Early missionaries to the Marshall Islands in the central Pacific received their mail
once a year when the sailing boat made its rounds of the South Pacific. On one occasion
the boat was one day ahead of schedule, and the missionaries were off on a neighboring
island. The captain left the mail with the Marshallese people while he attended to matters
of getting stores of water and provisions. At last the Marshallese were in possession of
what the missionaries spoke about so often and apparently cherished so much. The people
examined the mail to find out what was so attractive about it. They concluded that it must
be good to eat, and so they proceeded to tear all the letters into tiny bits and cook
them. However, they didn't taste very good, and the Marshallese were still puzzled about
the missionaries' strange interest in mail when they returned to find their year's
correspondence made into mush.
Adapted from Eugene A. Nida's Customs and Cultures:
Anthropology for Christian Missions, pp. 5-6.