Academic journal article Oceania

Place, Destabilized: Ambivalent Heritage, Community and Colonialism in the Marquesas Islands

Academic journal article Oceania

Place, Destabilized: Ambivalent Heritage, Community and Colonialism in the Marquesas Islands

Article excerpt

Can affirming, supportive place-making occur in uncomfortable or painful spaces? Both Lefebvre (1991) and Stoler (2013) remark upon the sinister way that historical violences cling to space and place, insidiously continuing to suppress, infect and even control modern bodies. Yet, discussions of heritage still focus largely on the idea that heritage places are a reliable source of strength, affirmation and, particularly for indigenous peoples, self-determination (e.g., Simpson 1997; United Nations 2008:Art. 11). Among the widespread destruction of cultural places, rainforests, and the mass migrations of people fleeing from ethnic violence as well as the effects of climate change and political upheaval, what is becoming of the essential bond between people and place? Iconic places of heritage like the Buddhas of Bamiyan site have been severely damaged, while countless others have been isolated from the people whose past they embody. Marked by a history of trauma and loss, these sites will never be the same. Yet, a departure from established views on place-making reveals the potential for even painful memories and discomfort to provide the foundation for shared connections to place and culture.

In the last few decades, scholars have advanced various understandings of indigenous places and place-making. The fields of cultural, linguistic, and archaeological anthropology have cross-pollinated with geography through discussions of landscape and phenomenological approaches to space and cosmology (Burenhult and Levinson 2008; Feld and Basso 1996; Hirsch and O'Hanlon 1995; Ingold 2000; Low and Lawrence-Zuniga 2003; Stewart and Strathern 2003; Tilley 1994). At one extreme, phenomenologist Tim Ingold (2010:3) has argued that our bodies are entangled in a meshwork with a material world whose boundaries flex and dissolve through growth and movement. This porous reality runs parallel to the spiritual aspect of place, which is experienced through feeling, knowledge, and awareness according to museologist Viel (2008). Indigenous world-views, in particular, are reflected in both of these theories. Still, the existing literature has overwhelmingly identified meaningful indigenous places as sites of strength, knowledge, and cultural regeneration (Jackson 1995; Myers 1986; Povinelli 1995; Rose 2001).

This paper draws the literatures of place and heritage theory into dialogue in order to challenge the notion that ancestral lands are a natural source of cultural affirmation. In the Marquesas Islands, fear and uncertainty about the past and ancestral places have resulted in an ambivalent heritage that gives rise to discomfort, yet still serves as the foundation for a shared identity.

As heritage specialists note, the making of heritage places hinges upon the creation of meanings that serve a purpose in the present, often for cultural, economic, or political ends (Di Giovine 2009; Harrison 2009). To take just one example, the Red Power movement of Native America and phrases like 'native heritage politics' evoke this association between heritage, cultural pride, and sovereignty (Starn 2011). Yet, like processes of place-making, understandings of heritage are constantly being 'remade' by diverse new experiences and emotions (Smith 2006:77; see also Wanner 2016). Although questions about ambivalent or 'negative' heritage have emerged (see Chadha 2006; Murray, Zedeno, Hollenback, Grinnell and Breast 2011; Rico 2008), these discussions have failed to engage with phenomenological analyses of affective place-making and community. Meanwhile, studies of memorials and places of historic trauma such as Holocaust sites or the Slave Castles of West Africa have explored community from the perspective of national citizens, tourism, and race rather than alternative ontologies or the indigenous generation of place (Kidron 2013; Mowatt and Chancellor 2011; White and Frew 2013).

Thus, the existing literature remains focused on the nostalgic power of heritage, rather than its potential to elicit equally strong feelings of pain or discomfort. …

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