- Decolonisation and the Pacific: Indigenous Globalisation and the Ends of Empire by Tracey Banivanua Mar
Tracey Banivanua Mar’s Decolonisation and the Pacific offers an in-depth look at the interconnections of Oceanian people that transcend nation-states of the Pacific. Centered on the movements of people and communities who worked to decolonize the Pacific during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and beyond, Mar pushes the boundaries on decolonization [End Page 580] and postcolonial scholarship by reminding us that personal experiences can also be intimately political.
Methodologically, Mar’s use of the ocean as a connecting tool of inquiry pays homage to Oceanian scholars Epeli Hau‘ofa and Albert Wendt in extending their academic genealogy of an Oceania-centered lens. The stretch and fluidity of the ocean perfectly relates to Mar’s contentions of decolonization as process—as something pliable that transcends nation-state boundaries and engages in mobilities and connectivity. Mar traces concepts of decolonization through individuals’ stories—prefaced by the story of Mar’s great-aunt Babu Taka—as a way to demarcate the influences of empire and decolonization during lifetimes. This emphasis on people and community continues throughout the book, especially at the beginning of each chapter, and showcases one of Mar’s main contributions: In order to understand the workings of Oceania, one must recognize that interconnected people and places in the Pacific carried (and continue to carry) these shifting tides of social movements both externally and internally, irrespective of colonial borders. Not only does this call for the rereading of decolonization discourse, it also aligns with other re-representations of Oceania, such as reading spaces outside of hegemonic boundaries. As such, Mar also uses deep time to trace decolonization through a broader timescale than is usually explored in decolonial texts.
The first half of Decolonisation and the Pacific follows connections through the various Oceanian diasporas and mobilities of peoples displaced by missions, labor, and other colonial institutions that cleared away or disrupted long-standing settlements of indigenous communities. Through chapters one, two, and three, Mar cements her argument that the remaking of Pacific borders through the spread of peoples was destructive but also integral for the “cross-fertilisation of ideas and the articulation of resistant politics, cultures and languages” among Pacific peoples (17). In a sense, “empires and decolonisation were co-produced”(18).
Chapter one largely looks at the development of cross-Oceanic connections, especially through changes in language, as a consequence of the vast movement of Pacific peoples in the 1800s. This chapter highlights the sweeping mobility of the Pacific, outlining the growth in the trans-Pacific trade that saw indigenous Pacific peoples moving around the globe at the intersection of settler colonialism and labor exchange. As an example, Mar traces indentured laborers from Tonga to Uvea, through the Western Pacific, and as far as Pohnpei (33). Such an examination of the complex histories of indentured laborers that went to Australia, many dying while working under horrendous conditions, calls us to reflect on the current movement of labor from Islands in the Pacific to Australia and New Zealand under controversial programs such as the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme. As Mar mentions, the out-flux of bodies from the Islands had “implications for agriculture, subsistence, genealogies, [and] cultural transmission” (36). The fact that these patterns of labor mobility from the nineteenth century are somewhat continued today allows us to question the [End Page 581] continued economic dependency on colonial powers with more breadth. As Mar posits, the trading of people “ensured that the lives and futures of Indigenous peoples across oceanic divides and borders were increasingly entangled and entwined, and the appropriation of land and labour were interdependent processes” (38). While acknowledging that in reality working overseas temporarily can sometimes be the only way to support families back home, we should still consider how...