Magazine article Whole Earth

Island Sovereignty

Magazine article Whole Earth

Island Sovereignty

Article excerpt

So rarely are Polynesian, Micronesian, or Melanesian news items featured in the US media, that the image of dreamy tropic islands persists in the western imagination. A tacit conspiracy by the media's advertisers and proponents of the tourism industry? The dawning of the new millennium at Kiribati and Fiji received blanket television coverage, but the rise of the Guadalcanal Indigenous Revolutionary Party in the Solomon Islands, civil unrest in Samoa, the movements for independence from France in Kanaky (New Caledonia) and Tahiti, and continued battles for justice and reparations in the Marshall Islands, Bougainville, and elsewhere--received little or no press. Indigenous voices like those of the Chamorro of US-dominated Guam, or the Rapanui of Chilean-administered Easter Island, are seldom heard.

Since the days of J.R. Foster, naturalist aboard Captain Cook's Resolution, scholars have designated three broad and somewhat artificial geographical, cultural and linguistic zones--Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia--a division that downplays important similarities and connections between the island nations. Largely a legacy of the colonial era, the political make-up and living conditions in Pacific nations are diverse. By the mid 1800s, most Pacific islands had been claimed by either Germany, France, Spain, or England. Following the Spanish-American War, the U S entered the colonial arena by strategically acquiring land for military and other purposes in the Philippines, Guam, Hawai'i and American Samoa. Following World War I, Japan and Australia took control of former German territories.

Between 1962 and 1980, most of the Pacific's colonial territories--Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and Kiribati--achieved independence. For many other Pacific islands, however, the colonial era has not ended. Semi-colonial states in the Pacific include the Cook Islands and Niue, which are self-governing entities in free association with New Zealand. US-incorporated territories include American Samoa, Midway, Northern Marianas, Marshall Islands, and Federated States of Micronesia.

At the same time, the Indigenous Kanaka of Kanaky (New Caledonia), the Haohi of Tahiti, and Te Ao Maohi (French Polynesia) are under the direct control of France. The French view their colonies as part of the French Republic. Inhabitants are first and foremost French and indigineity is construed by authorities as unconstitutional and a threat to the integrity of the French nation. Likewise, the Maori of Aotearoa, the Aborigines of Australia, and the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) of Ka Pae'aina (Hawai'i), have been permanently incorporated into imperial cultures. …

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