The Contemporary Pacific 15.1 (2003) xi-xviii
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In the year 2000, the Center for Pacific Islands Studies at the University of Hawai'i celebrated its fiftieth anniversary at its twenty-fifth annual conference. This special issue honors that auspicious occasion.
Titled "Honoring the Past, Creating the Future," the 2000 conference provided an opportunity to pay tribute to the former leaders of the center (which began in 1950 as the Pacific Islands Studies Program): Douglas Oliver, Norman Meller, and Leonard Mason. Robert C Kiste, center director at the time, gave a keynote address outlining the long life of the center, from its humble beginnings to the present. Other featured speakers presented papers on issues that the conference planning committee (consisting of the center's faculty, Terence Wesley-Smith, Letitia Hickson, Linley Chapman, and myself) had identified as most pressing for the future of Pacific studies. These issues fall under the following topics: Decolonizing Pacific Studies, Interdisciplinary Approaches, and New Technologies. The idea of regional collaboration among different educational institutions to address these issues or to facilitate other opportunities was also one we felt worthy of exploration.
Preconference discussions of the issues were held on the UH Manoa campus as well as via the center's website, and some of the articles in this issue make reference to this exchange of ideas. The planning committee also decided that artistic and cultural aspects of Oceania were just as important as intellectual discussion. With this in mind, the center brought to Hawai'i artists and performers from the Oceania Arts and Culture Center at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji. Their multimedia production, led by Epeli Hau'ofa, Katerina Teaiwa, and Alan Alo, created quite a buzz at the conference, with its innovative and imaginative use of old and new forms (dance, poetry, slide and video projections, creative choreography, voice-overs, and various fusions of movement and sound). The conference also included live performances of Oceanic poetry by Sia Figiel, Teresia Teaiwa, Richard Hamasaki, and Haunani-Kay Trask, and launched Terenesia, a CD of sung and chanted poetry.
During the conference, it became clear that to better understand the contemporary Pacific, we should look not only to academic research and [End Page xi] writing, but also to the arts for the most exciting innovations and representations of the Pacific. Also, whereas academic papers are read by a relatively small and elite group, the best of the arts can reach masses of people, in the region and internationally.
Decolonizing Pacific Studies
Konai Helu Thaman, professor of education at the University of the South Pacific and, at the time, head of the School of Humanities, was chosen to speak because of her pioneering work in indigenous education, particularly her efforts to infuse classroom instruction with Pacific ways of teaching and learning. The second featured speaker was David Hanlon, a well-known Pacific historian and outstanding classroom instructor at the University of Hawai'i (and now director of the UH Center for Pacific Islands Studies).
Thaman's article speaks eloquently of the wisdom inherent in indigenous epistemologies (or ways of knowing) and the marginalization of this wisdom by educational institutions. Although she recognizes the importance of other sources of wisdom, including those from the West, her philosophy is to anchor the learning experience in the student's own culture, in much the same way that her teaching is "sourced from different cultures and traditions but rooted in Tongan culture."
Hanlon discusses several different ways of learning about or recording the Pacific past, concluding that the written word is but one way of doing history. He begins with a historical incident on Pohnpei punctuated by a Pohnpeian woman's remark, after witnessing the rain wash away the ink on the printed pages of a book, that "the history of the white man was no good because it washed away with the rain." This remark underscores the wide chasm between traditional Pacific ways of doing history and the practice of the academy where written history remains the primary medium through which we learn about the past. Moreover, we judge our students...