Postcolonial Pacific Writing: Representations of the Body

By Michelle Keown | Go to book overview

6

Disease, colonialism and the national 'body'

Witi Ihimaera's The Dream Swimmer

This chapter focuses primarily upon Witi Ihimaera's 1997 novel The Dream Swimmer, which, like Hulme's The Bone People, represents the diseased body as a metaphor for cross-cultural conflict. Where Hulme advocates a bicultural or multicultural national identity, however, Ihimaera advances a separatist model, arguing for the establishment of a 'Māori nation' which is to rival or supersede the socio-political structures and ideologies of the Pākehā 'majority' culture. Ihimaera's arguments in The Dream Swimmer are closely related to his recent political views, which have transmuted from an earlier bicultural or inclusive position not unlike Hulme's, into a more radical and separatist stance. This chapter analyses Ihimaera's representation of European disease-in particular, the 'Spanish influenza' pandemic of 1918-as an allegory for colonial incursion, and as a catalyst for Māori millennialist and nationalist movements of the twentieth century.

Witi Ihimaera was born in Gisborne in 1944, and is of Te Aitanga-ā-Māhaki, Rongowhakaata and Ngāti Porou iwi (tribal) descent, with close affiliations to Tūhoe, Te Whānau-a-Apanui, Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāi Tamanuhiri. Ihimaera's short story collection Pounamu, Pounamu (1972) and his novel Tangi (1973a), the first book-length fiction publications by a Māori writer to appear in New Zealand, inaugurated his prolific career as writer and anthologist. During the past three decades Ihimaera has held a variety of literary fellowships, has served as a diplomat for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and is currently Associate Professor of English at Auckland University.

In spite of his literary prominence and his leading role in supporting and publishing the work of other Māori writers and artists, Ihimaera has resisted attempts to position him as a 'foundational' figure in Māori literature, pointing out that his early publications were predated and influenced by the work of individuals such as Hone Tuwhare-whose first poetry collection, No Ordinary Sun, was published in 1964-and Patricia Grace, whose short fiction pieces he had read in the literary journal Landfall and Te Ao Hou ('The New World', a government publication launched in 1952). 1 Ihimaera's early fiction-like much of the writing published

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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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