Postcolonial Pacific Writing: Representations of the Body

By Michelle Keown | Go to book overview

4

Alistair Te Ariki Campbell

Mental illness and postcoloniality

This chapter, in its focus on the work of poet, novelist and playwright Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, marks a transition between the Pacific Islander writers already discussed in this book and the Māori writers yet to be considered. Campbell was born in the Cook Islands in 1925, but after being orphaned at the age of 8, he migrated to New Zealand and did not return to his country of birth until well into his adult life. The Cook Islands therefore emerge in his writing largely as an 'imaginary homeland' which contrasts with the detailed representations of island life in the writing of Wendt, Figiel and Hau'ofa. Campbell is a product of a cross-cultural marriage: his mother, Teu, was a Cook Islander from Tongareva (one of the northern Cook Islands more commonly known by its European name, Penrhyn Island), and his father, John Archibald Campbell, was a Pākehā trader.

Campbell's Polynesian heritage is clearly evident in his physiognomy, and this was to create severe psychological problems as the young Campbell, growing up in an orphanage in Dunedin-a particularly Pākehā-dominated area of New Zealand-attempted to pass himself off as a Pākehā in order to fit in with his peers. As Campbell reports, racism was 'rife' in 1930s New Zealand, and in spite of his best efforts to conceal his Polynesian ancestry, he was 'brutally exposed' by a white boy who called him '“Nigger”' (Sarti 1998b:16). Despite such personal difficulties, Campbell proved to be highly successful in his educational and vocational endeavours: he was a top scholar at Otago Boys' High School, and published Mine Eyes Dazzle (1950), his first poetry collection, while studying at Victoria University College, Wellington. As he matured into adulthood, however, his sublimation of his Cook Island ancestry contributed to the onset of an increasingly debilitating series of emotional crises which eventually culminated in psychosis in the early 1960s. Campbell argues that it was only by coming to terms with his Polynesian roots that he was able to overcome his problems with mental illness:

for the first half of my life I denied my Polynesian heritage, and recognized only my European side. I was divided; and this was to land me in a psychiatric hospital. I came right when I recognized what had

-84-

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Postcolonial Pacific Writing: Representations of the Body
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Figures xi
  • Acknowledgements xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Postcolonial Dystopias 16
  • 2 - 'Gauguin is Dead' 38
  • 3 - Purifying the Abject Body 61
  • 4 - Alistair Te Ariki Campbell 84
  • 5 - Remoulding the Body Politic 102
  • 6 - Disease, Colonialism and the National 'Body' 127
  • 7 - Language and the Corporeal 149
  • 8 - The Narcissistic Body: 170
  • Conclusion 191
  • Notes 199
  • Bibliography 213
  • Index 229
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