than we are? Are we wiser than they are?
Is there anything important to be learned?

Mike Lieber