- Oceanic Encounters: Exchange, Desire, Violence
Oceanic Encounters: Exchange, Desire, Violence—the first output of a collaboration between scholars at the Australian National University and the Centre of Research and Documentation on Oceania (CREDO)—represents an important attempt to rethink encounter narratives in the Pacific. Eschewing the term "first contact," the editors and authors stress the necessity of decentering traditional accounts of initial meetings between European explorers and Pacific Islanders and instead advocate taking a critical look at a wide variety of meetings that resulted in confrontation and transformation on both sides of the encounter. Armed with Greg Dening's pivotal conception of the "beach" as a site of encounter, the authors explore this diversity of meetings throughout a range of locales and moments in time. As Margaret Jolly and Serge Tcherkézoff outline in their useful introduction, the essays in this volume seek to engage with indigenous as well as European perceptions of encounter by utilizing linguistic, literary, cultural, oral, and ethnohistorical approaches and frameworks. The result is a collection that offers new and provocative insights into the ways in which we understand the complexities of these "meetings of meaning, of bodies and minds" (1).
Aside from the aforementioned helpful introduction, the collection includes ten essays that range in geographical focus from Tonga to Vanuatu to Papua New Guinea and Australia. Some, such as Jolly's, attempt to get at the nuances of meetings between Europeans and Pacific Islanders by critically reexamining well-known explorer journals and artistic imaginings. In particular, Jolly looks at the explorations of Vanuatu by Quirós, Bougainville, and Cook in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and highlights the profound shift in the ways these Europeans related to and imagined the other. Similarly, in her essay on the scientific voyage of d'Entrecateaux at the end of the eighteenth-century, Bronwen Douglas peels apart layers of European writing to analyze the ways in which the actions and bodies of Pacific Islanders penetrated writings and artistic efforts of European explorers in the form of "countersigns." Despite being cloaked in the ethnocentric nature of European writing, these countersigns can be identified through careful historical analysis; Douglas convincingly maintains that these "indigenous countersigns . . . remain key building blocks for the construction of modern ethnohistorical narratives" (193).
The collection also attempts to address both sides of Dening's beach by looking at Pacific Islander sources and narratives. In particular, Pascale Bonnemère and Pierre Lemonnier heavily utilize the oral testimonies of the Ankave-Anga people in the Eastern Highland region of Papua New Guinea to examine their understanding of encounters with Australian and European outsiders. By tracing [End Page 244] Ankave memory of contact with these outsiders, the authors explore the ways that "first contacts" with Australian patrols have both been folded into local histories and also have informed the Ankave-Anga relationship to modernity, especially in terms of the utilization of the police in intertribal and local affairs. Employing a similar focus on indigenous experiences of encounter, Darrell Tryon in his essay uses linguistic evidence to dissect meetings and encounters between Pacific Islanders both before and after European contact, arguing that linguistic interaction has occurred to such an extent in some areas that "it is sometimes difficult to determine whether one is dealing with an Austronesian or a Papuan language" (43). Tryon also looks at the development of pidgin languages in places like Tahiti, Nauru, and areas of Melanesia and examines the incorporation of European languages into the linguistic repertoire of Pacific Islanders. As Tryon demonstrates, encounters can be profitably explored through an analysis of the constantly shifting grammar and vocabularies in and among different Pacific Islands.
Fiction also provides a useful site in which to explore encounters, as Chris Ballard demonstrates in his discussion of fictionalized accounts of exploration into the interior of Papua New Guinea from 1725 though 1876. Ballard argues for the value of these fictional narratives, asserting that—unlike factual accounts by explorers—such narratives are...