Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Reasserting an oversimplified identity

I think that it is very interesting that Wendt as well as Hau’ofa try to reassert and not simply assert the Oceanic identity. According to these authors, an Oceanic identity had been existing for decades, even for centuries, but the arrival of colonial powers made them belittle this identity and even forget about some of its aspects. Like most post-colonial authors such as VS Naipaul or Derek Walcott, they are emphazising the richness , the depht and complexitity of an identiy that has been too often oversimplified. Both authors emphazise the fact that a reshaping of the way Oceanic identity is viewed has taking place.

In Our ''Sea of Islands'', Hau’ofa argues that Oceania is not constituted of ‘‘islands in a far sea’’ but is rather a ‘‘sea of islands’’. This latter expression is so much more lyrical, poetic and alive. It illustrates diversity and unity at the same time, each island is different but they make up the Oceanic world. Before the arrival of the Europeans, Oceania was already an interdynamic space : the Pacific islands formed a large exchange community where people with their arts and ideas, wealth and other goods circulated. It was a boundless world. But when the colonists arrived, frontiers were traced and it created isolation because people could travel no more. Moreover, when the first missonaries arrived, they associated Oceanic culture and religion with barbarism so that nowadays people still divide their history in two parts : ‘‘the era of darkness (…) and the era of light and civilization associated with Christianity.’’Thus, those ideas shaped the Pacific Islanders’s view on their own culture and led them to detach and even seperate themselves from their original identity. Those conceptions also shaped the view of outsiders who consider Oceania as ‘‘islands in a far sea’’ or tiny world that cannot subsist without international aids. However, the author invites us to take into account the fact that the Oceanic world is also made up of the Oceanic dyaspora that live abroad, participate largely to the economical life of their islands and keeps its tradition. It constitutes an extension of the so-called Pacific tiny world.

In ''Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body'', Albert Wendt also mentions the fact that European standards changed the way Pacific Islanders as well as Westerners view Oceanic identity. For instance, nakedness was conceived differently by both peoples : ‘‘In prepapalagi times, to wear nothing above the navel was not considered ‘‘nakedness.’’Tataus were and are still considered as mere adornment by outsiders when it is a visual mark of Samoan identity. Wendt mentions an event that took place in 1971 during the first South Pacific Arts Festival in Fiji. The Nambras performed with only penis sheath and tataus before a missionary-converted Pacific Islalnds. They laughed about those ‘‘naked savages’’The author told one Samoan : ‘‘Before the missionaries and the other Victorians made us ashamed of our lack of clothing, we wore little clothing but we believed ourselves clothed.’’ London missionary Society even condemned tattoing and outlawed this practice by not allowing anyone with a tatau to a a deacon or pastor.

One of the functions of Oceanic post-colonial literature is to expose the challenges in trying to reassert an Oceanic identity in a world that has been shaped by negative and simplistic views. It also highlights the tensions that exist between one’s culture and that of others. However, as we have already seen in previous classes, those authors advocate reconcialiation and Wendt gives a relevant example at the end of his article. He talks about Elsie Bach and Tony Fomison who accepted to be malued and tatued, not because of the beauty of the drawings but because they felt that they were part of the Samoan community in which they lived, and needed to materialise it. They understood the deep significance of the tatau and accepted it.

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