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Narratives of Natives:
Deconstructing Postcolonialism through Colonial Eyes
Christopher Hannibal Paci, University of Northern British Columbia
Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. By Linda Tuhiwai Smith. (New York: Zed, 1999. ix + 208 pp., introduction, notes, index. $25.00 paper.)
Travel Writing and Empire: Postcolonial Theory in Transit. Edited and with an introduction by Steve Clark. (New York: Zed, 1999. 264 pp., introduction, bibliographies, index. paper.)
Women through Women’s Eyes: Latin American Women in Nineteenth-Century Travel Accounts. Edited and with an introduction by June E. Hahner. (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources Inc., 1998. xxvi + 184 pp., introduction, footnotes, selected bibliography, illustrations. $17.95 paper.)
"Gone Native" in Polynesia: Captivity Narratives and Experiences from the South Pacific. By I. C. Campbell. (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1998. xi + 208 pp., introduction, index, footnotes, selected bibliography, illustrations, maps. $55.00 cloth.)
To a great extent identity is shaped by local conditions. The languages, shared common experience, artifacts, and material manifestations are expressions of culture, everywhere influenced by local conditions. In addition, every local culture adapts to outside influences. As I recycled another advertisement for a vacation getaway, I hesitated over throwing the peels from a Christmas mandarin orange into the compost. I took a swig of my Diet Coke and somehow doubted the colonial influence on the here and now, our postmodern times. Who were the foreigners that meekly or arrogantly staggered ashore on Turtle Island, gently walked along the well-trod [End Page 351] beaches and palisades of South America (built on blood and bones just a generation earlier), or were cast away to Polynesian Islands (during a brief expansion of colonial shipping)? These men and women brought narratives and values from and of foreign lands. Those few who wrote about their experiences found a wide and willing audience at "home." What the indigenous thought has rarely been discussed, certainly not published. By the sheer number of modern vacationers, it seems incomprehensible that aside from explorers, merchants, missionaries, military personnel, scientists, and diplomats, most people did not venture all that far from home in the 1700s. For those who could not escape the daily drudgery, but certainly not for those for whom travel was drudgery, perhaps travel writing was a way to escape the mundane, to travel without leaving home.
Into this postmodern world come four disparate works: Decolonizing Methodologies, Travel Writing and Empire, Women through Women’s Eyes, and "Gone Native" in Polynesia. The fragile string these books share in common is narrative. Each book represents a perspective on narratives of indigenous peoples, seen through different eyes: through the eyes of a Maori researcher, through the eyes of postcolonial intellectuals, through women’s eyes, and finally through the eyes of men on the margins (castaways).
Once in a while a book comes along that is so profoundly influential that I have a hard time reading it. One such book is Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s work on the epistemology of indigenous research. The reason the book was so hard to read was that when I showed it to colleagues, they immediately snatched it up, only to return it weeks later. In fact, to review it I had to hide and make excuses that I had misplaced my copy. The attention Smith’s book has received is resulting in its adoption into several courses at the University of Northern British Columbia. In addition, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples is now being used in several Ph.D. and M.A. theses at the university. What is so attractive about this book is the message, "from the vantage point of the colonized" (1). Smith’s book is like the sun rising on a new day, welcomed. The book is set in ten chapters, with the first four chapters laying down context for colonizing methodologies: imperialism, history, writing, and theory. Not surprisingly, Smith writes from a Maori, woman, researcher perspective within a New Zealand colonial context. But that is not all that she has to offer. While readers are warned not to interpret the methodologies as "how to," the...