The Contemporary Pacific 13.2 (2001) 605-607
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Navigating Islands and Continents: Conversations and Contestations in and around the Pacific
They say that the title of a book gathers its contents. But this title does no such thing. Rather, it alerts us that thematically, geographically, generically, the contents of this book are so diverse that they cannot be named in the title--a problem apparently compounded by the text being a conference proceedings (the first MELUS conference in 1997). Yet, after reading this book, I believe it to be a text of real interest and value to scholars in a range of fields. The diversity of texts and approaches allows a range of complex positions and locations that demand reflection from the reader. Whatever the difficulties with the ordering of the essays (more on that later), the range of works is one of the most important strengths of this collection. I begin by outlining what I consider these strengths are.
First, while the collection is definitely located in Hawai'i, it is not parochial. It covers the Philippines, Fiji, Tahiti, the United States, and Hawai'i itself. More important still, it deals with the layering of subject positions that so characterize the Pacific: indigenous oppression, Indian, Chinese, and Japanese diasporas. These all require different approaches, and they necessarily afford different points of view. [End Page 605]
Second, the editors situate the essays against the backdrop of a conference which, for them, was launched by Haunani-Kay Trask's paper on indigenous experience of colonization by whites on the one hand, and of "Asian" migration on the other (xvii). Her challenge is amplified by the inclusion of poems about the tourist, whose "flourishing hand/of greed" and whose "predatory/face without dreams" is "murdering the trees" (209). Her essay unapologetically puts forward an indigenous argument that "Asians in Hawai'i are immigrants just like the haole are immigrants" (53). But if this is so on the terms Trask advances, there are essays here to remind us that there are other ways in which "Asian" experiences of migration are utterly different from the mainstream regimes of political administration and historical representation.
Third, there are some valuable essays in the collection. Trask's essay is a useful articulation of how it feels to be treated as a second-class citizen. Subramani's meditation on the diasporic imagination is perhaps more valuable still for its attempt to join up apparent irremediables: only he faces up to the real diversity of representations of experience (drawing in writers as diverse as John Pule, Sia Figiel, and Sudesh Mishra). If recent events in Fiji undercut his optimistic appeals to a quasi-Marxist postmodern idiom of cultural co-existence of irreconcilables, his is still the only essay to try to grasp the value in the different positions. This is not to downplay the achievement of Rob Wilson's postmodern historicizing (but it confines itself to a binary set of colonizer and colonized), or of Ho'omanawanui's usage of the celebrated (by Hawaiians) and notorious (by the colonial authorities) outlaw, Kaluaiko'olau, to reveal the double discourse of a divided society. As I was reading this essay, I felt the linguistic explanation overdetailed, the argument underwritten. But this is more a matter of format than substance, for the point being made is very clear: the property-owning oppressor has long gotten away with representing this Hawaiian hero as a criminal. Another essay of great value, perhaps to teachers at university, is Misa Oyama's analysis of Miss Saigon. This essay is a textbook revelation of how mainstream US theatrical performance and cinematic texts code (and render--often literally--invisible) the "Asian" body.
Fourth, the text mixes...