Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

The New Kava User: Diasporic Identity Formation in Reverse

Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

The New Kava User: Diasporic Identity Formation in Reverse

Article excerpt


For some time, social scientists have taken a keen interest in the assimilation of migrants and the blending of identities and cultures within diaspora environments (Kraidy, 2002: 323; Khanlou, 2005: 13; Hanlon & Vicino, 2014: 56-8). However, less attention has been paid to the reverse: the intentional embracing of migrant cultural practices and identity expressions by those in the host community/country. That is the aim of this article. After briefly explaining diaspora and how diasporic identity is formed, I will turn 180 degrees and discuss the uptake of kava by some Maori and Palangi/Pakeha in Aotearoa New Zealand (A/NZ). This will illustrate their intentional use of an icon of identity brought to their homeland by Pasifika migrants.

The term Maori refers to those who whakapapa (ancestrally connect) to the indigenous people of Aotearoa. Palangi/Pakeha are common terms used by Pacific peoples and Maori to refer to those who are mostly of European ancestry. Pasifika/Pasifikan is a term often applied in A/NZ and Australia to those of Pacific Island ancestry as a collective and/or those who live in a 'foreign' country, whether as visitors, recent migrants, or even those born in that 'foreign' country, who identify first and foremost with their ancestral homeland in the Pacific.

The evolution of diaspora studies

Professor Robin Cohen's (2008) four stages of diaspora studies suggest themes that illustrate an evolution in diaspora meaning and application. Stage one is essentially the Jewish dispersal approximately 700 years prior to the birth of Christ. The second stage is a period in which academics broadened the definition of diaspora to include people groups who had been 'wrenched' from their homeland (p.1-2). This included groups such as indentured Indians and Chinese (p.4-5). The third stage can be viewed as a period of social constructionalist critique that sough an even wider definition and application from that of the second stage (p.1, 6). This led to a fourth stage in which diaspora meaning was extended to include the movement of all people group's, whether expelled, 'wrenched', or "dispersed for colonial or voluntarist reasons" (p.6).

Although Cohen does not specify a fifth stage, this has nevertheless evolved. Diaspora studies now include identity hybridity in which dispersed people retain links to their ancestral homelands but also embrace selected practices and identity expressions found within their new host environment (Safran, 1991: 95). This though has also reinvigorated the critical debate with some suggesting that "the word 'diaspora' seems to have escaped its conceptual cage" and has been pushed well beyond its original scope (Cohen, 2008: 9; also see Rynkiewich, 2012: 295). It has also been argued that this new definition of diaspora - taking on identity features of the host - is not diaspora at all, rather it is "transnationalism" (Spoonley, 2001: 82; Rynkiewich, 2012: 283, 294). Further, regarding cultural hybridity, May (2009) argues that this theory opposes notions of tradition or cultural "rootedness" since the postmodern world fractures identities as opposed to hybridising them (pp.38-9).

In this article, I accept a fifth stage model in which diaspora includes hybridised identity which has its foundations in two worlds: the past - 'where I have come from' - and the future - 'my new environment'. As Stuart Hall (1990: 235) stated, identities are "constantly producing and reproducing themselves anew". In diaspora, this influences hybridized notions of self situated in both the old homeland and the new host environment.

Illustrating fourth and fifth stage diasporic identity formation

The development of the Indo-Fijian ethnicity demonstrates both fourth and fifth stage diasporic identity. This people group currently account for around 37.5 percent of the Fijian population, with many of them descending from the 60,000 indentured labourers brought to Fiji from India between 1879 and 1916 (VoigtGraf, 2003: 367). …

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