- Pacific Alternatives: Cultural Politics in Contemporary Oceania ed. by Edvard Hviding and Geoffrey White
The unique history of Oceanic mobility comes from the richness of humanity—a far-reaching, interconnected legacy of communication and worldviews over deep time. Together, the contributors to Pacific Alternatives: Cultural Politics in Contemporary Oceania suggest that despite the enduring attention to state-centered academic research about Pacific Islands and the challenges facing Pacific communities in the ever-intensifying era of globalization, there is an alternative path to the future for Pacific peoples and the world, found in the region's cultural heritage. Pacific Alternatives invites readers to pay attention to ordinary community members, unpacking the sociocultural dynamics that academic and consultancy experts tend to overlook or misinterpret and bringing into view an Indigenous discourse of the alternative. The book covers a wide variety of topics, including everyday minutiae, ontology, and community cosmologies, and works to reveal the local intersections of cultural heritage and state policy.
Pacific Alternatives is divided into three sections over ten chapters. The first section, "States and Cultural Policies," begins by illuminating the need for local, national, and global dialogue and questions how scholars can re-center their dialogic focus on more localized political forms and perspectives through attention to collectively shared cultural heritages. Anyone interested in revisiting the invention of tradition discussion will find a number of extremely useful and stimulating currents cutting across this section. In chapter one, Rosita Henry illustrates how festivals not only provide Torres Strait communities with opportunities for social effervescence and the refreshing of relationships but also serve as potent sites of decolonial agency, empowering grassroots Yolngu leaders to act as diplomats on behalf of their people, thus transcending contemporary state-to-Indigenouscommunity relations. Chapters two and three explore cultural heritage as a powerful agent of change in and beyond Oceania. Cultural heritage, the authors note, remains one of the most critical and dynamic identity processes across the region. Both chapters shed light on the problem of disjuncture between state-centered policy and local and nongovernmental initiatives. As White argues, "cultural practices are rooted in highly local(izing) oral culture," but the government "often fails to gain traction at the local level for reasons that might be expected" (88). The argument is focalized in the concept of "bricolage," reflecting the "roles and relations in which persons who occupy bureaucratic positions use the imprimatur of institutional sponsorship to organize activities that suit local purposes" (85). Chapter three further opens up a rich narrative for reflecting on how relations between governmental, nongovernmental, and other local agents are being reframed by cultural leaders who agentively draw on funding and support from [End Page 292] "outside" to revitalize cultural heritage programs.
The second section, "The Cultural Politics of Land and Sea," asks the reader to think beyond national, ethnic, and class borders—and beyond the sometimes arbitrary geographic boundaries of "subregions"—to reflect on the interconnectivity of local communities and environments and to reimagine, reconfigure, and redefine social life as composed of more-than-human relationships. For instance, Edvard Hviding writes about seascapes as places "where signs of cultural continuity are under and above water, for those whose local knowledge enables them to see" (129). Indeed, if we see the underwater knowledge, we will better understand our dynamic space for contemplating Oceania from the standpoint of Indigenous cultures. In chapter four, Vilsoni Hereniko engages with everyday Rotuman visions to refresh old ways of thinking and advocacy. He begins with a Rotuman proverb, "The land has eyes, the land has teeth, and knows the truth" (95), which serves as a central argument of the chapter and of the Rotuman worldview. Describing his journey as a filmmaker and underlining Rotumans' rooted, woven relationships with land and the natural world Hereniko goes on to discuss the concept of gifted land, which transforms our understanding of the dominant capitalist view of land...