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The Contemporary Pacific 13.1 (2001) 178-183

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(Re)visioning Knowledge Transformation in the Pacific: A Response to Subramani's "The Oceanic Imaginary"

David Welchman Gegeo

It is a privilege to comment on "The Oceanic Imaginary" by Subramani, a very distinguished Pacific Island writer whose work I have long admired. His Dialogue article is especially welcome because it raises issues that lie at the core of my own research and that point the direction for Pacific Island writers and scholars who want to (re)create Native Pacific Islander ways of understanding and writing about Pacific issues. We Pacific Islanders have been trying to move in this direction for a long time, and it seems that we finally have enough of a critical mass to accomplish our objective. Among the many important points Subramani raises, I will confine my comments to the issues of decolonizing pedagogies and constructing indigenous, 1 native, or local epistemologies.

With regard to decolonizing pedagogies and discourses, it seems to me we take for granted several issues for which we must find solutions. First, as Subramani has pointed out, is the tension between the need to use English in order to get published and read by an international audience, and the desire to write in our own, various local and native language varieties. Subramani himself related his experience with trying to publish in Fiji Hindi. Yet writing in English undermines our ability to represent our native, indigenous, or developing meanings and epistemologies (as has been well demonstrated in the applied linguistics research literatures on language and authenticity and language policy). This problem leads outsiders to believe that we Pacific Islanders are not capable of thinking critically and deeply about issues, have nothing original to contribute from the basis of our native knowledge of our own culture(s), or that we have nothing new to say--that researchers and other scholars from the metropolis have exhausted all the possibilities. Yet we know when we read work by these researchers and scholars on the Pacific just how very much is missing. [End Page 178]

Second, Subramani emphasized the need to move away from the vision of Oceania projected by Anglo-European scholars and writers. Surely this movement away must include a dehierarchizing of what seems to be an increasing tendency to celebrate a few Pacific Islander writers and to bypass others. Over the years I have often come across excellent work by Islander writers who have been essentially ignored by the Pacific Islander community. The writers who seem to be most recognized in the hierarchy are, ironically, those who sell the best in Anglo-European markets. They also seem to be those who have mastered the discourses of Anglo-European writing and scholarship. It is rather hypocritical of us to argue for a Pacific Islander voice while we uncritically employ the standards and evaluations of Anglo-Europeans.

Third, we need once and for all to eliminate the Anglo-European categories that still tend to imprison us in outdated, meaningless terminologies that divide us rather than unite us, as well as determine our discursive practices. Here I am thinking especially of category labels such as Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia, Indo-Fijian, Chinese-New Guinean, and the like. These category labels come with a host of assumptions that are deeply embedded in colonization. We need to develop a new vocabulary that is more equalizing and respectful of cultural diversity and gender. Certainly it is easy to get rid of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia, and refer to people by their islands, that is, by place and space. In fact, we Pacific Islanders never use such labels when we meet each other. Maori will say they are from Aotearoa, someone from the Cook Islands will say "I am from Rarotonga," or another island of the group. We never say, "I'm a Polynesian" or "I'm a Micronesian" or "I'm a Melanesian." The people who most need to be educated on this point are researchers from the metropolitan countries, especially anthropologists, because Anglo-European anthropological scholarship...