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By Stan Koki

HONOLULU, Hawai‘i (February 2000 – Pacific Resources for Education and Learning/Pacific Education Updates)---Several recent reports have indicated that "bullying is rampant in U.S. schools and may be stoking adolescent anger that can erupt into violence" (Rigby, 1997). But is this adolescent aggression a problem in schools in the peaceful Pacific region? To explore the topic, PREL corresponded with educators in the U.S.-affiliated Pacific islands through email to find out whether they think bullying is a prevalent problem among youth in the Pacific. Participants in the discussion included Terry Kelly (Kamehameha Schools Bishop Estate, Hawai‘i), Meda Chesney-Lind (University of Hawai’i-Manoa), Fata Simanu-Klutz (American Samoa), Senator Sandra Pierantozzi (Republic of Palau), and Shirley Coale (Oregon). Other contributors were PREL staffers Michele Olopai (CNMI), Kolden Manuel (Pohnpei), Pamela Legdesog (Yap), Evelyn Joseph (Republic of the Marshall Islands), Bernice Elechuus (Republic of Palau), Juvenna Chang (Hawai‘i), Jean Olopai (CNMI), and Canisius Filibert (Republic of Palau).

The following are excerpts from the dialogue on bullying. For the purposes of this discussion, bullying was defined as "repeated oppression, physical or psychological, of a less powerful person by a more powerful person or group" (Rigby, 1997).

Palau and CNMI:

It’s very interesting that the topic of bullying is being brought up, which to us is such a Western problem. Perhaps the question for the entities should be if there have been any incidents that could be termed bullying in the American sense. We say American sense because in regard to the definition given, it does not occur in Palau or CNMI. In both places, it is more of a group thing. For instance, if a student is teased or oppressed by another, it always ends up with the student's group of friends coming to that student's assistance. Then a conflict may occur. Camaraderie is very important in the islands, and this is not surprising since doing things together in a group is more of the ideal than individualism.

However, there have been incidents of school rivalry involving particular groups of students from neighboring schools, rather than the whole school. These groups of students are seen as being "so bad."

Bullying seems to be a result of the Western ideal of individualism, as opposed to the Eastern and Oceanic way of togetherness. After further discussions among ourselves, we believe that there may be a bit of bullying in the schools, but more between native and non-native students. In Palau, for example, in a public elementary school a year or two ago, some Bangladeshan students enrolled for the first time. These students had to endure teasing and embarrassments.

In the Pacific entities, there is always the cultural notion of being sympathetic to the little guy. A big person who exerts his power over a little person is frowned upon in the islands. When something like this happens, the majority would support the little person and more or less ostracize the bigger individual for a period of time. Thus the behavior would never go further than that.


Yes, definitely -- bullying is a big problem here, so much so that we are bringing Dr. Nan Stein from Wellesley College in Massachusetts to Honolulu to explain her curriculum for elementary students called Bullyproof.

Meda Chesney-Lind’s office at the University of Hawai‘i has conducted local studies that provide information from focus groups of at-risk students, which show evidence that we have substantial problems with bullying, and that Pacific Island youth, at least in Hawai‘i, are involved in this activity, both as perpetrators and victims.


Bullying is not perceived to be a problem in small island communities such as those found in the neighboring islands. With such small populations and strong family and clan ties, conflict situations are dealt with at the family level before they grow into significant problems. However, in some of the larger school communities where there has been much recent social change, there have been a few reported instances of children bullying other children.

American Samoa:

I think there are different kinds of bullying. The type of bullying that is being considered fortunately does not really exist in American Samoa. However, incidences have occurred when a pack of teenage boys rally behind a leader who is taking on a new boy, particularly a recent arrival, regardless of race or ethnicity, who decides to be "somebody." The name of the game in a Samoan setting is to keep a low profile and to fit in with the current scene.

I have seen local kids in Samoa taking on a mainlander or Hawai‘i-born kid who tried to trash the local culture or who criticized the present situation. In other words, a Samoan who thinks he is better than the local kids is immediately put in his place, either through direct threat or being roughed up on the field. Not much different, really, from how kids in other settings behave.

As for mean and calculating bullying, not much of it is prevalent. But this is not to say it does not exist. Older siblings could bully someone harassing a younger family member. Something like, "Watch out or I’ll tell my big brother or big sister."


I agree with those assessments that bullying does not occur in our island circumstances. Is this because we have a small country with a limited environment where we have to interact with one another amicably so positive relationships are nurtured and promoted by our culture?

And if there were bullies in the schools, adults would be quick to notice and take corrective actions so that bullying doesn’t exist. Additionally, our familial relationships often dictate that we treat each other humanely rather than confront each other. I don’t recall having had a bully in my school days, but then we all have different backgrounds.


Although Hawai‘i generally supports the Pacific Oceanic way, bullying in the Western sense is evident in some schools in Hawai‘i, and has been identified as a problem. Peer/family/community support and collaboration are very much a part of our Pacific cultural way. The imposition of Western educational approaches may be in conflict with cultural traditions, values, and approaches to teaching and learning. How are we tapping on the strengths of our culture and traditions and applying them to educational processes?


Although bullying in the Pacific may not have progressed to the point of having victims of bullying shoot other students, it does exist to a certain degree. My friend related some examples of possible bullying cases that she knew of, cases involving the handicapped.

Ruth [fictitious name] is blind and related this incident. She had to go to the high school under a special education contract to help a student with mobility training around the campus. She related that the other students called them names and that she personally was hit by a rock. She says that she was aware that a teacher had witnessed the incident. However, this teacher did nothing. She just turned around and returned to her classroom.

The result was that Ruth never went back to the school campus because she was too afraid. She also did not confide in anyone about the incident. The special education student that Ruth was helping also refused to go to any classes in the high school and stayed only in the special education classroom. He never told anyone the real reason why he wished to remain only in the special education classroom.

Another example I can recall is that of a young deaf student at an elementary school in the first grade. In this case, it was not the kids who taunted him about his disability. Rather, it was a teacher who taunted him and pinched the student so hard that he left a bad bruise. This incident resulted in the student dropping out of school for at least a year. He had to be re-enrolled at another school before he would return to school.

These incidents may not be what others mean by bullying, but they surely had negative impact on the victims. I don’t know if this information I am providing is helpful to the discussion. But I feel it is not quite the rosy picture of "it doesn’t happen here" that was suggested by one of the responses. Who knows? Only a closer look will tell us more. We might all be surprised to find out just how much bullying takes place in schools in the Pacific!

Marshall Islands:

Our feeling is strong that bullying is not condoned and certainly not tolerated in our culture. Everyone has a place. Knowing your place and honoring yourself is what makes you who or what you are. To bully means you’re totally out of place. In our culture, we obey someone issuing an order if it is his place to do this. If it is not your place to issue an order, you are ostracized and considered to be not very respectful. There may be some minor cases of culture conflicts, but once that is found out and corrected, things become okay again.


On the surface, bullying may not appear to be a problem, but how much do we really know? I’ve just received a message from a friend. She said that several comments from teachers in Eugene, Oregon about bullying reveal that they were not even aware that it was going on until they focused on it, talked about it in class and at assemblies, made it not okay to bully and okay to seek help from adults. Then they said that the incidents seemed to come out of the woodwork. The kids knew far more about what was going on than the adults did!

The focus needs to be on the bullies and how to get them to change their behavior. At the same time, we need to address the needs of the bullied so that they don’t suffer long-term harm.

Marshall Islands:

I guess we all know that the "value" of the Pacific culture is not what it used to be now in our "urbanized" communities. We all have to admit that effects of education are changing even the thinking of our young ones today. We have to face the fact that there is in existence some form of bullying. As one student expressed it, "This guy collects quarters from us everyday. If we don’t bring our quarters, he threatens to have his gang beat us up!" If this is scaring kids, then I’ll say it’s bullying. Some instances can be detected and dealt with, but what if those who do it can instill damage without school staff finding out? I know this leads to some kids not wanting to go to school, so parents come in and ask what is going on. It’s damaging to the kid’s image, also, so they don’t report it but play hooky instead.


It is important that schools include social skills training in the curriculum, and adopt a zero tolerance policy for bullying. How children deal with the problem depends on their personality, but experts claim that it is how schools deal with bullies and victims that makes a difference.

For additional information: Pacific Resources for Education and Learning 1099 Alakea Street, 25th Floor Honolulu, Hawaii 96813 TEL: (808) 441-1300 FAX: (808) 441-1385 E-Mail: askprel@prel.org 

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