Academic journal article Junctures: The Journal for Thematic Dialogue

Rugby Island Style: Paradise, Pacific People, and the Racialisation of Athletic Performance

Academic journal article Junctures: The Journal for Thematic Dialogue

Rugby Island Style: Paradise, Pacific People, and the Racialisation of Athletic Performance

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION: ISLAND IMAGINARIES

In western (1) eyes islands are almost invariably unusual or alien. Even when close to home, islands have long held something of the allure of the isolated, of the foreign. Functioning as something akin to Said's Orient, (2) in the moral geography of the imagination islands have formed part of the political map by which the west has historically-and negatively-oriented itself. In what follows I wish to suggest that this image of "the island" has proved to be both remarkably enduring and remarkably consistent. This has obviously been especially apparent in a textual sense, in that, in matters of writing, thinking, reading, and speaking about islands, they have been persistently defined in terms of cultural difference. This "library or archive of information," (3) manifest in a set of powerful stereotypical representations, can be traced back at least as far as the Age of Enlightenment and, as a discursive system, still has a tremendous influence in determining how those in the west conceive of and understand islands. What I wish to proffer also is a case study in how such regimes of knowledge, though born in the colonial era, play themselves out in the current moment. I turn in particular to the sport of rugby to explore how contemporary physical culture can function--both figuratively and literally--to embody and preserve the discursive legacies of colonialism. My goal is to link the present with the knowledge production of a colonial past by showing how the tenets of what Elizabeth Deloughrey has called "islandism" have been reworked and re-inscribed to characterise Pacific people and the athletic bodies of Pacific peoples more specifically. Ultimately, I propose sport to be a fruitful context within which to demonstrate how islandism must be understood as a discursive system built not only on institutions or internalised regimes of knowledge, but dependent on seemingly banal reproductions, performed, practised and (re)negotiated in daily popular cultural life.

What I also wish to trace is the way in which character is mapped onto geographic space--more specifically, how islands seem to confer a kind of determinant identity at odds with the so-called mainland. Put simply, island dwellers echo islands themselves in their difference.

Much of this probably has to do with the idea of insularity in the sense of islands being both discrete and cut-off. It is the very boundedness of islands, borders policed by the sea, which is frequently taken as what sets islands, and their people, apart. Yet, insularity, as we know, is a word that carries with it much semantic baggage. It is not merely an allusion to being confined in space. To be insular is not only to be separate, but to be parochial and, frequently, provincial or backward. In the contemporary sense this exhibits itself in the stereotype of the islander of territorial mentality, antagonistically local, and prone to a distaste for modern life. But many of us also have preconceived ideas of islands as unspoiled, standing aside from the march of civilisation. From there the leap has not been far to make the same assumptions of islanders. To inhabit an island is the very marker of alterity to civilisation and knowledge, to be the happy-go-lucky child of nature--primitive, honest and intuitive.

This is especially true of the South Pacific. For many, these are islands par excellence, the stuff of romance and fantasy and of tourist brochures bursting with white sand beaches, turquoise lagoons, and swinging palms. Indeed, the role of the Pacific as one of the archetypal locales for the western representation of paradise is well known. A European-derived cultural imaginary of the region reaches back in excess of 200 years to the first encounters between European voyagers and islanders, tracing from Louis Antoine de Bougainville's writings in the eighteenth century, through missionary declamations and the rise of anthropology, to the fiction of Stevenson and London and the paradisal images of modern tourism. …

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