- Editor's Note
The South Pacific has a narrative, but it is one more closely associated with the views of Western writers like James A. Michener than those of committed inhabitants of the region like the Tongan and Fijian writer and scholar Epeli Hau-ofa, whose work is introduced in this issue along with that of many other thought-provoking, committed writers and scholars from the region. This issue is about the latter group making its own theoretical claim to this region of the world—and wresting it from the appropriations of continental perspectives. But this is no easy task for it is a Western imaginary so strong that the very nomenclature of the region needs to be altered if there is any hope for it to shake its associations with a narrative that is at once embraced and disdained by inhabitants of the region.
The progenitors of this continental narrative may have had affection for the region and its people, but nonetheless their vision of it is one that needs to be left behind. The success of works like Michener's Tales of the South Pacific (1947) is partly to blame here. Written in 1946, when he was stationed by the United States Navy on the island of Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides Islands, Michener's collection of stories about the Pacific campaign in World War Two not only won a Pulitzer Prize, but spawned a veritable South Pacific imaginary for generations of readers and viewers. Not only is Rogers and Hammerstein's award-winning musical play, South Pacific, which opened on Broadway in 1949, and ran for 1,925 performances, based on Michener's work, but so too is director Joshua Logan's 1958 film adaptation of the Broadway musical as well as the 2001 television adaptation. So if no more South Pacific-type imaginary then what?
Hau-ofa, who was a professor at the University of the South Pacific, embraced the term "Oceania" to denote the notion that the region is not a group of small territories separated by a vast emptiness of water, but rather, in the words of guest editor, Maebh Long from The University of Waikato, "a grand archipelageo whose inhabitants live by and with and on the sea" (10). Hau-ofa says that this region has been too long a topic of "belittlement, vulnerability, and isolation" (2008, 29). Re-coining the region as "Oceania" allows "anyone who has lived in our region and is committed" to view it as "our sea of islands," rather than "islands in a far sea," as Western narratives, including Michener's, tend to view it. This is both an epistemological shift and an ontological one. [End Page 5]
But it is not one that necessarily excludes those who were not born in the region to participate in its establishment. In a generous and beautiful gesture, Hau-ofa allows those not born in the region to call themselves "Oceanian," if only they are willing to "transcend all forms of insularity, to become one that is openly searching, inventive and welcoming" (55), which is, to adopt a sense of self that is most definitely at odds with Western notions of the self predicated on insularity and exclusion.
All of the contributors to this issue are Oceanians. They introduce us to a range of theoretical possibilities for contemporary Oceania, moving between Western and Pacific ontologies and epistemologies. From the political to the literary, the contributors ask how can we theorize Oceanian modernity, ensuring that we reflect and engage without imposing Western models or privileging Western experiences? They explore, in great depth, what is at stake in the myriad names, such as "South Pacific," "the South Seas," and the "Pacific Islands," often imposed by colonial power structures, which mark the region. Collectively, their responses show how the work of Oceania's theorists presents a set of challenges and opportunities for those who do not affiliate their work with this under-theorized region of the world. After reading this issue, you will never think of the "South Pacific" the same.
Looking forward, we have two issues under preparation. The first, entitled Blue Humanities (Vol. 27, No...