What Does "Nanuma" Mean?

Rodin's Thinker

We use the word think in many ways. We often employ it in the sense of a single person's act of cognition, typically focussed on unique ideas, personal introspection or rational analysis. For us thinking is egocentric.

If we visualize thinking, the image that comes to mind is Rodin's The Thinker - a lone figure. If we say the word and listen to it, what comes to mind is Decartes' proposition, I think, therefore I am. For us thinking is about ourselves as individuals.

It's not that way everywhere. I once spent three years in the Fiji Islands as a Peace Corps volunteer, most of it living near a Fijian village.

Fijians have a word that translates as think, but it is decidedly different in its connotations. In one of those cultural shadings that influence language, Fijians use their word to imply concerns about the people around them.

The Fijian word is nanuma, and it is characteristically applied when the meaning is to think about groups of people - especially in terms of their affective ties, collaborative relationships and social interdependencies.

If Descartes had been a Fijian, he might have said, I think, therefore I belong. A pleasing notion...

Fijian villages are working models of thoughtful collaboration, and Fijian people are often adept at collaborative enterprises. Nanuma may be an excellent way for us to think about our collective plans and projects.

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