- Penina Uliuli: Contemporary Challenges in Mental Health for Pacific Peoples
As I picked up this book and began browsing through it, my initial reaction was anything but positive. "The [End Page 406] shadow of colonialism hangs heavily over the Pacific" (xi) suggested that I was in for another anticolonial diatribe, one that attributed all the psychological afflictions of Islanders to their past. Instead, what we had been promised just a page earlier was "a work of Pasifika colleagues" in the area of mental health that would offer "new models for assessment." The term Pasifika raised further alarms that were only heightened by the metaphor of the building of a fale (house) to describe the writing of this book. If Pasifika people are going to construct a fale, then why am I reviewing this book in the first place, I wondered. Pasifika is not a term used by Micronesians, the people with whom I have spent all my adult life. What about a role for them and for Melanesians, both conspicuously missing in this volume? The book had been mislabeled, I was certain; it was far from what it had been billed as—unless Pacific is to be understood as Polynesian, and people's mental and social ills are ascribed to a history of colonial rule.
There was some legitimate basis for these first impressions, I found as I began reading through the body of the book. A few of the authors seem locked into their own personal struggles—as an afikasi (half-caste), as a recent migrant to a land of Palagi (white people) that operates with different values and a wholly different time code, or as a native Hawaiian deeply resentful of the wrongs worked on his or her people—but, thankfully, these are the exceptions rather than the rule in this collection. Naturally, there are also a few of the usual obligatory nods to what have become conventional formulas: tattoos as a symbol of "resistance to colonization," Islanders withering under "the white man's gaze," the "deconstruction" of one thing or another, and so on. But when the authors drop the half-digested phrases borrowed from Palagi books and truly begin speaking with their own voice—as we are promised in the introduction they will—the messages are compelling, saturated with emotion, and often heart-rending.
Most of the chapters are haunting stories of pain and struggle to cope, as much with the expectations imposed on them by their own cultures as with the problems of adjusting to life in New Zealand, for instance. In an interview entitled "Making Culture 'God' Is Driving Our People Crazy," Cabrini 'Ofa Makasiale bewails the impositions made by a culture that is seen as unchanging and rooted in the mythic past. Her plea is for what she calls critical analysis, the readiness to differentiate between the positive and negative aspects of culture, and for the creation of more space for the individual in such tightly organized societies as the one she was born into. The collectivism of the Island family, with its gratifying cohesion but throttling conformity, represents a problem for her and other authors. For all the proud tributes to the "we" of the Pasifika family, as opposed to the "I" of the Western societies in which nearly all the authors have found new homes, one can sense the ambivalence in their words: the Island family, like the Island culture it represents, supports but also confines.
These healers of the psyche take their church as seriously as their [End Page 407] culture, even when they rail against the damage it can do them and their clients. They complain of more than empty platitudes served up from the pulpit, insufferable financial burdens imposed by pastors on their flock, and church authority systems that ape chiefly hierarchies. One author, who uses the...