The joyful inauguration of President Obama on Tuesday was celebrated by millions, but it was also a special occasion for this website. Peaceful Societies opened for public use four years ago, on January 20, 2005. The website was never intended to have anything to do with contemporary political or social issues, and it just happened that the site was ready for our reviewers to study and offer their critiques in mid-December, 2004.
January 20 seemed like a good target date for them to send in their evaluations. Offering a website that focused on ways that existing societies are generally able to produce stable, harmonious social conditions certainly seemed far more important than simply creating a counter-inaugural event to the second inauguration of George W. Bush. His focus on trying to build peace through the use of violence may be popular in America, but it is not the province of this website to argue that issue.
It is tempting to review the past four years in a self-congratulatory spirit. It would be easy to go back over the website statistics and trumpet the growth of hits, the numbers of visits to the articles housed in the Archive, the popularity of some of the news stories and reviews, and the intense interest in some of the peaceful societies. But the people of the peaceful societies generally avoid self promotion. They are normally hesitant to proclaim their individual successes, since the jealousies that might ensue could lead to trouble—and ultimately, to violence. A self-congratulatory analysis of this website over the past four years would simply be inappropriate.
So in the spirit of the peaceful peoples themselves, it seemed best to commemorate our anniversary by looking back at the beginning of the website and seeing what best captured its spirit. A news story that appeared on the News and Reviews page on December 14, 2004, the first one to greet the four academic reviewers when they got to look at the website, was a quintessential non-event—important to a family and a small community, but unimportant to the rest of the world: the baptism of a baby girl. The Tristan da Cunha infant who was baptized late in 2004 would now be about four and one-half years old.
Coincidentally, the Tristan Times reported last week a similar piece of not terribly startling news—the birth of another baby Tristan Islander. This one, Deanna Emily Dorothy Rogers, was born on December 28, 2008, in the Vincent Pallotti Hospital in Cape Town. The news report tells us little more: the baby weighed 2.8 kg, and both mother and daughter are doing well. The mother, Sandra Rogers, left for Cape Town in October and expects to return to Tristan in another month.
The article does not indicate who the father is, whether the mother is married, or anything more about them, other than the fact that the Rogers family is delighted to announce the birth of their latest member. Everyone on Tristan already knows all of those details, of course, so why put them in the news media.
While these news and reviews pages often chronicle really important issues that face the peaceful societies—and sometimes, rather routine events as well—perhaps the very mundane nature of the birth of a little girl is also worth noting in a website of this sort. It prompts us to reflect on the tradition, among the Tristan Islanders, of perpetuating stable, peaceful social relationships, and to hope that they will continue. In fact, the picture of the baby girl that accompanies the online article shows an infant who already appears to be quite peaceful—probably because she was sound asleep when the picture was taken.