Postcolonial Pacific Writing: Representations of the Body

By Michelle Keown | Go to book overview
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This book offers an introduction to the contemporary postcolonial literatures of the Pacific through a focus on eight of its most renowned writers, examining the various ways in which these writers negotiate a central pre-occupation in Pacific indigenous literature in English: the representation of the indigenous body. Rather than attempting to undertake a survey of the entire corpus of indigenous Pacific literatures, which have emerged from a large and diverse range of cultures spread across the vast Pacific Ocean, I have chosen to focus upon the South Pacific region, and more specifically upon a group of Māori and Pacific Island writers situated within the geographical and conceptual category of Polynesia. These include Samoan writers Albert Wendt and Sia Figiel; Tongan writer Epeli Hau'ofa; 1 Cook Island writer Alistair Te Ariki Campbell; and New Zealand Māori writers Keri Hulme, Witi Ihimaera, Patricia Grace and Alan Duff.

From a geographical point of view, Polynesia comprises a vast area-known as the 'Polynesian Triangle'-extending from Hawai'i in the north, to New Zealand in the south-west, and Easter Island in the east. As a conceptual category 'Polynesia' did not yet exist when European explorers such as Captain James Cook and Louis-Antoine de Bougainville first visited the Pacific region. It was French navigator Jules-Sebastien-César Dumont d'Urville who, in 1832, introduced a systematized distinction between Polynesian and Melanesian races on the basis of skin colour (B. Douglas 1999:65). 2 Such divisions ranked Polynesians (and Micronesians) as 'racially, morally and politically superior' to Melanesians and Australian Aborigines (ibid.: 65), and in European literature which appeared in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Polynesian cultures (and bodies) were persistently stereotyped as 'paradisiacal', 'gorgeous', 'fertile' and 'idyllic', while Melanesian islands were represented as 'fetid', 'decaying', and 'hellish' (Kjellgren 1993:99; see also Hau'ofa 1975:286; Hereniko 1999a; Teaiwa and Kabutaulaka 2000:30). Since the late 1760s, when European explorers first brought reports of Tahiti and other Pacific Islands back to the metropolitan centres, Polynesia-above other regions within the Pacific-has proved to be of particular fascination to European


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