Monday, June 17, 2013

Travelling the Pacific by Tardis

[It's exam time at 'Atenisi, so I've prepared this summary of my rather chaotic Modern Pacific History paper for students. I'll post about the visit from Murray Edmond last week as soon as I can track down the photographs I took of his ebullient public performances.]

Modern Pacific History – a summary

What’s in a name?
In our first lecture I argued that names like the Pacific are much more than simple and permanent labels placed on pieces of the world. A name reflects the outlook and interests of the person or people who created it, and over centuries and millennia many different names have been given to the region we today call the Pacific.
In a number of ancient Polynesian cultures, ‘Moana’ was used as a name for the waters we now call the Pacific. In the sixteenth century Spaniards journeyed from Cape Horn at the bottom of South America to Southeast Asia, and gave the name Pacific, which meant peaceful, to the great ocean they had crossed. The Spaniards may have picked a different name if they had run into a cyclone, or had called at an island like Tongatapu, whose inhabitants were very familiar with the martial arts.
Nineteenth century palangi writers like Robert Louis Stevenson made the South Seas into a popular and rather romantic term for the southern and central Pacific. In the decades after World War Two the term South Pacific began to be used by international bodies like the United Nations. Today politicians like New Zealand’s John Key often talk about an Asia-Pacific region, and by doing so lump small island societies like Tonga together with much more populous continental nations like South Korea and Thailand.
The great Tongan-born intellectual Epeli Hau’ofa used an essay called ‘Our Sea of Islands’ to argue that European colonists had thought of the Pacific Ocean as a barrier between island peoples, when it really been, in precolonial times, a highway. Hau’ofa disliked the term Pacific because it made him think of barren water, and proposed using the word Oceania instead. More recently, the ‘Atenisi graduate ‘Okusitino Mahina has proposed once again using the ancient and beautiful word Moana to describe the waters around the nations of Tonga, Samoa, and Fiji. 
I asked class members to think about which word or words they would like to use to describe the region where they live. Ilaisa said that he believed that a pan-Pacific identity existed, but did not identify with the term Asia-Pacific. Salise argued that the Pacific should be renamed Moana-a-Tonga, to remember the empire that Tonga’s mariners and warriors established in the late medieval era.
I also used our first lecture to explain the structure, or rather lack of structure, of the paper. I explained that our class would imitate the great Doctor Who’s Tardis, and jump from one time and place to another in lecture after lecture. Where the Doctor explored the whole universe, we would confine ourselves to the Pacific since the late eighteenth century.  
A blind date
I argued that the first encounters between Europeans and Pacific peoples could be compared to a blind date, because each people lacked information about the other, and in place of information relied on preconceptions. These preconceptions were very different, and reflected the different historical experiences of European and Pacific peoples.
To understand the preconceptions that European and Pacific peoples brought to their first meetings, we had to examine the different histories of these societies.  

The European background
We looked first at Europe, which was experiencing rapid and fateful changes when mariners like Bougainville and Cook set sail for the Pacific. The intellectual movement we now call the Enlightenment was challenging the power of religion, by insisting that the world must be understood through observation and reason, rather than on the basis of theological dogma.
The economic system we now call capitalism was emerging in Europe, as agriculture became increasingly large-scale and profit-oriented, peasants were cleared off their lands, towns began to grow, and gold and other commodities flowed in from colonies in other continents. Many scholars have used the term modernity for the world that the Enlightenment and capitalism brought into existence.
I argued that early European responses to the Pacific were dictated largely by preconceptions, rather than by reality. The Pacific was, for Europeans, a mirror in which they saw aspects of their own troubled societies. Many Europeans unhappy with the greed, hierarchy, snobbery, sexual repression, and poverty of their society saw, in early descriptions of Tahiti, the island Bougainville ‘discovered’ in 1767, an alternative and better way of life. Influenced in many cases by the social critic Rousseau, who praised the life of the ‘natural man’ living outside European society, these Europeans saw the Tahitians as a people who existed close to the soil, abhorred authority and violence, and saw sex as something sacred rather than abominable. The Tahitians were, to use a famous phrase coined by the English poet John Dryden, ‘noble savages’.
But not all Europeans were enthusiastic about the Pacific. The same apparent sexual and social freedom which appealed to devotees of Rousseau upset defenders of Christianity and European imperialism. For Europeans who believed that Christianity and commerce were gifts that had to be shared, societies like Tahiti and Tonga were the ‘dark places of the earth’, where sloth and hedonism reigned. The inhabitants of these dark places were not noble but ignoble savages. In 1796 a ship called the Duff left England for Tahiti and Tonga, full of missionaries determined to Europeanise the peoples of those lands.
I noted Kerry Howe’s argument that certain common assumptions lie behind both the stereotype of the noble savage and the stereotype of the ignoble savage. Both the noble and ignoble savage are supposed to be the product of a timeless, static society; both are supposed to be incompatible with a modern, European-made world. Howe notes that, for much of the nineteenth century and the early decades of the twentieth century, many Europeans assumed that the inhabitants of the Pacific would die out, as a result of contact with Christianity, commerce, and colonisation.
Neither the noble nor the ignoble savage ever existed. Tahiti, Tonga and other Pacific societies were far more complex than either stereotype suggested.  

The Pacific Background
The Pacific is an extremely diverse part of the world, and different societies brought different preconceptions to their early encounters with Europeans. To illustrate something of the Pacific’s diversity, I discussed the chart Patrick Vinton Kirch designed to show how hierarchical various Polynesian societies were in the centuries before contact with Europe.
At one end of Kirch’s chart is Rekohu, the society that the Moriori people established in the subantarctic Chatham Islands. The Moriori, who were the descendants of fourteenth century Maori mariners, survived by hunting and gathering and had an egalitarian, decentralised society. At the other end of Kirch’s chart is Tonga, a highly centralised agricultural society where a class of serfs were separated by wealth and culture from a leisured aristocracy. Tonga had developed rudimentary state structures and an empire by the late medieval period.
It is not surprising that the people of Rekohu and Tonga reacted differently to European incursions on their rohe. When a European vessel landed on Chatham Island in 1791, the Moriori were startled. Because they had imagined that they were the only people in the world, they decided that the ship and its crew must have come from the sun. By contrast, the chiefs of Tongatapu were relatively indifferent to Cook when he first called here. Shortly after landing Cook had associated himself with a low-ranking chief, and this suggested, to more senior leaders, that he must be a visitor of little importance.  

Ungodly trouble
I devoted a lecture to a couple of the early attempts to turn Polynesians from ignoble savages into industrious Christians. Using an essay by Paul Van Der Grijp, I discussed the fate of the first missionaries to land in Tonga, who were brought by the Duff in 1797. Because of their refusal to study Tongan society with any seriousness and the arrogance they showed towards both Tongans and the small but influential number of rough and ready palangi ‘beachcombers’ who had already settled in Tonga, the missionaries became the victims of both theft and violent attacks, and eventually fled from the nation they had hoped to convert. A missionary named George Vason ‘went native’, married a series of local women, took part in a civil war, acquired serfs, and had his body tattooed.
Vason’s rejection of European for Tongan civilisation foreshadowed the story of Thomas Kendall, an English missionary who became, in the second decade of the nineteenth century, a lackey of the notorious Maori warlord Hongi Hika. Kendall had intended to convert Hika, but ended up supplying him directly and indirectly with the guns that would help him ravage much of Te Ika a Maui. The fates of Vason and Kendall were not unusual in the early nineteenth century.   

A digression and a debate: North Sentinel Island
A handful of ‘uncontacted peoples’ unfamiliar with the world of modernity still exist today. I suggested to the class that we could understand the situation of the Moriori people in 1791 by considering the plight of the uncontacted people of North Sentinel Island.
I described how the inhabitants of North Sentinel, which is part of the Andamans archipelago in the Bay of Bengal, had resisted repeated attempted incursions by the British colonisers of the Andamans and then by the Indian government. Boats and choppers that got too near North Sentinel Island attracted swarms of arrows. Today the Indian government refrains from trying to contact the North Sentinelese, and bars private vessels from going near their island. Class members disagreed vehemently over whether the North Sentinelese ought to be visited again by emissaries of the modern world. At one extreme, Ilaisa argued that the islanders should subdued by force and introduced to the Bible; at the other extreme, Miko argued for their indefinite isolation, suggesting they were better off apart from the modern world.  

Two-sidedness and countermodernity
Shortly after World War Two the Australian scholar Alan Moorehead published a book called The Fatal Impact, which became famous for its argument that the peoples of the Pacific had been devastated and doomed by the impact of contact with European missionaries, capitalists, and colonists. Moorehead’s book was popular because it reflected a common palangi view, but in the 1960s a group of scholars based at the Australian National University began to develop a new ‘island-centred’ vision of Pacific history, in which Pacific peoples were not passive victims of history, but instead adapted creatively to the changes Europeans brought to their societies in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The ANU scholars’ picture of Pacific history as a two-sided process has become dominant in the academy, but Moorehead’s viewpoint still has its advocates. In New Zealand the charismatic Maori politician Hone Harawira often argues that Maori lived in a peaceful paradise before being losing their power and agency to European invaders. The Tongan academic Linita Manu’atu sees her country as a victim of cultural colonisation, and wants to restore its pre-contact culture.
I argued against the ‘fatal impact’ view of Pacific history, and suggested that it had echoes of the old notion of a noble savage doomed to destruction if his timeless paradise is disturbed by outsiders. I invited class members to consider the earlier contacts between Europeans and Pacific Islanders, and the stories of men like George Vason and Thomas Kendall, and decide for themselves whether Pacific cultures were as brittle as Moorehead and Manu’atu believe.
I argued that, rather than succumb tamely to the palangi newcomers, Pacific peoples constructed a series of ‘countermodernities’ during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, by appropriating and adapting the modern ideas, institutions, and economic practices that had emerged in Europe during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. These countermodernities soon came into conflict with European missionaries and colonists. 

Countermodernity and resistance: Aotearoa, Samoa, and Tonga
I used a series of lectures to discuss the countermodern societies that various Polynesian peoples constructed, and the ways that these societies came into conflict with European imperialists.
I described the life and work of Wiremu Tamihana, the Waikato chief who created the Kingitanga, or King movement, in an attempt to unite Maori against European settlers in the middle of the nineteenth century. I discussed the village called Peria which Tamihana established as a model for the Maori assimilation of European technology, ideas, and forms of organisation. Peria had a flour mill which was owned and operated collectively, a school which taught lessons in Maori, and a church which offered a version of Christianity that reflected Maori experiences. The Waikato Kingdom which grew around Tamihana in the 1850s and early ‘60s was a prosperous and independent nation which exported huge amounts of food to the impoverished colonial city of Auckland. It was invaded and conquered by colonists in 1863 and 1864.
We used another lecture to examine the life and work of Rua Kenana, a Maori prophet who tried to establish an independent state in the Urewera mountains of central Te Ika a Maui. I described Rua’s courage in facing up to persecution from the settler government of New Zealand, but also noted his claims to divine status, and his use of this claimed status to intimidate or deceive his followers. We watched some of Vincent Ward’s feature-length documentary film Rain of the Children, which shows the terrible poverty of Maori who had been robbed of their land by settlers, and the desperation which led them to Rua’s movement. When we discussed Rua Kenana’s place in history, several class members argued against judging him too harshly. Tevita argued that Rua “was a man who did what he had to do in his time.”
We used the work of the distinguished Samoan writer Albert Wendt as a route into the history of Samoa’s anti-colonial Mau movement, which brought New Zealand rule of the island of Upolu to a standstill in the late 1920s and early ‘30s with roadblocks and tax boycotts. The Mau established its own government in a village on the edge of Apia, and proclaimed the slogan Samoa mo Samoa (Samoa for the Samoans).
At the end of 1929 New Zealand police opened fire on a Mau protest march, and the movement’s leader was killed. This bloody act was followed by a de facto counterinsurgency campaign, during which Kiwi troops and police pursued Mau activists through the jungles of Upolu, and burned pro-Mau villages to the ground. Wendt’s parents were involved in the Mau, and some of his writings deal with the movement. We watched Shirley Horrocks’ documentary A New Oceania, which discusses Wendt’s life and work, and shows images from the Mau era.
I argued that Tonga’s first modern king, Tupou I, created a countermodern society in Tonga, by creating a modern state, complete with a constitution and a set of ministries, and abolishing the quasi-feudal system which had existed in his country for centuries, but at the same time turning down the demands of palangi capitalists for the opening of Tonga to foreign ownership. Tupou was successful in preserving Tonga from colonisation, and I argued that he succeeded partly because Tonga, unlike Aotearoa or Samoa, had a long tradition of centralised government and a national identity. 

Modernity and confusion: cargo cults considered
We devoted a lesson to cargo cults, which I defined as movements that aim to give their members material rewards associated with modernity through the use of magical rituals.
We discussed the most famous of all cargo cults, the John Frum movement from Tanna Island in Vanuatu, whose members believe that certain rituals – the raising of an American flag, for instance – will encourage an American soldier who served on Tanna during World War Two to return with a vast ‘cargo’ of modern goods and cash. We also considered a much more obscure cult which existed on Atiu Island in the Cooks shortly after World War Two, where a group of followers of a self-proclaimed prophetess cleared forest so that a ‘ghost ship’ could arrive carrying goods.
After giving a quick account of some of the main trends in the plentiful scholarly literature on cargo cults, I asked class members to consider how they felt about the phenomenon. One class member dismissed cargo cultists as fools. Tevita argued that cargo cults could be construed as countermodernities; I disagreed with this, because I think that cult leaders lacked the sort of understanding of how to appropriate and manipulate modernity that leaders like Wiremu Tamihana and Tupou I clearly showed.  

Antimodernity: the case of the Kwaio
For a century and a half, the Kwaio people of Malaita in the Solomon Islands have resisted modernity in almost all its forms. Today the Kwaio continue to live in semi-nomadic groups, shun most modern goods, and practice their traditional religion. Kwaio have forged a reputation as ferocious defenders of their autonomy. In the nineteenth century they frequently attacked the European boats which came to Malaita in search of sandalwood and slave labour, and in the 1920s they killed many of the members of a party of tax collectors sent by the British administration of the Solomon Islands.
The Kwaio were an important part of the Maasina Rule movement which challenged British control of the Solomons in the years after World War Two, and more recently they have been opponents of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, an Australian-led intervention in the Solomons. I talked about the work of the Marxist anthropologist Roger Keesing, who wrote extensively about the struggle of the Kwaio to preserve their traditional way of life. Keesing became so influential amongst the Kwaio that the Solomon Islands government banned him from visiting Malaita, on the grounds that he was stirring up protest there.
I asked class members to consider their attitudes to the Kwaio. Salise argued that the Kwaio ought to be allowed to live autonomously from the Solomon Islands state, though he considered their hostility to modernity “a little extreme”.  

A field trip to ‘Eua
Four days on the verdant and rugged island of ‘Eua gave us a chance to put some of the ideas we had been discussing in the classroom into practice. During our time on ‘Eua we talked with Richard Lauaki, a member of Tonga’s Niuan minority and an authority on the history of both Niuafo’ou and his adopted home. Richard’s two hour talk, which mixed historical insights with improbable claims, and included talk of divine intervention in human affairs, helped us to think about the problems that scholars like Roger Keesing must have faced when they collected oral history. We read Sione Latukefu’s essay ‘Oral Tradition and Tonga’ to help us with these problems.

We encountered more problems when we tramped to the highest point on ‘Eua, following a trail used by Cook, and found the grave of the New Zealand soldier Shorty Yealands there. ‘Euans told us five different stories about how Yealands died; each of these stories contradicted the official version of his death.
When we returned from ‘Eua we looked at Tonga's experiences in World War Two. Drawing on essays by George Weeks and Elizabeth Wood-Ellem, I described the influx of Americans and New Zealanders to Tonga, and the clashes which broke out due to the brutal racism of some Americans and the Tongan habit of ‘borrowing’ goods like tobacco and torches from American warehouses. The lecture was an attempt to put into context the killing of Shorty Yealands by a Tongan soldier placed on a demoralising punishment drill for theft. I argued that the Second World War marked the first great challenge to the system Tupou I had established in the nineteenth century. Tupou I and later Queen Salote had wanted to limit the influence of capitalism on Tonga, but the presence of twenty thousand free-spending Americans lured many Tongans off their plantations and into the cash economy.  

Papua New Guinea: a primitive exception, or a glimpse of the future?
We began our lesson on Papua New Guinea by examining a magazine article on the recent killings of women suspected of sorcery in the country’s highlands. The killings, which have prompted international condemnation and anguished debates in Papua New Guinea’s parliament, have been seen by some observers as confirmation of the inherent violence and backwardness of New Guinean society. Class members seemed to share this dim view of New Guinea. I argued that they were succumbing to the old stereotype of the ignoble savage, and suggested that sorcery killings might in some ways be an expression of the  failings of capitalism in Papua New Guinea.
Drawing on an essay by Michael A Rynkiewich, I discussed the ‘big man’ system which emerged in ancient New Guinea. Because they lacked central authority, the fragmented societies of New Guinea relied on ‘big men’, who had proved themselves by oratory or bravery in warfare, to knit them together temporarily. The big man specialised in attracting prestige and resources to his corner of New Guinea.
The big men were co-opted by the Australian colonisers of New Guinea, and after independence in 1975 they became MPs and local government officials, intent on winning state resources for their part of the country. These political big men lack any ideological vision or national consciousness, and are prepared to see one region deprived of funding so that they can reward their followers. They pillage the state and jump from one party and coalition to another in search of short-term advantage.
Citing the remarkable journal published by a senior Papuan military intelligence officer, I described how big man politics saw Papua New Guinea lose its war against the secessionist province of Bougainville, despite a massive advantage in troops and materiel. I suggested that today big man politics makes a reasoned response to the sorcery killings difficult. I argued that the sorcery killings might be compared to the Rwandan genocide of 1994, in the sense that they are motivated more by impoverished people’s desire to steal land from their victims than by some primordial savagery. I suggested that, with its huge population and mineral-rich economy, Papua New Guinea would be crucial to the future of the Pacific, and thus needed careful study. 

Andy Leleisi’uao and Pacific identity

We finished the course by returning to the question of Pacific identity. I described the career of Andy Leleisi’uao, an artist born in the Auckland suburb of Mangere to Samoan parents.
Leleisi’uao is a self-taught artist, and many of his early paintings dealt with controversial issues in Samoan society. He condemned the influence of greedy churches on Samoans, and lamented the effects of alcohol on Samoan men. In his later works Leleisi’uao has constructed an elaborate fantasy world, where UFOs sit on tropical Polynesian islands and hybrid creatures wander landscapes covered in glowing ruins.
Several years ago Leleisi’uao became involved in a dispute with some members of Mangere’s Pacific community, after he had painted a mural full of strange horned creatures for the Mangere community centre. Conservative Pacific Islanders, including influential religious leaders, campaigned successfully against the mural. Leleisi’uao was infuriated by their claims that he had lost touch with his culture.
Perhaps partly in response to criticism of his work from within the Samoan community, Leleisi’uao created a manifesto in which he defines himself as Kamoan – the word is a mixture of ‘Kiwi’ and ‘Samoan’ - and invited anyone to share this new identity. We discussed Leleisi’uao’s dispute with the Mangere community, and his bold attempt to create a new identity for himself. Class members were strongly supportive of Leleisi’uao in his struggle with the Mangere community, feeling that nobody should be allowed to make a definitive judgment about what is and isn’t part of a Pacific culture.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


Blogger Richard said...

Some interesting intellectual adventures and history. I think it's good that books such as 'Fatal Impact' are written though. They show the problems and sometimes drastic impact on societies. Some were virtually fatal and in some places whole ethnic groups have been exterminated. (In Africa, Pynchon introduces this into his early novel 'V' it is almost out of context with the rest of the book and strangely "real" in an otherwise rather fragmented monolith).

But of course it is only one thesis and there were various adaptions. I didn't know Dryden introduced that term...Andy mentioned him once as a poet he liked! Big jump from him to Tonga etc but he, Pope, Swift and others were writing in the age of exploration and one of the ages of enlightenment.

Swift is really worth reading. He satirises everything but he also attacks aspects of inhumanity and corruption as well as religious stupidity (the Little Endians versus the Big Endians) and also (in Gulliver's Travels - the Royal Society and some of the (to him) impossible claims for human "progress" - the attempt is to at least put the brakes on Science.

But he also shows how he used the word as a weapon of power (in some cases he prevented some major injustices) just as perhaps the funake (?) did with their poetry battles. His near surreality and scatology and satire of such as (various) but including Defoe of Crusoe [another great book by the way!] and the sea-going adventure books - also the boastfulness of those who displayed and used power of modern war materiel and machines...Gulliver, suggesting and describing the use of English "advancement" with canons, guns, and other weapons for mass killing is described by the King of Brobdignag as "An odious little man."!

A lot of stuff here I did know. I did know something of the cargo cult as in the 70s my then wife studied anthropology. Samoa and New Guinea were favourite places.

The movie about Albert must be great -he's on FB and chats away most days! I liked the novels of his he wrote - I think Poliuli was my favourite.

Yes, there were never any noble or ignoble savages. How to think about one's history!

12:17 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

White guy teaching brown kids his version of their own history. Makes my fucking skin crawl.

11:20 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

I wrote a four thousand word course outline, anon, and yet all you can apparently find to back up your suggestion that I'm a racist is the colour of my skin. I'm inclined to think that you're the one hung up on complexion.

How about criticising what I wrote, instead of what I look like?

2:23 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Richard, you'd be fascinated by some of the work the Creative Writing students are doing up here. I had a session today with a student who is creating an alternative reality where Tonga has conquered the world with the help of a UFO and has imposed kava and the old Tongan Gods on its new subjects...

2:35 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Just a correction for my comment: I meant to say that there was lot I DIDNT know.

Re the other commentor I think it is problematic that we have a Palagi but but at least Scott is presenting views that are debatable. After all the students can check out what is fact and fiction and none of them will be battered violently by Scotus if they disagree.

Of course Scotus Maps is putting (slightly) his own spin on things, but that always happens. This is where a University can be good as there will clearly be another lecturer who will or may present another view. I have found the more prejudiced views tend to come from those who lack a good education.

4:02 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Scott - sounds exciting. I read about UFOs in the 60s after a year reading Sci Fi my brother in law at the time suggested I check out extra-terrestial theories, sitings etc and I read quite a lot on it including the bizarre to the slightly more believable US Air Force reports but remained unconvinced in the end...

But who knows it is an interesting "what if" your student is coming up with!

Tonga to impose kava! I tried kava in Fiji (and had some more recently at our Brief launch). I cant say it did much for me. I suppose it is an acquired habit...

The Tongan gods! Were they as horny and a-moral and as ferocious and naughty as the Greek Gods? I hanker (or a part of me does) for some primal thing - I think that I desire to be in or imagine a place that is "primitive" and even in some ways more atavistic has its attractions which is why as a teenager I loved Maugham on Gauguin (via his main character in 'The Moon and Sixpence') and such as Conrad and even more Ryder Haggard.

Hence I can somewhat understand the attractions of the "Noble Savage" ideas. People create this difference this exotic strange world (true or not it is irrelevant)...

Hence I also liked 'Thus Sprach Zarathrustra' by Nietzsche (and the great music by Richard Strauss [begins 2001 Space Odyssey]). In many ways I do see, with Nietzsche, Christianity as step back for humans.

4:18 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Hi Richard,

the problem is one of equating expertise with skin colour. The preeminent historian of Tonga is Ian Campbell, who is a white-skinned Tongan (there are a surprising number of white skinned Tongans about - some are the descendants of British missionaries, but most trace their ancestry to German traders). Campbell knows as much about the incredibly complicated genealogical tangles of Tonga's three traditional dynasties as anyone else alive, but our interlocutor would spurn his services as a teacher because he has the wrong complexion.

For the record, I got Ilaisa Helu, a graduate of 'Atenisi and the son of Futa Helu, to sit in on all of my lectures and offer Tongan translations for some of the technical terms I used. I often turned to 'E', as everyone calls him, for clarification when I was discussing a topic that involved Tonga. He'd complement my discussions of Cook, which drew heavily on the journals of Cook and his crew and the later texts of Beaglehole and Anne Salmond, with stories passed down by Tongans about Cook's time in the Friendly Islands.

And yet, as you can see from the course summary I've posted here, Ilaisa and I didn't really see eye to eye when historical issues were debated in class. I couldn't, for instance, share his enthusiasm for the military conquest of North Sentinel Island and the conversion of its inhabitants to Christianity!

The conservatism implicit in Ilaisa's comments about North Sentinel Island isn't as strange as it might at first seem. I can't find a Tongan who has anything bad to say about Cook, and there are more than a few people here who might reasonably be described as Anglophiles. I have found very little pan-Polynesian or Pan-Pacific consciousness. When I played Selina Mash's poem 'Fast Talking PI' to my Creative Students they were baffled, until I realised that didn't know what PI stood for. The term Pasifika is also strange to them.

At a recent party I was arguing that, rather than getting Kiwis in to serve as judges and other senior figures in the legal system, Tongans should turn to the lawyers of other indigenous Pacific nations, like Samoa and Fiji. My suggestion was treated with derision.

Tongans are extremely proud of the fact that their country avoided colonisation, and many identify more with nations like New Zealand and Britain than with other Polynesian states. At the same time, they remain immersed in many aspects of their traditional culture, and they continue to practice a relaxed, collectivist way of living that is more or less incompatible with the capitalist economic system that so dominates Western nations.

'Opeti Taliai told me that Tonga is the most contradictory society in the world, and he may well be right.

I think the anonymous commenter who assumed that I must be a Eurocentric Colonel Blimp type and my students must be ardent anti-imperialists would be a little confused by the realities of life and opinion in Tonga.

1:45 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Exactly exactly, you have input from many sides - there is no: "this is what we think and you Tongans must read this or think this or write the right things": the whole point is the complexity of what is "race" or nationality...I was in a stupid FB debate started by a Scottish woman complaining about NZ's welfare system versus that in Britain and so on (and that only one aspect) - albeit she is a little negative [but there is truth in what she says especially since the Holocaust caused by the 1985 Labour Govt.] (there is always a subjective aspect to all these things) it soon escalated when an Aussie claimed that his visit to NZ - he had played in the Queenstown Classic Chess Tournament - was a paradise! The old LOTRs Hobbitonic "New Zealand is so wonderful with no problems like EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD HAS paradise" - these views are simplistic [just as it is not true to say NZ is a "bad" place'] ... but it was amazing how such as Bob Smith one of NZ Chess's best players and a "big shot" who likes to promote himself and what he calls "chess excellence" then went into a paroxysm when I supported some of the woman's points and countered the paradise view of NZ - I was all sorts of bastards I was a traitor - for daring to suggest some things were wrong etc

And the weather bloke points to the Pacific Islands and "joked" (?) about the idylicness (or something) of those places...the idea that because it is or might be warm and sunny it is "better"...(not conscious, the idea is somehow programmed in) - as if one could eat mountains.

I said that paradises are for dead people...

But we need to be critical of ourselves as much as others, and be prepared to see our faults, even if some of us want to hold onto some of those faults or bad habits!

But reality is always different,which is what I like about what I hear of Atenisi, and I find the Tongan and other Pacific people usually much more tolerant of many things than many Palagi or Pakeha altho that is a generality also...

The point is that while you might disagree about things you give those options of history as ways of seeing alternatives which leaves it to the students to decide. It is their Tonga, their Pacific or Oceania or Moana, their life and their future.

4:22 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Your comment above about some degree of Anglophilia etc and pride in not having been colonised shows that we cant assume anything about countries or people. Obviously there is always a degree of subjectivity. Contradictory (-tion). Abiguity etc

People are at least able to accept this (these) idea(s).

But I'm not familiar with PI. Is it something rude or "new"? I have never seen or heard of it....?

7:08 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PI = Pacific Islander.
Pasifika peoples

These are very NZ (and to a certain extent Australian) terms. Used by Govt tatisticians and bureaucrats to easily lump people together, and more recently they are terms taken on by NZ raised/born people of Pacific background. But back in the islands, they are not well known/used terms and are often met with ridicule and derision. Maybe in the USP campuses such terms are used, but a Samoan sees himself as a Samoan, a Tongan a Tonga etc.

I suspect with the economic (and therefore political) emergence of the MSG, a pan-Pacific "consciousness" will also form, albeit a Melanesian section of the Pacific. The Polynesian equivalent will not last long, or at least has a harder road to travel before forming a collective voice, because of the limited economic opportunites of the Polynesian islands, and the fractured nature with many islands still under foreign rule (Hawaii, Rapanui, Tahiti, Cook Is, Tokelau, Niue, Fortuna etc).

10:22 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Thanks. Complicated issues!

1:16 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Thanks for that very interesting comment anon. Alas, at its current meeting the Melanesian Spearhead Group seems to have caved in to threats by the US/Australia and Indonesia, and declined to admit West Papua as a member. Disappointing, especially when the MSG is meeting in Noumea, in order to highlight the issue of Kanaky independence!

I suspect that pan-Polynesian sentiment is considerably stronger in societies still afflicted by political colonisation, like Tahiti and Rapa Nui (but what about Aotearoa?). I heard Oscar Temaru, the leader of the nationalist movement in 'French Polynesia' on the radio recently, and he spoke in pan-Polynesian terms.

7:01 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marks on paper do not have the power to animate human bodies.

12:14 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, the MSG has backed out - very sad, but shows the economic pressure exerted by powerhouses in the region. Indonesia's (limited) participation in Forum meetings show they are in for the long haul in keeping the mineral rich lands of West Papua.

A pan-Polynesian "movement" or grouping needs broad support.

The Cook Is, Tokelau, Niue are probably quite happy under NZ, as shown by the last Tokelauan vote a couple of years back. A Polynesian Hawaii will never be independent, so too in NZ. American Samoans are too dependent on US cash. Tuvalu is economincally tied to Fiji's welfare. Tonga is on a slow evolution towards democracy and not in the mood to bang on too loud about pan-Polynesia. Temaru lost the last elections in French Polynesia, albeit gaining a win in the UN. French (and Aust/NZ, Chile?) imperialism will be fighting back in the Pacific.

Samoa is probably the most vocal but is trying (unsuccessfully) to usurp Fiji's role as the hub of the Pacific. [There's strong opposition to Samoans/Samoa, not only amongst Melanesian countries (bad historical links?), but even within Polynesian countries - Samoan "arrogance"? Within Pacific regional offices Samoans are everywhere (eg Neroni Slade), and are highly influential in (or is that influenced by?) NZ and Aust.]

11:51 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

Thanks again for that summary, anon. I've been trying to get a handle on the wider Pacific scene in Tonga, and have belatedly realised both the importance of Melanesia and the way that the Western imperialist powers have made a de facto alliance against China, thus closing down some of the space the pro-independence movements once had to manoeuvre against France.

You ought to do a guest post on this sort of issue? E mail me at This blog has been a little sluggish in recent months, but the high speed internet connection Tonga is about to get should help to change that.

4:02 pm  
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11:16 pm  

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