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Voyaging through the contemporary Pacific.

Voyaging through the contemporary Pacific Edited by David Hanlon and Geoffrey M. White Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2000, Pp.xii + 443 Price: US$26.95 (pb); US$90.00 (cl)

Voyaging through the contemporary Pacific navigates the reader through nineteen defining articles published between 1989 and 1999 in the first ten volumes of The contemporary Pacific: a journal of island affairs. Both David Hanlon and Geoffrey White served as editors of the journal, and these articles have withstood the initial review of the journal's editorial board, and that of the current publisher's editorial review process, as well as the scrutiny of several cohorts of scholars who have studied with White and successively Lamont Lindstrom and Vilsoniki Heroniko in summer seminars for college teachers at the East West Center under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Humanities. White and Hanlon conferred widely with colleagues attuned to Pacific scholarship in deciding to reprint these articles; they have produced an edited book that is likely to be selected for use in advanced undergraduate and graduate seminars in Pacific studies, historiography, and nationalism. Of the nineteen articles, I had already taught eight of them in undergraduate courses, and like others I appreciate their compilation.

The book also navigates the reader through frustrating and persistent analytic challenges in the historiography and ethnography of Oceania. The editors effectively cluster the articles into four sections-"Re-imagining the Pacific,' 'Politics and poetics of history,' 'Cultural politics,' and 'Cultural media(tions)'--and confound the chronology of the original publication sequence. In their introduction, Hanlon and White ask what is remarkable about the Pacific? They both challenge the concept of area studies and regional analysis as ways of organizing knowledge, and successfully make the case for the special productiveness of Pacific-based scholarship in respect of decolonisation, postcolonial and neo-colonial development, emerging nationalism and globalization. All of the contributors, Hanlon and White suggest, address the ways in which the Pacific is being reconceptualized to better embrace local understandings and placement regarding decolonisation, migration, and diasporic movements. At stake in these cases where history and culture serve as complex and shifting discourses and idioms of identity is intellectual decolonization.

The indigenous scholarship of Pacific Island scholars Teresia Teaiwa and Epeli Hau'ofa is represented in articles that re-imagine the Pacific. With her characteristically rhetorically smart and effective word plays, Teaiwa focuses on the relationship between the military and the touristic in a close symbolic reading of the relationship between the bomb and the bikini in the Marshall Islands. And in Hau'o fa's sequel to his powerful, compelling and influential article 'The sea of islands' he provides an eloquent exploration of the metaphor of the sea as embodied within the Pacific self; in this way his literary form evokes its content.

Pacific historiography is analytically and theoretically rich for anthropologists, and Greg Dening's and David Chappell's contributions excel in addressing what might comprise island-centered historiography. Dening is concise and helpful in asserting that history in the Pacific needs to be vernacular and 'vernacularly tolerant' (p.138), as well as 'somewhere reflective' in a cultural system. Chappell asks what is indigenous-centered historiography as he traces the active agent-passive victim tension running through contemporary Pacific historiography. He urges acceptance of contradictory narratives (p.218) and recognition that an 'island-centered' historiography demands heating and integrating modern native voices (p.220).

Perhaps the best-known and most contentious articles to be reprinted are Roger Keesing's seminal 'Creating the past: custom and identity in the contemporary Pacific,' and the vigorous oppositional response by Haunani-Kay Trask, and supportive response by Jocelyn Linnekin, as well as Keesing's reply. Taken together these articles argue about variations in the gap between a so-called 'authentic past' and representations of those pasts in contemporary discourses of cultural identity and nationalism. Keesing, like F. Allan Hanson, argued that western romanticizing and essentializing of subalterness have been reincorporated back into colonized peoples' assertions of identity, so for example, Keesing states that 'the cosmic philosophy of the Maori, the mystical worldview, is as much a European as a Polynesian creation.' Margaret Jolly in 'Specters of inanthenticity' takes a sophisticated and politic tack in trying to reconcile polarizations between notions of the traditional and the modern especially in the already oppositionalized contexts for self-definition of postmodernity and postcolonialism.

Christina Thompson's 'In whose face? An essay on the work of Alan Duff.' and Reshela DuPuis' densely argued analysis of Jane Campion's The Piano engage two violent works of cultural production, a novel and a film, that won international attention for New Zealand. Thompson explores the significance of Duff's role as representative Maori novelist, and explains why Once Were Warriors has been described as 'a kick in the Manri butt' (p.334), and as a haka, a challenge to Maori. DuPuis' reading of The Piano as 'deeply colonialist' helps the reader to understand better the divergent and emotionally complex reactions to Campion's film.

I especially enjoyed Lissant Bolton's discussion of the radio as a vehicle for constructing kastom and shaping ideas of nationhood in Vanuatu. Bolton highlights the concept of attentive listening as a practical response to the static of transmission and as a product of oral cultures; she argues that the radio simultaneously reinforced local knowledge and practice arising from each place while also fusing and standardizing concepts from the entire archipelago.

It turns out that what is so remarkable about the Pacific and its scholarship is its cutting-edge potential for transcending its own seas both areally and historically. Cultural critics, historians and anthropologists will find the methodological and theoretical concerns addressed in this volume of essential global importance.

Michele Dominy Bard College
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Author:Dominy, Michele
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 2004
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