A specter is haunting French Polynesia—the specter of nuclear colonialism. Communities affected by nuclear colonialism have reported feeling shame regarding their radiation-induced diseases and having difficulties putting their radiation-induced trauma into words. Yet these mental health issues have often been eclipsed in the public sphere by other urgent struggles, such as individuals’ personal fights with cancer and communities’ political fight for reparations. This article analyzes the mutism that has long surrounded nuclear colonialism in French Polynesia by focusing on the literature that has helped to break, weaponize, or otherwise transform silences. Titaua Peu’s debut novel, Mutismes: E ‘Ore te Vāvā, was one of the first novels to explore the difficulty of narrating nuclear colonialism. As such, it offers critical insights into one of postcolonial studies’ central questions, famously posed by Gayatri Spivak in 1988: in a (neo)colonial context, “can the subaltern speak?” In her novel, Peu situates Spivak’s inquiry in the context of the Anthropocene, reframing it in an ecocritical perspective. Can the victim of nuclear colonialism describe this indescribable violence? If she does speak, can she prevent her discourse from being reappropriated? And if she refuses to speak, what does her silence convey? Peu’s novel opens new decolonial ecologies in which not only speech but also silence become political weapons against environmental racism. Her book is a timeless reminder of Mā‘ohi literature’s potential to empower victims of nuclear colonialism.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 371-397
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.