Why is Papakura's movie theatre promoting racist myths?
Like its counterparts in so many suburbs, the Papakura cinema closed in the late 1980s, but the opening of the council-subsidised Hawkins Theatre a few years later enabled a new generation of kids to enjoy candy and silly movies. The Hawkins Theatre has provided treats for adults as well as kids, by showing quality flicks that have often been shunned by the dollar-driven movie megaplexes of the twenty-first century.
Recently I visited Papakura and picked up a copy of the booklet which advertises upcoming events at the Hawkins Theatre. The booklet gave prominence to Kon Tiki, a big budget, feature-length movie about Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian adventurer who travelled from Peru to the Tuamotu Islands in 1947 on a small raft.
Heyerdahl believed that the ancestors of the Polynesians had emigrated into the Pacific from South America, and his 1947 adventure was intended to publicise his version of history. The Western media was impressed by Heyerdahl's long and dangerous journey on the Kon Tiki, and the book he wrote about it became a bestseller in Europe and in America.
But Heyerdahl's heroics did not persuade archaeologists and historians to change their views about the origins of the Polynesians. In reviews of Heyerdahl's writings, experts pointed out that the words, pottery, tools, religion, and art of Polynesia supported the traditional view that the Pacific was settled from the west, rather than from South America. Polynesian languages have much in common with the tongues of Melanesia and parts of southeast Asia, and nothing in common with the languages of South America. The beautiful pottery that has been excavated on many Polynesian islands features motifs that also turn up thousands of miles to the west, in New Caledonia and on the islands off Papua New Guinea. The canoes that float off islands like the Tuamotus have nothing in common with the clumsy raft Heyerdahl rode from Peru, but owe a great deal to the magnificent wangga ndrua of Fiji.
In recent decades DNA testing has provided definitive proof of Heyerdahl's wrongheadedness. Numerous tests of Polynesians and indigenous Americans have failed to find any significant genetic connection between the two peoples. Like linguists and archaeologists before them, geneticists have looked west for the origins of the Polynesians.
Heyerdahl was unable to accept reality because of his prejudices against Polynesians. He repeatedly claimed that the Polynesians lacked the cultural sophistication to travel over great stretches of water, or to create some of the monuments that are found on their islands. He believed that the ancestors of the Polynesians were brought from South America to the Pacific by a lighter-skinned, more sophisticated people who had earlier created the stone monuments that stand at Macchu Piccu in the Peruvian Andes. Heyerdahl wrote at length about Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, because he believed that the island's famous stone heads were made by this mysterious ancient people. The dark-skinned Polynesians of Rapa Nui were, he thought, incapable of creating such large and impressive works.
Heyerdahl's vision of an ancient civilisation of white supermen might seem peculiar to us today, but it had many advocates in the early decades of the twentieth century. In Heyerdahl's native Norway and in other northern Europe countries, especially Germany, many people believed that they were descendants of an ancient 'Aryan race' that had ruled large parts of the globe before retreating to the west. In Germany, leading Nazis like Heinrich Himmler loudly promoted the notion of an ancient white super-civilisation; in Norway, local fascist groups and the Nobel-winning novelist Knut Hamsun espoused the same idea.
despite increasingly militant protests, has tried to use Heyerdahl to attract tourists and foreign investors to their Polynesian colony.
I don't object to a movie about Thor Heyerdahl being shown at the Hawkins Theatre. A movie is not a research paper or a scholarly monograph. I could enjoy watching a recreation of Heyerdahl's raft journey across the Pacific without accepting his weird ideas, just as I can enjoy watching a film like District 9 without believing in UFOs.
Papakura is a multicultural community with a large Polynesian population. The Hawkins Theatre does Polynesians and palangi alike a disservice when it ignores the most basic facts of Pacific history, and promotes in their place a racist fantasy concocted a century ago in northern Europe.
Footnote: there are links to some of my previous scraps with pseudo-historians here.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]