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Telling Pacific Lives

Telling Pacific Lives: Prisms of Process

Brij V. Lal
Vicki Luker
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Telling Pacific Lives
    Book Description:

    How are Pacific lives imagined, written and read? How are they refracted through prisms of process? From legends about culture heroes to biographies of national leaders, from tales of ancestors to stories of contemporary men and women, from lives told of both the famous and the nameless, this collection of essays — by historians and anthropologists, Islanders and Island scholars — probes questions of personhood, identity, memory, and time across the sweep of the Pacific, as well as practical issues of research and writing.

    eISBN: 978-1-921313-82-0
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xiv)
    B.V.L. and V.L.
  4. Chapter 1 Telling Pacific Lives: From Archetype to Icon
    (pp. 1-14)
    Niel Gunson

    If historians aim at presenting what can only be an approximation of the past, biographers, for their part, attempt an approximation of a life. Usually a good biographer goes beyond the life, and attempts to illustrate the age in which his or her subject lived. Authors may think their own autobiographies achieve a more exact approximation of their lives but the historian is not always convinced. Autobiography is a doubtful primary source for writing biography, usually being less reliable than letters, diaries, vital statistics and archival files. Apart from the tricks of undocumented memory, the writer of autobiography is often...

  5. Chapter 2 The Kila Wari Stories: Framing a Life and Preserving a Cosmology
    (pp. 15-34)
    Deborah Van Heekeren

    This chapter is a sketch drawn from a work in progress about the way a collection of stories which together frame the life of a single heroic figure engender the identity of the Vulaʹa, a coastal people of Papua New Guinea. I conducted fieldwork in the Vulaʹa village of Irupara in 2001 as part of my doctoral research, and made a return visit in 2005. My doctoral research was concerned with Melanesian Christianity, particularly womenʹs experiences of the United Church. During the first visit I did not anticipate the project that would be initiated by my male interlocutors. From the...

  6. Chapter 3 From ʹMy Storyʹ to ʹThe Story of Myselfʹ—Colonial Transformations of Personal Narratives among the Motu-Koita of Papua New Guinea
    (pp. 35-50)
    Michael Goddard

    Since the late colonial period, there have been a significant number of publications which could be roughly classified as Melanesian autobiography.¹ The majority of these have, in fact, been encouraged and commonly written down, edited and substantively organised, by European acquaintances of the subjects. The observation that the phenomenon of Melanesian autobiography is a product of the colonial encounter is a statement of the obvious. Further, as autobiography is an account of the development of a self-conscious individual during a period of historical time, the existence of the individual at its narrative core invites consideration in terms of currently popular...

  7. Chapter 4 Mobility, Modernisation and Agency: The Life Story of John Kikang from Papua New Guinea
    (pp. 51-68)
    Wolfgang Kempf

    In this chapter I focus on the autobiographical notes and oral accounts by John Kikang, and how I have used these sources in writing a version of his life. My interlocutor came from a village in the heartland of the Ngaing, a people who inhabit the Rai Coast hinterland in Papua New Guineaʹs province of Madang. Kikang was over 70 years old when, in February 1997, he died in the village of his birth. Throughout his life Kikang had valued the ideals of progress and development. His narratives and writings tell of identifications and initiatives aligned to Western discourses and...

  8. Chapter 5 Surrogacy and the Simulacra of Desire in Heian Japanese Womenʹs Life Writing
    (pp. 69-84)
    Christina Houen

    My contribution enquires into how a woman who is born and raised in a patriarchal society where desire is defined by men can become a desiring person in her own right. My argument is based on two propositions. First, that I am a palimpsest, a text that has been erased and re-inscribed by others; I read their inscriptions and try to discern the traces of what is lost. Secondly, that I can rewrite myself through reading texts of other womenʹs lives; in doing so, I make a looking-glass journey into another world, where desire and the self are different, yet...

  9. Chapter 6 ʹThe Story that Came to Meʹ: Gender, Power and Life History Narratives—Reflections on the Ethics of Ethnography in Fiji
    (pp. 85-92)
    Pauline McKenzie Aucoin

    I was well into my fieldwork in Fiji when Vasi, a young Fijian woman, came to visit me. My research into the social construction of gender in Fijian society had been going well. I had travelled to several of Fijiʹs larger islands, including Koro, Vanua Levu, and Viti Levu, and established a wide network of contacts with men and women in many of their villages. I had conducted interviews with a number of women involved in Na Soqosoqo Vakamarama, the National Fijian Womenʹs Organisation, and helped with the organisation of a village womenʹs co-operative store. I had acquired a sound...

  10. Chapter 7 A Tartan Clan in Fiji: Narrating the Coloniser ʹWithinʹ the Colonised
    (pp. 93-106)
    Lucy de Bruce

    People continue to think of contemporary Fiji as belonging to natives who look and behave in anticipated ways. The popular notion of a Fijian thus becomes someone who is a considerably different creature to the rest of the people living in Fiji. In most peoplesʹ minds, a Fijian is someone who is friendly and lives in a village; whose menfolk play superb rugby and participate in kava ceremonies and tribal dances; whose womenfolk sing, dance and weave mats and baskets in their villages. Above all, a Fijian is someone who speaks the Fijian language and is a smiling, God-fearing Christian...

  11. Chapter 8 Telling Lives in Tuvalu
    (pp. 107-116)
    Michael Goldsmith

    Tuvalu is an independent low-island microstate of 9,500 people in the central Pacific. It used to be the Ellice Islands component of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony (GEIC) before separation in 1975 from the Micronesian Gilbertese, or i-Kiribati. Its inhabitants, who are mainly Polynesian and mainly Protestant, do not have a long tradition of ʹlife writingʹ and one could argue that such practices are inconsistent with Tuvaluan culture. My response to this suggestion is that the relationship between Tuvaluans and other Polynesians to their life histories is more complex; but there is a school of thought concerning Pacific conceptions...

  12. Chapter 9 My History: My Calling
    (pp. 117-138)
    Alaima Talu

    I was born a Protestant on my home island, Nanumea, in Tuvalu, on 7 August 1948. I attended school in Tarawa, Kiribati, from January 1963–1968. On 12 January 1980, I made my final vows as a Catholic Nun in the Congregation of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, in the Cathedral, Tarawa, Kiribati. In taking this step, I had chosen to serve as a Catholic missionary and Kiribati to be my home.

    Kiribati and Tuvalu were evangelised by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) and the London Missionary Society (LMS) in the mid-...

  13. Chapter 10 Researching, (W)riting, Releasing, and Responses to a Biography of Queen Salote of Tonga
    (pp. 139-148)
    Elizabeth Wood-Ellem

    Researching Queen Salote was not my first foray into biography. I was employed as a book editor for five years in Sydney and then nine years in London. In 1969 Macmillan London decided to move the editorial department from Little Essex Street—just about equidistant between the Thames, the Law Courts, Fleet Street, and the Middle Temple (and only 20 minutes walk from the National Gallery and other delights)—to Basingstoke. Not the Basingstoke of Gilbert and Sullivan (a ʹword that teems with hidden meaningʹ), but a factory town. After the brass handshake from Macmillan, my friend Nick Furbank asked...

  14. Chapter 11 On Being a Participant Biographer: The Search for J.W. Davidson
    (pp. 149-164)
    Doug Munro

    Books do not write themselves, unfortunately. There is always a behind-the-scenes story of research, writing and getting published that is sometimes more interesting than the story related in the book itself. This is especially the case with biography. What might seem the straightforward task of writing the life of an individual is often fraught with difficulty; and the biographical enterprise has engendered some particularly bitter disputes. For every encourager, there can be an ill-wisher. Friends and family can be obstructive. Unwilling prospective subjects of a biography have been known to take pre-emptive legal action; John Le Carré, for example, has...

  15. Chapter 12 ʹYou Did What, Mr President!?!?ʹ Trying to Write a Biography of Tosiwo Nakayama
    (pp. 165-176)
    David Hanlon

    At the time of this writing in March, 2006, Tosiwo Nakayama lies gravely ill in Waipahu, a former plantation town on the island of Oʹahu flattened, paved over and built upon with shopping malls and track houses. Japanese and later Filipino immigrants once worked the sugar cane fields of Waipahu. More recently, the town has become home to an increasing number of people from Micronesia; most notably those from Chuuk and the Marshall Islands. Their presence is the result of provisions within the Compact of Free Association between the United States and the governments of the Federated States of Micronesia...

  16. Chapter 13 Telling the Life of A.D. Patel
    (pp. 177-194)
    Brij V. Lal

    Ambalal Dahyabhai Patel, or ʹADʹ, as he was universally known, was the greatest leader of the Indo-Fijian community in colonial Fiji and, arguably, one of the countryʹs most brilliant public intellectuals. Steeped in the Gandhian tradition of politics, at whose dawn he came of age, possessing astute political skills, widely read and far-sighted, at home in several languages, the most outstanding criminal lawyer of his day, he strode the public stage like none other. Often at the centre of the most momentous events in Fijiʹs post-war history, he was nevertheless unable, in his own lifetime, to realise the vision of...

  17. Chapter 14 On Writing a Biography of William Pritchard
    (pp. 195-204)
    Andrew E. Robson

    Biography offers a unique opportunity to resist the generalisations and stereotypes spawned by older, positivist historical schools of thought and more recent theory-based postcolonial approaches. The relatively small scale and specific nature of biographical inquiry avoids the grand themes and pronouncements that lead to the propagation of radical generalisations, whether conservative or liberal, on large-scale topics such as imperialism and colonialism. It offers the opportunity to concentrate on historical specificities, local histories, and individual stories. Such is the case in my study of the mid-19th century British Consul, William Pritchard, who was born in Tahiti in 1829 and served in...

  18. Chapter 15 Writing the Colony: Walter Edward Gudgeon in the Cook Islands, 1898 to 1909
    (pp. 205-214)
    Graeme Whimp

    In 1903, half way through his 11-year tenure as New Zealandʹs principal colonial administrator in the Cook Islands, Lieutenant Colonel Walter Edward Gudgeon told an old military comrade:

    I am here the absolute Governor of some 17 Islands, Chief Judge of the High Court, do Land Court, Surveyor General, Treasurer, & Civil Engineer to the Group. Encouraging the natives to plant when they think they ought to be sleeping, slanging the lazy, repressing those with swelled heads (a dangerous disease in the Islands) & flattering the vanity of those who are a little better than their fellows. Such is my life, rather...

  19. Chapter 16 An Accidental Biographer? On Encountering, Yet Again, the Ideas and Actions of J.W. Burton
    (pp. 215-226)
    Christine Weir

    I have never set out to write a biography. Iʹm not sure that I know how to. But early in work on my thesis—on race, work and Christian humanitarianism in the southwest Pacific—I encountered the writing and activism of John Wear Burton (1875–1971), Methodist missionary to the Indians in Fiji, 1902–1911, and mission administrator in Sydney from the 1920s to the 1940s. My first encounter was with the Burton written about by other Pacific historians such as Ken Gillion, Brij Lal, Andrew Thornley and John Garrett: Burton the social campaigner, the whistleblower on Indian indenture in...

  20. Chapter 17 E.W.P. Chinnery: A Self-Made Anthropologist
    (pp. 227-242)
    Geoffrey Gray

    In South Seas in Transition, the Australian anthropologist W.E.H. Stanner commented that a majority of ʹAustralians between the wars might have denied, in all innocence, even with a certain indignation, that the Commonwealth was a ʺColonial Powerʺ at allʹ.¹ This is, with few exceptions, all too true today, and is mirrored in the lack of scholarly investigation of the interwar period.² A good deal that is available focuses on Papua, which Australia administered for over 70 years, rather than New Guinea, a League of Nations mandate.³ This paucity is to some degree due to the loss of government records. The...

  21. Chapter 18 Lives Told: Australians in Papua and New Guinea
    (pp. 243-276)
    Hank Nelson

    The home computer, Microsoft Word, more sophisticated programs known to younger generations, and the flourishing of family history—the practical means and the incentive—have resulted in the recent publishing of many autobiographies and biographies. That so many of the lives recorded include years spent in Papua and New Guinea reflects the fact that Australians have seen Papua New Guinea as a frontier of adventure, the beginning of the exotic and where Australians have peculiar responsibilities. Australians wanting to go ʹoverseasʹ, searching for something more exciting than work in an insurance office or the daily milking of the cows and...

  22. Chapter 19 Biography of a Nation: Compiling a Historical Dictionary of the Solomon Islands
    (pp. 277-292)
    Clive Moore

    I have been conducting research in the Solomon Islands since the 1970s, but must admit my intensity varied during the 1980s and 1990s, when I continued to visit my adopted family¹ but concentrated on other historical projects elsewhere. Then in the early 1990s, I conceived the idea of writing a history of Malaita Province from the time the British administration began on the island in 1909 and started working slowly, through the files in the National Archives in Honiara. At the beginning, this meant a few weeks each year or two, typing everything into my laptop as there was no...

  23. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 293-294)
  24. Index
    (pp. 295-302)