‘Our sea of islands’: migration and métissage in contemporary Polynesian writing

‘Our sea of islands’: migration and métissage in contemporary Polynesian writing

International Journal of Francophone Studies
Volume 11, Issue 4 (December 2008)
pages 503-522
DOI: 10.1386/ijfs.11.4.503_1

Michelle Keown, Senior Lecturer of English Literature
University of Edinburgh

This article explores metaphors of oceanic migration in contemporary Polynesian writing, investigating the notion of a regional ‘Oceanic’ identity embraced by a variety of Pacific (and particularly Polynesian) writers and theorists, while also acknowledging the specific historical circumstances and consequences of sea migration within individual Polynesian cultures. Throughout, the essay maintains a multiple temporal focus, identifying the ways in which imagery of the sea – and more specifically the ‘traditional’ Polynesian waka/vaka (voyaging canoe) – has been deployed by Polynesian writers as a chronotope not only of pre-European (and early contact) patterns of migration and cultural exchange within the Pacific, but also of the large-scale migrations of Polynesians to various neighbouring nations since the Second World War. The essay also engages with the complex cultural exchanges brought about by various historical phases of European maritime exploration and settlement in the Pacific, analysing how Polynesian writers explore the effects of intermarriage and cultural contact between Polynesians and Europeans since the late eighteenth century. In investigating these patterns of cross-cultural exchange, the essay adopts the French term ‘métissage’, which, alongside the related concepts of ‘hybridity’ and ‘syncreticity’, denotes genetic and cultural exchanges and intermixing. Drawing upon the work of various postcolonial theorists, the essay examines métissage in the Pacific both at the level of (material) cultural exchange, and within literary texts produced by anglophone and francophone Polynesian writers, particularly those who explicitly identify themselves as of ‘mixed race’.

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