Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Performances of Power: Indigenous Cultural Festivals as Globally Engaged Cultural Strategy

Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Performances of Power: Indigenous Cultural Festivals as Globally Engaged Cultural Strategy

Article excerpt

  This article situates the phenomenon of indigenous cultural festivals
  in the context of globalization. It sees indigenous cultural
  performances as an assertion of rights and a call to recognition,
  while also embodying performative ethics that at times exceed these
  liberal discourses. Cultural festivals are one of the few
  consistently positive spaces for indigenous communities to forge and
  assert a more constructive view of themselves, both
  intergenerationally and as part of a drive for recognition and
  respect as distinct cultures in local, national, and international
  contexts. Through a comparative consideration of the Merrie Monarch
  Festival in Hawaii and Garma in remote northern Australia, this
  article argues that cultural festivals provide a potent space for
  intercultural accommodations to be negotiated on largely indigenous
  terrain. These events strengthen indigenous agency and reset the
  terms of cross-cultural engagements and contested sovereignties for
  at least the duration of these staged encounters.KEYWORDS: indigenous
  festivals, Merrie Monarch, Garma, cultural politics, contested
  sovereignties

This article situates the dynamic but little understood international phenomenon of indigenous cultural festivals in the context of globalization. It seeks to theorize the question of indigenous cultural assertion as being both implicitly concerned with questions of rights and embodying performative ethics that at times exceed these discourses. Cultural festivals are one of the few consistently positive spaces for indigenous communities to forge and assert a more constructive view of themselves both intergenerationally and as part of a drive for recognition and respect as distinct cultures in various local, national, and international contexts. This article argues that cultural festivals provide a potent space for intercultural accommodations to be negotiated on largely indigenous terrain, strengthening indigenous agency, and resetting the terms of cross-cultural engagement for at least the duration of these staged encounters.

Cross-cultural performances have long been a part of the repertoire of strategies of indigenous cultural survival and assertion, sometimes even in contexts where those performances are part of the colonial exploitation of culture. In a period of intensified globalization the terms of this engagement are shifting. Indigenous cultural acdvism is moving beyond an emphasis on contesting the colonizing-national story's exclusion of indigenous peoples and identities to engaging with an emergent global sphere that simultaneously reinforces specifically local identities and forms of governance. (1) Clearly this is not happening with the same intensity everywhere, and it is certainly not a claim for a homogenizing globalism; however, it argues that cultural performances and celebrations are, among other things, assertions of indigenous power in this shifting context. (2) This article will draw on the example of two very differently contextualized annual indigenous festivals to illustrate this argument: the Garma Festival in northern Australia and the Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo, Hawaii.

Niezen and others remind us that "indigeneity," or indigenous-ness, as a self-conscious identity, has been forged only relatively recently at the intersection of indigenous peoples' activism and the human-rights-based discourses and institutions of global governance. (3) In the 1990s indigeneity became an increasingly widely used synonym for hitherto largely colonizing-national identity categories such as Aboriginal and Native Hawaiian, Native American, and similar forms. This shift marks more than faddish neologism but rather is at the vanguard a longer-term shift in opportunities for political action and corresponding identities beyond the dominating nation-state both locally and globally. Indigenousness/indigeneity is arguably one of the most broadly dispersed and deeply lived examples of "actually existing" identity globalism. …

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