Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

Constructing Legitimate and Illegitimate Pasifika Masculinities in the Global Diaspora

Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

Constructing Legitimate and Illegitimate Pasifika Masculinities in the Global Diaspora

Article excerpt

This paper examines how acceptable post-colonial masculinities have been encoded and constructed around a Warrior identity for Pasifika[1] men. As argued by Hokowhitu (2004), George (2014) and others, the promotion of hegemonic masculinities around labor, the military and particularly sport have served to reinforce the notion of Warrior-that excellence for Pacific men can only be expected and achieved in the physical domain. While the international and emblematic association of the Warrior is undoubtedly a source of pride within these cultural groups, the issues under discussion here are two-fold. First that over-exposure to this unidimensional ideal of masculinity crowds out other cultural determinants of what it means to be a man. For example, as Hokowhitu (2003, 2004) points out, within pre-colonial Maoridom, the capacity for oratory, wisdom and compassion were highly regarded. Secondly, such narrow constraints act to distract from other systemic issues of poor educational delivery and social marginalization. Using the example of American Samoa but with application to other island states, Uperesa (2014, p. 1) notes: "This glorified reconfiguration of indigenous masculinity and its transnational circulation masks a long standing relationship of dependence that has produced a local political economy with limited opportunities".

The lack of work opportunities in the small island nation states has fuelled a rapid increase in migration to larger countries (see demographic trends below). Many Pacific families are successfully adapting to a range of destination countries. There are established and growing communities in New Zealand, Australia and the United States. However, as jobs in manufacturing, construction and other areas of high employment for Pasifika workers are the most at risk in modern post-industrial economies, more Pasifika families are experiencing a decline in living standards commensurate with a slide from working class into the precariat.

In counterpoint to this, the demand for Pasifika sportsmen across an international range of sports is rising exponentially. Within the context of migration and escalating globalization, the high visibility and success of Pasifika sportsmen provides an avenue for recognition and is a source of cultural pride. Further, elite sport can be regarded as a platform for other enactments of processes around the accumulation and distribution of new forms of cultural and social capital. In relation to Pasifika two related understandings of this concept have been put forward: "Polycultural capital" (Mila-Schaaf & Robinson, 2010) and "gridiron capital" (Uperesa, 2010a).

These understandings reflect the earlier work of Epeli Hau'ofa (1987, 1994) who argued that Pacific Islanders have a long and proud tradition of travel and establishing new communities. Hau'ofa suggests that outmigrants are exercising grassroots agency and providing for future generations by reversing presumed cores and peripheries in their "sea of islands" (1994, p. 160). This accords with the observations of Cohen (1999) that a homeland that may not necessarily be an actual or a lived experience yet continues to exert influence and to emotionally engage the subject.

However, as more young Polynesians are born into or migrate to larger countries such as the United States and Australia, they may have to contest neglected, and sometimes dangerous urban spaces with other marginalized minorities. In these contexts, the other side of the Warrior identity may be enacted: the gangbanger. As discussed below, Pacifika participation in gangs has frequently been misconstrued and more generally reflects a decline in work availability and profound neglect of particular urban and regional enclaves. Arguably, the need to navigate these issues contributes to strategies for assuming new hybrid cultural identities deployed by Pasifika men. Palmas (2009) describes these negotiations as "biographies on the move".


Teaiwa (1999) suggests that for most people from the Global North, the South Pacific is perceived variously as a series of military outposts and recreational havens. …

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