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  • Bridging Our Sea of Islands: French Polynesian Literature within an Oceanic Context
  • Paul Lyons
Bridging Our Sea of Islands: French Polynesian Literature within an Oceanic Context, by Kareva Mateata-Allain. Saarbrüken, Germany: Verlag Dr Müller, 2008. isbn 978-3-8364-8699-6; 228 pages, glossary, references, notes. US$111.00.

Mā'ohi literature, which this book defines inclusively as the writings of all of the indigenous peoples of French-occupied Polynesia, has been largely absent from discussions of Pacific literature, both because of its systematic suppression within the French colonial educational system and francophone print culture, and because it is not (generally) written in English. Written in French, in reo mā'ohi (the indigenous languages of the region), or in creolized forms of Mā'ohi French (such as "franitien" or "kaina"), the poems, stories, and essays that began to appear locally in Tahiti during the 1980s and 1990s have been inaccessible to English readers, except through rare translations. Consequently, Mā'ohi literature was not represented in the field-building anthologies Lali: A Pacific Anthology (1980) and Nuanua: Pacific Writing in English since 1980 (1995), both edited by Albert Wendt, or in Whetu Moana: Contemporary Poetry in English, edited by Wendt, Reina Whaitiri, and Robert Sullivan (2003). The subtitles of the latter two volumes foreground the linguistic barrier within "Polynesia" itself that is one legacy of colonialism, an effect of which has been to isolate Mā'ohi writers.

The publication of Vārua Tupu: New Writing from French Polynesia (2006), a special issue of Mānoa journal edited by Frank Stewart, Mateata-Allain, and Alexander Dale Mawyer, was thus an important breakthrough. Its inclusion of English translations of Mā'ohi stories, poems, and interviews from reo mā'ohi and French (several in dual-language formats), self-consciously began a process of re-integrating Mā'ohi writers into the Oceanian writing community (seen as a linked and dispersed network of individuals and institutions whose default lingua franca is now English). Mateata-Allain's passionately argued Bridging could be considered as a companion anthology to Vārua Tupu, an extension of its ambassadorial invitation to intra-Oceanian dialogue, and a critical supplement that contextualizes and critically elaborates the literary movement to which all of the translated pieces belong. The book intersperses Mateata-Allain's translations of texts by Louise Peltzer, Taaria Walker, Flora Devantine, Titaua Peu, and Rai a Mai (Michou Chaze)—several of which appeared in Vārua Tupu—with a series of critical and historical essays, loosely linked as chapters, each of which focuses on problems (social, institutional, and formal /aesthetic) that women Mā'ohi writers engage.

Mateata-Allain's central argument is that a Mā'ohi voice, or a Mā'ohi "self" that might exercise meaningful "self-determination," must be rediscovered within a wider Oceanian context—a point her book performs by drawing heavily from Pacific writer-scholars for its theoretical frameworks. In chapter 1, "Intellectual Cross-Fertilization in Oceania through the Metaphor of the Va'a," she asserts that the integrative inward journey, a bridging of contemporary Mā'ohi to their narrative and epistemological legacies, is in some sense contingent on and conterminous with [End Page 384] their outward journeying, or on a bridging of the gap between Mā'ohi writers and the writers of anglophone Oceania. For Mateata-Allain, the va'a (canoe) serves as an apt metaphor for these processes: writings for her are vessels that may metaphorically "re-enact . . . historic exchanges of cultural knowledge" (27). (Significantly, Mā'ohi writers attended the Hawai'i launching of Vārua Tupu, and Hawaiian writers, the Tahiti launching). Following Epeli Hau'ofa's arguments in his articles "The Ocean in Us" and "Our Sea of Islands," Mateata-Allain emphasizes the importance of Oceanians recognizing the limitations that colonial partitionings, such as linguistic barriers and national borders, have enforced on them.

Chapters 2 and 3 consider further obstacles to inward/outward Mā'ohi voyaging. "Consequences of Western Education System on Ma'ohi Psyche: Decentering the Colonial Epicenter" (chapter 2) considers the psychological and social effects of colonial education, which include a distrust and fear of writing and literature, and which in turn lead Mā'ohi to being...


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