The Angry Young Men of Oceania

By Wendt, Albert | UNESCO Courier, May-June 1986 | Go to article overview
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The Angry Young Men of Oceania

Wendt, Albert, UNESCO Courier

The angry young men of Oceania

IN our various groping ways we are all in search of that haven, that Hawaiki (mythical homeland of the Maori people) where our hearts will find meaning.

Our dead are woven into our souls like the hypnotic music of bone flutes; we can never escape them. If we let them they can help illuminate us to ourselves and to one another. They can be the source of newfound pride, self-respect and wisdom. Conversely, they can be the aitu (evil spirit or ghost) that will continue to destroy us by blinding us to the beauty we are so capable of becoming as individuals, cultures, nations. We must try to exorcise these aitu both old and modern.

There is no state of cultural purity (or perfect state of cultural "goodness') from which there is decline; usage determines authenticity. There was no Fall, no suntanned Noble Savages existing in South Sea paradises, no Golden Age, except in Hollywood films, in the insanely romantic literature and art produced by outsiders about the Pacific, in the breathless sermons of our self-styled romantic revolutionaries.

Our quest should not be for a revival of our past cultures but for the creation of new cultures which are free of the taint of colonialism and based firmly on our own pasts. The quest should be for a new Oceania.

Many of us are guilty--whether we are aware of it or not--of perpetuating the destructive colonial chill, and are doing so in the avowed interest of "preserving our racial and cultural purity' (whatever that means).

To advocate that in order to be a "true Samoan', for example, one must be a "full-blooded Samoan' and behave, think, dance, talk, dress and believe in a certain prescribed way (and that the prescribed way has not changed since time immemorial) is being racist, callously totalitarian, and stupid. This is a prescription for cultural stagnation, an invitation for a culture to choke in its own body odour, juices, and excreta.

There are no "true interpreters' or "sacred guardians' of any culture.

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