Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Remembrance of Pacific Pasts

Remembrance of Pacific Pasts: An Invitation to Remake History

EDITED BY Robert Borofsky
Edward Said
James Clifford
Albert Wendt
Marshall Sahlins
Greg Dening
Patricia Grace
Epeli Hau‘ofa
W. S. Merwin
Gyan Prakash
Richard White
Copyright Date: 2000
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Remembrance of Pacific Pasts
    Book Description:

    How does one describe the Pacific's pasts? The easy confidence historians one had in writing about the region has disappeared in the turmoil surrounding today's politics of representation. Earlier narratives that focused on what happened when are now accused of encouraging myths of progress. Remembrance of Pacific Pasts takes a different course. It acknowledges history's multiplicity and selectivity, its inability to represent the past in its entirety "as it really was" and instead offers points of reference for thinking with and about the region's pasts. It encourages readers to participate in the historical process by constructing alternative histories that draw on the volume's chapters. The book's thirty-four contributions, written by a range of authors spanning a variety of styles and disciplines, are organized into four sections. The first presents frames of reference for analyzing the problems, poetics, and politics involved in addressing the region's pasts today. The second considers early Islander-Western contact focusing on how each side sought to physically and symbolically control the other. The third deals with the colonial dynamics of the region: the "tensions of empire" that permeated imperial rule in the Pacific. The fourth explores the region's postcolonial politics through a discussion of the varied ways independence and dependence overlap today. Remembrance of Pacific Pasts includes many of the region's most distinguished authors such as Albert Wendt, Greg Dening, Epeli Hau'ofa, Marshall Sahlins, Patricia Grace, and Nicholas Thomas. In addition, it features chapters by well-known writers from outside Pacific Studies -- Edward Said, James Clifford, Richard White,and Gyan Prakash -- which help place the region's dynamics in comparative perspective. By moving Pacific history beyond traditional, empirical narratives to new ways for conversing about history, by drawing on current debates surrounding the politics of representation to offer different ways for thinking about the region's pasts, this work has relevance for students and scholars of history, anthropology, and cultural studies both within and beyond the region.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6416-3
    Subjects: History, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface: A Belauan Story of Creation
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Ngirakland Malsol
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    Robert Borofsky
  5. An Invitation
    (pp. 1-30)
    Robert Borofsky

    How does one make sense of the Pacific’s varied pasts? Materials abound for the project: There are writings, memories, chants, artifacts, and landscapes waiting to be discovered (and rediscovered). Yet a major complication exists: how to organize and prioritize what one reads, what one hears, what one discovers? The past—in our ambiguous knowing of it—does not proclaim its meanings in a single voice. There are multiple voices. Which ones deserve primary attention—in what ways, for which contexts? How does one weave a coherent narrative out of the many materials without denying their differences, ambiguities, and complexities?


  6. SECTION ONE: Frames of Reference

    • [SECTION ONE Introduction]
      (pp. 31-34)

      To help make sense of the chapters that follow, a few general remarks are in order.Remembrance of Pacific Pastsis divided into four sections. The first, this one, builds on themes developed in “An Invitation.” As its title suggests, it offers frames of reference for reading the volume as a whole. The second section considers the dynamics of Islander-Outlander contact. It examines how people on each side of these early encounters sought, in their different ways, to possess—to meaningfully order and control—these encounters in terms advantageous to themselves. The third explores the contours, concerns, contradictions, and controls...

    • Making Histories

      • 1 Inside Us the Dead
        (pp. 35-42)
        Albert Wendt
      • 2 Releasing the Voices: Historicizing Colonial Encounters in the Pacific
        (pp. 43-61)
        Peter Hempenstall

        Historians are doing it tough today. For the first thirty years after World War II they were accustomed to dealing in empirical realities, constructing typologies of empire, analyzing discrete processes of social and political change, painting word portraits of the human actors engaged in the great confrontational dramas of empire. Or they were flexing ideological muscles, taking on imperialism as an economic and political idea, tying Third World development into world systems, and tracing the genealogies of national independence movements. The field was seemingly theirs by common assent, cozy, and not much contested.

        But the 1980s began an unsettling period...

      • 3 Starting from Trash
        (pp. 62-77)
        Klaus Neumann

        How to construct the colonial past of a Papua New Guinean people without perpetuating that past by means of its very construction? I must be careful about the first words, the first sentences I choose. If anything, they provide me with an opportunity to catch my readers unaware. They set the tone—I may not find it easy to override the readers’ initial presumptions after having conditioned them with my opening paragraphs. Novelists seem to be more consciously aware that their enterprises hinge on how they establish first contact with the readers and set them on a particular track. When...

      • 4 Indigenous Knowledge and Academic Imperialism
        (pp. 78-91)
        Vilsoni Hereniko

        Growing up in Rotuma, I was never taught Rotuman history from a textbook. Nor was I ever tested on how much I had learned and whether I could remember the facts and dates when important events were supposed to have happened. When I reached secondary school and later went to university, I found myself having to study history, largely the history of the British Empire, and had a difficult time remembering historical information that did not seem to have any relevance to me whatsoever. But I was good at “cramming” and somehow always managed to pass these history tests, although...

      (pp. 92-100)

      Robert Borofsky:Can you explain the intellectual trajectory that brought you into the Pacific? You have mentioned that it was almost by accident that you became interested in the region.

      James Clifford:Initially, I had no intention of studying anything connected with the Pacific. I was doing graduate work in Paris on the history of French anthropology at the Musée de L’Homme, and I stumbled on a little book of homages to Maurice Leenhardt. I was intrigued because Leenhardt was untypical: He was a French anthropologist who did a lot of fieldwork and, moreover, had done it as a missionary....

  7. SECTION TWO: The Dynamics of Contact

    • [SECTION TWO Introduction]
      (pp. 101-111)

      For some, there is a certain romance in the “contact” experience—as Pacific Islanders and Western explorers (or Outlanders) meet for the first time, as each learns something about the other in their fullness, beyond the dreams and myths each had of those that dwelt beyond their own ken. One might term these liminal experiences—when both lost the security of past understandings and had to, in their own distinct ways, incorporate the differences they saw before them into new understandings of their worlds. Others view this contact in less rosy terms. With the help of historical hindsight, they perceive,...

    • Possessing Others

      • 5 Possessing Tahiti
        (pp. 112-132)
        Greg Dening

        There is a ceremony performed nowadays at Tahiti each year in the Bastille Day holidays. At themaraeArahu Rahu, reconstructed for tourists and “folkloric” celebrations, the “King” and “Queen” of Tahiti are invested with amaro ura,a wrap or girdle of red feathers. It is a symbol, like a crown and scepter, of their sovereignty for the time of the celebrations. Thousands are there to see the ceremony.

        These signs and symbolic actions enjoy some continuity with the past, they have some cultural presence, yet they establish different realities. They are “Tahitian” in character, but present distinct expressions...

      • 6 Remembering First Contact: Realities and Romance
        (pp. 133-151)
        Edward Schieffelin and Robert Crittenden

        Stories of the first encounters between Europeans and the indigenous peoples of Papua New Guinea have had a particular fascination for both Europeans and Papua New Guineans alike. To the Western popular imagination, these accounts are contained in stories of exploratory expeditions moving into unknown regions beyond the borders of “civilization.” In these tales, the explorers, after suffering hardship and danger, come upon hidden valleys that hold promise of wealth in valuable resources and are populated by exotic peoples who have never seen Europeans before.

        To the indigenous people of Papua New Guinea, on the other hand, the arrival of...

      • 7 Constructing “Pacific” Peoples
        (pp. 152-168)
        Bernard Smith

        It is generally agreed that Cook’s three voyages greatly enhanced the economic and political power of Europe in the Pacific. But before such power could be fully exercised, certain basic sciences and technologies, the efficient maidservants of power, had themselves to be enhanced. Cook’s voyages advanced astronomy, navigation, and cartography or, as he might have put it, geographical science. But there were other sciences of less direct concern to the Admiralty enhanced by his voyages, and these contributed also in their time to European domination in the Pacific—namely natural history, meteorology, and the emergent science of ethnography.

        Important advances...

      (pp. 169-172)

      A few years ago Patricia Limerick, who writes about the American West, suggested that historians of the American West join with historians of the Pacific to form a Peripheral Studies Association. Historians of the Pacific have a wider and vastly wetter domain, but historians of the American West, like the historians of the Pacific whom Rob Borofsky quotes, have often felt marginalized within their disciplines. Other historians regard their subjects as exotic backwaters, peripheral to the wider concerns of the profession. In part, both groups had brought this on themselves, but whatever their provinciality, it was more than matched by...

  8. SECTION THREE: Colonial Engagements

    • [SECTION THREE Introduction]
      (pp. 173-188)

      At first glance, colonialism may appear a fairly straightforward historical process: a matter of outside domination backed by outside force. On closer analysis, however, things are more murky. When, for example, should one delineate colonialism as beginning—in the formal annexation of an archipelago by an outside power or, instead, in the varied interactions, over several decades, leading up to that annexation? As Thomas observes, “It is important to recognize that a variety of colonial representations and encounters both precede and succeed periods of actual possession and rule” (1994:16). Why should one limit “colonialism,” then, to only its most overt...

    • Colonial Entanglements

      • 8 Hawai‘i in the Early Nineteenth Century: The Kingdom and the Kingship
        (pp. 189-211)
        Marshall Sahlins

        In a series of letters describing conditions in the Islands in the mid-1840s to an American correspondent, the missionary Richard Armstrong observes again and again, and with a certain contempt for the “native character,” that the government of the kingdom by Hawaiians is doomed. The chiefs simply cannot cope with the growth of haole [or foreign] business. “The idea that this floating, restless, moneymaking, go-ahead white population can be governed by natives only, is out of the question” (AC: 11 Nov 1847). In fact, says Armstrong, the government is already out of Hawaiians’ hands. Since 1843,

        the government has been...

      • 9 Deaths on the Mountain: An Account of Police Violence in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea
        (pp. 212-230)
        August Kituai

        In 1930 nearly a thousand Papua New Guinean men served as police, just over three hundred in Papua and twice that number in New Guinea (Kituai, 1993). A major part of their task involved exploring the country and “pacifying” the people. And it was from this patrol work that the police won praise from their officers, the government generally, and a wider public (Lett, 1935; Murray, 1931:571–582; Hides, 1938). The policemen with their rucksacks, .303 Lee-Enfield carbines, close-shaven hair, fine physique, and their police uniforms walked into thousands of villages: They were the most numerous of the government’s agents....

    • Tensions of Empire

      • 10 Colonial Conversions: Difference, Hierarchy, and History in Early Twentieth-Century Evangelical Propaganda
        (pp. 231-246)
        Nicholas Thomas

        This chapter sketches out the paradigmatic features of missionary representations of human difference and of the missionary endeavor, with reference to Methodist propaganda concerning the western Solomon Islands. I do not deal with missionaries’ private understandings of Pacific Islanders, nor do I attempt here to move beyond the propaganda to reconstruct the actual dynamics of conversion in the Pacific. Rather, I use the example of missionary imagery to establish that colonial culture was significantly differentiated and suggest that visual sources—here photographs and a film—enable historians to work toward a deeper understanding of colonial imaginings in the Pacific.


      • 11 The French Way in Plantation Systems
        (pp. 247-254)
        Michel Panoff

        On his conversion tokolonialpolitik[colonial politics] after being hostile to overseas expansion, Bismarck took care to emphasize that Germany would never adopt what he called the French system (Moses 1968:46). According to him the main features of this system were: taking action to occupy territories where no previous economic interests could have been an incentive; establishing garrisons or some sort of military bases; expatriate officers ruling the occupied territory with a view to attracting a sizeable national emigration.

        In other words he held the view that France would have preferred or, at least, had resigned herself to a tabula...

    • Styles of Dominance

      • 12 The New Zealand Wars and the Myth of Conquest
        (pp. 255-268)
        James Belich

        In the mid-seventeenth century, the little island of Britain, rent by civil strife and internationally impotent, jostled a ravaged and fragmented Germany for the position of sick man of Europe. A couple of centuries later, Britain ruled large chunks of five continents and dominated the oceans in between. This rise from rags to riches, obscurity to world empire, ranks with that of Latin villagers and Mongolian nomads as a great imperial story. The ascent was shared to some extent by western Europe as a whole, and it was natural that Europeans should seek explanations for it other than mere accident....

      • 13 Theorizing Māori Women’s Lives: Paradoxes of the Colonial Male Gaze
        (pp. 269-286)
        Patricia Grimshaw and Helen Morton

        Joel Polack was an adventurer who arrived in New Zealand in 1831 and, like so many of his fellows, set out to make a good living wheeling and dealing in goods and land with Māori people, first in Hokianga and subsequently in Kororareka. He became more notable than most early settlers, however, by writing of his experiences. HisNew Zealand: Being a Narrative of Travels and Adventures. . . 1831–1837 appeared in 1838, followed by the two-volumeManners and Customs of the New Zealandersin 1840, the year in which the British claimed sovereignty over Māori and their...

      • 14 Conqueror
        (pp. 287-287)
        W. S. Merwin
    • World War II

      • 15 World War II in Kiribati
        (pp. 288-291)
        Sam Highland

        World War II in Kiribati was confined mainly to the important government bases in Banaba, Tarawa, Abemama, and Butaritari. This paper is about the Tarawa campaign, one of the bloodiest battlegrounds in the entire war, and its impact on the Kiribati people, particularly the inhabitants of Betio village, which was the stage of the main conflict between the Japanese and the Americans.

        Betio is an islet and village located at the southwestern extremity of Tarawa Atoll. Until the ravages of the war, the Betio people engaged in a subsistence lifestyle with some affluence. The land abounded with tropical fruits and...

      • 16 Barefoot Benefactors: A Study of Japanese Views of Melanesians
        (pp. 292-295)
        Hisafumi Saito

        This chapter discusses the experiences of Japanese soldiers in Melanesia with special reference to their relationship with and their views of Melanesians. Contrary to my original expectations, Japanese were quite interested in Melanesians. This is reflected in the considerable number of documents I have collected that refer to Melanesians during the war.

        Records pertaining to the people living in the Wewak area of Papua New Guinea, including the Kairiru and Mushu Islands off Wewak, Prince Alexander Range, and the basin of the middle and lower Sepik River, are the most abundant. This is because many Japanese, after failing to attack...

      (pp. 296-302)

      Robert Borofsky:One of the key questions regarding the colonial period is how to write about it. Both Sahlins and Kituai use colonial documentation to discuss the complex ways various parties were entangled. To what extent do you think it is possible to write about the colonial period without staying within the silences and framings of the data collected by the colonial regimes—without getting entangled, that is to say, in the colonial entanglements themselves?

      Gyan Prakash:To begin with, one cannot simply use colonial documents as repositories of information. One needs to take into account not only the purposes...

  9. SECTION FOUR: “Postcolonial” Politics

    • [SECTION FOUR Introduction]
      (pp. 303-313)

      In “Colonial Engagements,” we noted the difficulty in delineating colonialism’s precise beginning. In this section, we explore the difficulty in delineating its precise end. There are shades and degrees of colonialism today—even in nominally independent countries—that make a clear distinction between colonial dependence and postcolonial independence an uncertain matter at best. A central concern of this section is: To what degree is the “post” (in postcolonial) an appropriate label for the Pacific’s present politics?

      The panoramic historical accounts of the Pacific fall into two categories regarding the “postcolonial”: Oliver (1989 [1961]) and Howe (1984), published earlier, do not...

    • Continuities and Discontinuities

      • 17 Decolonization
        (pp. 314-332)
        Stewart Firth

        Decolonization has one clear and unambiguous meaning in the history of the international system of states since World War II. It refers to the withdrawal of the colonial powers from direct legal and constitutional control over their territories. The process by which the modern states system of Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands came into being is “decolonization” as envisaged by the United Nations in the 1960 decolonization resolutions, which were passed at the height of international enthusiasm for the dismantling of the colonial empires.

        If we adopt this straightforward definition in writing a history of decolonization in the...

      • 18 Colonised People
        (pp. 333-337)
        Grace Mera Molisa
      • 19 My Blood
        (pp. 338-339)
        Konai Helu Thaman
      • 20 Custom and the Way of the Land: Past and Present in Vanuatu and Fiji
        (pp. 340-357)
        Margaret Jolly

        Tradition always encodes a relation between past and present, but that relation may be constituted as continuous or discontinuous (see Handler and Linnekin 1984). Pasts are related to presents in different ways—at one extreme the past may be seen to flow effortlessly and continuously toward the present, at the other the past may be seen to be irrevocably separated from the present through a rupture, a break, which must be bridged through revival. Such differences in the construction of past-present relations are nowhere more apparent than in how the past is evoked in the politics of tradition in contemporary...

      • 21 The Relationship between the United States and the Native Hawaiian People: A Case of Spouse Abuse
        (pp. 358-360)
        Brenda Luana Machado Lee
    • Identity and Empowerment

      • 22 Moe‘uhane
        (pp. 361-361)
        Joseph Balaz
      • 23 Simply Chamorro: Tales of Demise and Survival in Guam
        (pp. 362-382)
        Vicente M. Diaz

        In 1945, Mavis Warner Van Peenen described the contemporary Chamorro—the indigenous people of the Marianas—as teetering on a “precarious cultural position” (1974:41). Referring to the Chamorro in the ever-present masculine pronoun, Van Peenen wrote: “He walks the precipitous ledge of Past and Present, with the abyss of ‘Americanization’ waiting below to engulf him.”

        From Van Peenen’s vantage point as wife of an American naval officer stationed on Guam right before the Japanese invasion in 1941, the precipice on which she saw the Chamorro balanced precariously was composed of a history of Spanish Catholic domination further weakened by the...

      • 24 Mixed Blood
        (pp. 383-384)
        Teresia Kieuea Teaiwa
      • 25 Ngati Kangaru
        (pp. 385-398)
        Patricia Grace

        Billy was laughing his head off reading the history of the New Zealand Company, har, har, har, har.

        It was since he’d been made redundant from Mitre 10 that he’d been doing all this reading. Billy and Makere had four children, one who had recently qualified as a lawyer but was out of work, one in her final year at university, and two at secondary school. These kids ate like elephants. Makere’s job as a checkout operator for New World didn’t bring in much money and she thought Billy should be out looking for another job instead of sitting on...

    • Integrating “the Past” into “the Present”

      • 26 Our Pacific
        (pp. 399-400)
        Vaine Rasmussen
      • 27 Treaty-Related Research and Versions of New Zealand History
        (pp. 401-419)
        Alan Ward

        Prodigious research efforts and outpourings of new writing on Maorisettler history have been associated largely with the enactment into New Zealand’s statute law in 1975 of the Treaty of Waitangi. The treaty, signed between the British Crown and some five hundred Maori chiefs in 1840, had been drawn up by British officials and their missionary advisers for the purposes of securing Maori consent, under Article I of the treaty, to the transfer of sovereignty of the New Zealand islands to the British Crown. It was the act of two “executives” and, of itself, it had no force in domestic law,...

      • 28 Cook, Lono, Obeyesekere, and Sahlins
        (pp. 420-442)
        Robert Borofsky

        The recent cause célèbre between Marshall Sahlins and Gananath Obeyesekere involves more than a tempest in a teapot of exotic details. Behind the obvious issue—of whether Captain James Cook was perceived by Hawaiians in 1778–1779 as a manifestation of theirakua(a term at times translated into English as “god”) Lono—are broader ones critical to both anthropology and history today: To what degree, for example, do the present cultural politics of identity demand a rethinking of anthropology’s ethnographic effort? Who has the right to speak for whom in politically volatile arenas today? Also: How does one evaluate...

      (pp. 443-452)

      Robert Borofsky:In the first chapter ofCulture and Imperialism,you write: “Appeals to the past are among the commonest of strategies in interpretations of the present. What animates such appeals is not only disagreement about what happened in the past and what the past was, but uncertainty about whether the past really is past, over and concluded or whether it continues, albeit in different forms.” One of the key issues facing both the Pacific and the Middle East today—that is brought out in the Firth and Jolly chapters and the poems by Lee, Thaman, and Molisa—is to...

  10. Epilogue: Pasts to Remember
    (pp. 453-472)
    Epeli Hau‘ofa

    In an earlier publication (1994a), I offered a view of ourselves that is more optimistic than the currently prevailing notions of our present and future as peoples of Oceania. That view is tied to my firmly held belief that all social realities are human creations, and that if we fail to construct our own realities other people will do it for us. It can be said that this concern is much ado about nothing. I wish that this were true, but it is not. People with powerful connections have presented us in certain ways, which have influenced our self-perceptions and...

  11. Abbreviations and Newspapers
    (pp. 473-474)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 475-532)
  13. List of Contributors
    (pp. 533-536)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 537-560)