Friends of Tobi Island: a web site review
by Jane Barnwell


Dr. Karen M. Peacock
LIS 688
Summer 2001


Friends of Tobi Island may be found at http://tobi.gmu.edu/

The reason I chose the "Friends of Tobi Island" or FOTI web site to review is because I am a "friend" of Tobi, and I have watched the evolution of this web site with great personal and professional interest. Although I never had the good fortune to visit this remote "Southwest" island during the time I lived in the Republic of Palau, I was fortunate to meet and know a few Tobians, and hope still to visit their place someday. Tobi, or Hatohobei State, is one of sixteen states in the Republic of Palau.

Authority: The original creator of the "Friends of Tobi Island" web site, Dr. Peter Weston Black, a professor of anthropology at George Mason University, first visited and lived on Tobi during the late 1960s as a Peace Corps volunteer. He and his wife, Bobby, have developed the web site. The site itself provides links to facilitate communication with the Webmaster, and encourages feedback and participation throughout nearly every page of the site. Clearly this site is keen to have as much input from the Tobian community as well as any others who may have knowledge or information to share.

Accuracy: The content of this site is almost always cited as to the source, and the information is clear and complete, whether for text or graphics. In many instances, due to the interactive nature of the site, an individual has submitted comments to the Webmaster, and these are then posted. This is especially evident in the section of the site devoted to "Word of the Week," where some words or phrases have elicited a great deal of comment from Tobian speakers.

Objectivity: My impression of this site is that it seeks to bring together text, images, and information regarding Tobi Island, its people, culture, history, language, and current events. There is no advertising on this site. The site includes academic texts as well as family snapshots, any anything in between that relates to Tobi Island. Apart from Dr. Black's own collection of images, the site relies on submissions from others to enrich the visual records of Tobi, both past and present. If the site has a bias, it is to create a virtual home for Tobi Islanders, and to promote an understanding of Tobi to anyone who visits this site.

Currency: Each page of this site is clearly marked with a small statement "Updated: [date]" and all pages I examined were updated in late 2000 or 2001. For the textual and visual information loaded on this site, complete bibliographic citations are given. All material has been cleared for copyright compliance by the Webmaster before being put on the site, or, permission has been granted to use specific material.

Coverage: The home page for the Friends of Tobi Island web site is very simply laid out, containing only a color photograph of fish, 9 links to contents within the site, an "e-mail us" link, plus links for "what's new," "site map" and "search," and the updated statement with a date of July 7, 2001. The nine links include: word of the week; FOTIgraph of the week; Tobi FAQ & mysteries; people & families; Tobi: then; Tobi: this is now; Tobi things; Tobi document archive; and Tobi slide shows (See attachment 1).

In my opinion, the rather simplified home page does not do justice to this site, as it is rich in many fascinating aspects of Tobian culture. For example, once one reaches the "Word of the Week" page there is another link to a section entitled, "About the Tobian language (see attachment 2)," which includes links to text from seven academic sources. Furthermore, a link from this page, "Language in use," leads on to a fascinating page of still more links to "poems and songs," "prayers," and "everyday talk." At the present time there are at least eight different versions of the "Our Father," submitted by Tobians and reproduced on this page. However, in balance, the home page is like a table of contents and since returning to this page at any time one is navigating the site is possible, I would not strongly recommend any changes.

Audience: The audience for this web site appears to be primarily Tobi Islanders, many of whom live away from Tobi Island, and anyone interested in Tobi. Despite much rich academic content, the site has a distinctly friendly feel, and is at times slightly irreverent, reflecting the sense of humor of the site's creator, Dr. Peter Black. There is evidence throughout the site that it has encouraged Tobians to gather and share information in written or visual form for sharing through this distinctly modern medium.

Interactive: As noted above, easily clickable links throughout the site encourage dialogue among the Friends of Tobi Island, and anyone who may visit this site. There are no stated restrictions to downloading any information from the site, but a nice feature is a brief warning statement for those items that are lengthier and may take some time to download. As noted above, it is easy to return to the home page from any page on the site.

Pacific Islands related evaluation: The purpose and usefulness of this site to Pacific Islands Studies is the clear, well-defined focus of the site to the island and inhabitants of Tobi. As might be expected, the body of recorded literature on this remote island is sparse, but Peter Black has worked for years to gather copies of both published and unpublished writings on Tobi Island. Complete citations are listed in the extremely valuable "Tobi Document Archive" section of the site, and full text is also accessible for most items.

The maps and photographs on this site enrich its value for the Pacific Islands researcher. The site includes several instances where topics are posted, such as "genealogies" on the "People & Families" page, with the enticement: "coming soon!" The section under "Tobi Things" of the ubiquitous carved monkeymen ("sen") illustrates the range of material gathered for the site, including contemporary photographs of carvings as well as 1936 plates, and links to texts and related material within the website (see attachment 3).

I was extremely interested to see that the full text of a recent grant proposal submitted on behalf of Hatohobei State to the New Zealand Government, for the purposes of enhancing community management efforts at nearby Helen Reef, is posted on the site. Persons interested in the community-based resource management initiatives throughout the Pacific would be interested in this model. Seeing this grant proposal made me wonder if the PowerPoint presentation given by Steven Patris at the Sixth Pacific Science Inter-Congress, in Guam in June 2001, could also be loaded onto the FOTI web site?

There are several sections of the web site that I found to be particularly intriguing: "Tobi: Then" attempts to outline Tobi history following the common colonial construct; in the subsection under "Ifiri Titi, Trust Territory Times," Peter has loaded several photographs he obtained from the TT Archives presumable from here at Hamilton Library (see attachment 4). I did not have the opportunity to check exactly how many photographs from Tobi are included in the TT Photo Archives, but if there are more than just a few, it might be nice to include a hotlink to the TT Photo Archives site.

Another interesting section is "Tobi FAQ & Mysteries." This page includes both basic facts and figures about Tobi (the FAQ part), and the "unsolved mysteries" are an eclectic mix of questions posed to anyone who might have insights into a Tobi ghost house; an unidentified line of colorful laundry, ca. 1992; or an unidentified section of a book. I know of a few student papers done at Palau Community College, and there are sure to be others done elsewhere by young Tobians, that would be great to track down for this site.

For individuals familiar with other Pacific Islands related web sites, the most likely comparison of the Tobi site would be to Alan Howard's Rotuman site. To me, the site is uniquely Tobian, and not in any big rush to become bigger or better. I believe the FOTI site serves its purpose well, and is a very well constructed site. Certainly the aspect of the site most valuable to me as a librarian is the document archive, coupled with the related citations sprinkled throughout the site. The only aspect of the site I had difficulty with was the link to the "search" option from the home page. In my few trials it did not seem to be working.

If someone were to review this site who did not have at least some basic familiarity with the place, it might seem odd that there really are no links to other web sites from this site, a common and often highly valued attribute of web sites. However, I am not aware of any particular sites that would be fitting for the FOTI site to reference, but who knows-this may change!

I would highly recommend this site to anyone who might be doing research on any facet of Tobi Island and its people because it has been developed by the leading academic authority on the island, and it pulls together in one place an amazing amount of published and unpublished information that would be impossible or very difficult to access otherwise. The sensitivity and care that Peter and Bobby Black feel about the unique place they have befriended, Tobi Island, is evident throughout this eclectic and refreshing web site.