Monday, April 8, 2013

Pacific Folk Knowledge

Beautiful Wewak Beach Centre for Sepik Heritage

Meeting Honorable Luamanuvao Winnie Laban of Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand last month at the Council Room of the University of Papua New Guinea was indeed memorable. Honorable Laban is an Associate Professor and Assistant Vice Chancellor (Pasifika) at the Victoria University. I had the rare moment of discovery that she was the first Pacific Islander Member of Parliament in New Zealand and is a close relative of the famous Pacific writer and elder, Albert Wendt. Honorable Laban’s grandfather was one of the first Samoan missionaries to Papua New Guinea.

UPNG VC Prof. Albert Mellam 
Meets Hon. Luamanuvao WInnie Laban
Her invitation for collaborative research and learning from each other strengthened my thinking about the kind of cultural research we do in Oceania.

I am now researching folk narrative structures in literary and cultural productions of Oceania. My interest in teaching Pacific literature and cultures has inspired me to work on a book. I want to accomplish two things in this research: First, I want to answer the question: do Pacific writers use structures from folk traditions to construct their literary works? Second, I want to argue that if this is the case we could also use the same folk structures to read the writings of Oceania.

I propose to look at the conceptual frameworks used in Pacific literary and cultural representations. How concepts of literature, politics, identity, and culture construct each other as well as create a dialogue between different cultural groups in the Oceania. The writing strategies used in literature and cultural productions to ‘unwrite’ the conceptual space known as Oceania is of interest here. The attempt is to identify the different strategies Pacific Islanders are using to articulate their experiences in that space described as Oceania. Is it possible to develop a theory of literary and cultural analysis based on the models and structures of thought derived from Indigenous knowledge systems of Oceania?

The discussions have started and are continuing in a whole range of subjects and topics across different disciplines and through various processes.  In 2005 I organized a conference at the University of Papua New Guinea on reframing Indigenous Knowledge in Papua New Guinea. The conference proceedings are now published as Reframing Indigenous Knowledge: Cultural Knowledge and Practice in Papua New Guinea.  In the book that I am writing now I want to expand some of the discussions generated in Reframing Indigenous Knowledge book to include Oceania.

The proposed book will consider both critical and creative representations of the emerging issues and concerns within Pacific Islands. Some of these issues are social change from historical to postcolonial experiences, cultural constructions, and repositioning of voices, identities, and structures of viewing defined within the Pacific Islands contexts. Pacific cultural diversities and identities are brought into focus.

The book will consider the historical development, issues of representation of cultural identities, social change and nation formations, development and practice of literary cultures. It will also cover discussions on the construction of indigenous epistemology in Oceania, and the emergence of Pacific literary and cultural studies in universities around the world.

I will discuss Oceanic imaginary and its representation, unwriting Oceania: repositioning representations, literary and cultural studies in Oceania, Oceanic art and performance culture, folk narrative structures in Oceania, Indigenous features films fiesta, imaginary geographies: diaspora and cross-cultural fertilization, unmasking histories and memories in Oceania, dialogic translations in Oceania, gendered metaphors: sexualities and sites of power, Indigenous customs and law in Papua New Guinea, Indigenous epistemology, and theory and cultural discourse in Oceania.

The structure and content of the proposed book is designed to reflect the growing interests in the development, production, and study of literary and cultural constructions in the Pacific Islands. I want to bring to fore the critical discussions, analysis, debates, and views generated about the literature, cultural politics and the different movements either within institutionalized spaces or outside of them. The critical studies of the literature and cultural productions of Pacific Islands is the focus of the proposed book.

I was surprised to hear someone describe Pacific literature as nostalgic and sad. I resist such over simplification and unexamined views. Readers need to raise themselves above such narrow, simplistic, and theoretically questionable views. It is precisely in the nostalgic moments that Pacific writers reimagine themselves with a past and the present. How is that such theoretical movement are constructed? Pacific writing is rich with cultural moments that form the truth of their identity. Readers need to go deeper into the cultural subconscious of the writers’ world. Without doing so readers can embroil themselves in mis-readings and lack of insights into the Pacific world.

The Centre for Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland published a wonderful collection of essays written by some of the leading Pacific Islands scholars in New Zealandat that time. Tupeni Baba, ‘Okustino Mahina, Nuhisifa Williams, and Unaisi Nabobo-Baba edited a fine collection entitled: Research Pacific and Indigenous Peoples: Issues and Perspectives, which was first published in 2004.

Others who contributed include: Linda Tuhiwai Smith Kolokesa U Mahina, Kabini F. Sanga, Margaret Mutu, Melenaite Taumoefolau, Monique Faleafa, Malia Talajai, Lorraine L Evening, Alphonse Gelu, Linda Manu’atu, Tungiwai Mere Appleton Kepa, Siosi’ana ‘Ungatea Fonua, and Tipene Filipo.

According to the editors it is a book that highlighted the complexity and multiplicity of issues regarding Pacific knowledge, cultures, pedagogies, scholarship and development in general. It forges a signature on the wider areas of research, teaching, and writing on the Pacific. It is an attempt to talk within and across the table to “the Other”. In order that all share and hopefully embrace together the concerns and aspirations of the Pacific. This process will enhance and empower our capacities to do more and better research and writing to inform our development.”

We are already doing some of these researches in our institutions across Oceana. All we need to do is acknowledge, share our researches and resources, and find ways to have collective inputs into our different communities.

The new book will complement the latest book: Transitions and Transformations: Literature, Politics, and Culture in Papua New Guinea.  

1 comment:

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