Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: fiji
Wednesday, 30 March 2011 17:44

Rethinking 'Pacific Time'

In this video, Fr Arthur Leger from Fiji explains the different concepts of time prevailing in Oceania and in particular in Fiji Island: the time for basic needs, the community time and the sacred time.


Monday, 05 November 2012 16:27

Langus Lavalian Crossing the Kuroshio into the Skies of the Southern Cross



In mid April of 2012, I joined FISION International Exchange—The Aboriginal Youth New Vision Team—and embarked on an adventure that was to take me away from the limitations and constraints of my native Taiwan. Only a few of my teammates were members from my student club at school, most were fresh new faces.


Friday, 02 November 2012 18:25

Lu Xiaoyun: International Exchange and Aboriginal Representations

I belong to the Paiwan tribe, we live in a tribal village in Pingtung county. My indigenous name is Limuasan, which I inherited from my vuvu (female ancestor). Since I wasn’t raised in the village, I didn’t always have a strong sense of ethnic identity. I also suffered racism from my schoolmates during my elementary school years, so I’ve always felt rather negative about my ethnic identity. It wasn’t until I met several indigenous friends in high school that I regained a more positive view of my ethnicity. This changed even more when I entered college and participated in the Taluan university society. The Taluan Society is a society for indigenous people. We organize trips to aboriginal villages to engage in community service there, which in turn enables us to learn more about aboriginal culture. These experiences made a deep impression on me and I can say now that I am proud to be a Taiwanese aboriginal person.


Wednesday, 31 October 2012 14:25

Fiji Time...


I went into this trip with certain unconscious preconceptions about the idea of ‘aborigine’ and what an ‘indigenous culture’ should be. This preconception consisted in the idea that they should be the naive, artless minority amongst a corrupt majority race of ‘latecomers’ - the Hoklo and Hakka migrants to Taiwan. Their way of life has often been portrayed in documentaries as a healthy and balanced, essentially good way of life on the brink of extinction, thanks to the evil oppression of colonialism, whether cultural or imperial.


Tuesday, 30 October 2012 17:21

Sakenge Kazangiman: Law and the power of the People

My motivation for participating in this activity, stems from the fact that when I was evaluating the Canada international exchange which I took part in a year ago, I realized that, in certain aspects, aboriginal affairs and the law can work together, as well as internationally on top aborigines about modern law and traditional systems under attack and their response. Afterwards, I took part in the “Aboriginal international affairs personnel training”, which helped me to understand more deeply the influence that can be exerted by aborigines worldwide by establishing ties with each other, which then let me to realize the importance of promoting an international perspective. When I found out about the trip to Fiji, in Austronesia, this year, it made me feel all the more resolutely that I must try the experience again, I must go once more.

When talking to the locals, we realized first hand the similar high pitch of our languages which is proof of our common ancestry. We took part in a class by Professor Morgan of the University of the South Pacific. We asked him if the people of the villages thought they were originally part of Austronesia, and he said that most of them thought they originated from Africa. However, we were surprised by the fact that counting from one to ten sounded almost the same in all of our mother tongues, we could barely believe it! This also seemed to give irrefutable evidence to the Austronesian grouping of languages. I had always thought that the concept of Austronesia was just discourse, I had never experienced it in a heartfelt way. After going through this kind of experience, however, I felt quite strongly that, despite the skin color and external appearance having changed somewhat due to environmental factors; we have clear proof that our institutions, languages and culture share similarities, and this gives me a deeper sense of identity.

In the Oceania Centre for Arts and Culture performance area at the university, we found a pillar on which words had been written. The words were those of deceased scholar Epeli Hau’ofa in his influential essay Our Sea of Islands. The contents of this essay he discusses how the ocean is a means for developing an Oceanic identity. He claimed the ocean was the main link that joined together all the small islands, that we are the ocean. This concept allowed us to look upon the world and the ocean from a new perspective. Hau’ofa devoted himself to creating an Oceanic identity: the islands of Oceania are not isolated, but rather a community linked together by the Ocean, so we should connect with one another. And as a native of Oceania, I think that Taiwan should also be a part of this.

Photo by Sakenge

The indigenous Fijian people, unlike the young Taiwanese, don’t have any identity crisis issues. The indigenous Fijians are not divided into over ten different ethnic groups like the Taiwanese, the difference between some of these groups being the fact that the people are from a different village or with a slightly different dialect. Identity is very personal and subjective, and manifests in a natural way in one’s daily life. After this first personal level of identification, ethnic groups will often try to find reasons behind their defining aspects, using sociological, historical, and anthropological concepts to justify their identity and purposefully separate one group from another.

There are two types of tourism in Fiji; the first is run by foreign businessmen and consists mainly of large-scale resort hotels, and the other is a grassroots ecological experience promoted by individual villages. We experienced both during the course of this trip. I think that part of the negative effects of tourism stem from the fact that the managers don’t really understand the locals, so they present an overly simplistic form of their culture, in addition to adding all the comforts of capitalism. In order to cater to the expectations of the outside world towards Fiji’s culture and nature, these expectations are packaged to create the sense of a holiday paradise; for example the view of cannibalistic natives becomes a selling point for the business, which causes the local culture and ecology to come under attack. I think if some of the power to shape the way tourism works were to return to the village, that would be a good way to mitigate this problem. Villages should have autonomy when deciding how to manage tourism, how to present their culture, and how to defend their ecosystem.

From visiting the villages, we noticed that all of them had a very high level of self-determination and subjectivity. Muaivuso village in particular is collaborating with the University of the South Pacific to defend knowledge about traditional ways of life and protect the ocean through the creation of ocean conservation areas. Although the government provided some technological help, the main driving force has been the people from the village and their tribal spirit. Seeing this has motivated me to go back to the tribe and encouraging them by telling them just how many things can be achieved with their strength of will. This will show other people our achievements, will allow for many possibilities in our hometown, and can also be used as a bargaining chip with the government or mainstream society when trying to defend our rights.

IMG_5936sakenge

Fiji and Taiwan have a rather similar system of land division and land preservation. The difference, however, is that in Fiji all the land is collectively owned, which differs from Taiwan where it is privately owned. Land preservation is managed jointly by the iTaukei Land Trust Board and the traditional tribal chiefs. If a foreign business wants to make use of the land of any given village, they must first visit the village and gain its consent, before submitting an application to the Land Trust. After that the three parties will come together to discuss the terms and conditions of the contract, and to sign it if an agreement is reached. This high level of respect for the opinions of the tribe can serve as an option to ponder and an example to follow for Taiwan. Maybe we can use village meetings to exercise the communal rights of the tribe, such as discussing the usage of natural resources and the way we open up land for development.

After this trip, I think that establishing international connections and gaining an international perspective are very important! I decided that in the future, I would focus all my efforts on developing and studying tribes, so before I left Taiwan for this trip, I thought that just learning about development in Taiwan would be enough. However, when you represent only two percent of the population, how can you dialog efficiently with mainstream society, when you both have different views shaped by your differing culture?Most indigenous people are not the majority in their respective countries, so they need to use international connections and agreements to interact with the mainstream government, and on occasion even to resist it. However, indigenous people need to have a strong cultural foundation before trying to expand their international point of view. Only in this way can they become a medium of communication between the tribe and the world. Otherwise, the connection with their roots will be lost, including the ability for the tribe to pass on information. If this happens, then the internationalization of the indigenous people will have lost its meaning.

This international exchange was a great opportunity for young Taiwanese aborigine people to have a broader view of the world, as well as allowing us to engage in cultural diplomacy with different indigenous people from around the world. If we form connections with each other, then our youthful power will become ever stronger. I also look forward to the opportunities that will arise from participating in this event, such as becoming the foundation for building a relationship between Taiwan and Fiji, and making sure Taiwan is in sync with the indigenous people of the world.I hope that these international exchange programs can continue in a far-reaching and sustainable way, so that this meaningful activity can continue to help young Taiwanese aborigine students to broaden their horizons.

 

Translated from the Chinese by Daniel Pagan Murphy

 


Tuesday, 16 October 2012 17:24

Sra Manpo Ciwidian: Models for Autonomous Development


I’m Sra Manpo Ciwidian from the Pangcah (Amis) Tribe. I was born in the Ancuhy (安通) tribal village. When I was still young, my parents decided to leave their home in the east of Taiwan due to economic considerations and in order to get a good education for their children, and the four of us moved to Taoyuan County, where we live to this day. I read diplomacy for my undergraduate degree, in the course of which I learned a lot about international politics. A field research project inspired me to rethink my own relationship with aboriginal communities, so I applied to change my degree to joint honours with ethnology. I knew that if I wanted to help my tribe to protect their cultural heritage, I would have to broaden my perspective on it and learn more about it, in order to improve things for the aboriginal peoples. In 2009 I passed the admittance examination for the National Chengchi University’s Ethnology Masters program, gaining entry to the program.

In the course of reading my masters, I got to know aboriginal classmates from different backgrounds, and we founded a group of Amis young people in our age set studying in the North of Taiwan called La Qinghan. It was as if we’d brought the feel of our tribal villages to the capital. Whether we were having a laugh, singing, or engaged in more serious discussions about the current issues affecting aboriginal peoples, it made me feel that even though I was in the capital, I had a concrete sense of belonging.

When I complete my studies, I always hoped to be able to integrate the fields of diplomacy and ethnology. This was, therefore, a great opportunity for me to broaden my own horizons by harnessing my own identity as a Taiwanese aborigine and coming into contact with the larger world; at the same time, I had the chance to interact with other Austronesian groups like myself, the indigenous Fijian people, from several different perspectives, in the hope that the dialogue we engaged in during the visit would provide a frame of reference for the way aboriginal affairs are dealt with in Taiwan.

Our trip was divided into two parts, specifically our encounters with the different villages and our visit to the University of the South Pacific. We visited four villages during the trip: Navala, Koromakawa, Muaivusu and Korova. In our visits to these four villages we observed not only the beauty of the villages themselves, but we also got an idea of the social intimacy amongst the villagers. Even though we spent only half a day in each village, the feelings of unfamiliarity were quickly broken down by the overwhelming similarities in language and culture.

I attached a lot of importance to how the village had chosen to orientate its development and how it took the initiative to develop autonomously. In contrast to the more touristic development model of the villages of Navala and Koromakawa, I’d like to share my experience of visiting the other two villages, which left the deepest impression on me of the whole trip.

Muaivusu village chose marine life protection as its orientation for village development. Muaivusu wasn’t involved in the tourism industry, and few tourists visited the village. USP Professor Randy Thaman brought us to the village, he had been working in cooperation with local villages to protect the ocean for over ten years, throughout this period he’s seen how the marine ecology had gone from near destruction to gradual recovery. His environmental protection work did not just extend to protecting marine life and their natural environment, but it also included recording the local Fijian indigenous peoples’ knowledge and techniques with regard to animals, plants and ecology. Professor Thaman understood that this section of ocean was a big part of the Fijian way of life, their knowledge of it came from their interaction with it, and had been passed on through generations. Protecting was not just blindly following the demand to ‘let natural reserves recuperate’, but rather it was the idea of incorporating man into the ecological model, in that Taiwanese aborigines and the indigenous people of Muaivusu village know how to interact with the ocean.

However, this is not an easy road to take, and in the process of protecting the marine ecology they’ve come up against some stumbling blocks. There are still instances of illegal fishing that occur there, the rubbish from neighbouring towns pollutes the ocean, amongst other problems. The most serious problem, however, is that the knowledge of the ecology passed down from the elders in the past, is gradually disappearing amongst younger generations. Due to the loss of local languages, young people no longer use traditional fishing methods, and the elders, due to their great age are no longer able to go out on the ocean to observe the ecological environment, this is one of the reasons that Professor Thaman is recording local indigenous knowledge of the ecology. In the course of this visit, I was able to perceive clearly how to take a positive and active role in pushing for development in the village, as well as observing the role that academia should play, not sitting in an ivory tower unrelentingly pursuing esoteric abstractions, but engaged in the issues, big or small, that life throws up, contributing academically to the society of which they are a part.

The fishing village of Korova is a little village in close proximity to the capital. It was there that we came across an instance of land issues that was still an issue today. This was because the land on which the village was built didn’t legally belong to the villagers. However, according to Professor Paul Geraghty, who took us to the village, when the villagers migrated there, they asked the then chief of Suva if they could use the land there, a request to which he acquiesced. This approach was the most commonly accepted way of going about this under the traditional system, and so Korova village felt they had the right to use the land, but this was not acknowledged by the legal system. There are several examples of similar circumstances when it comes to Taiwanese aborigines, like the Sanying (三鶯) tribal village and the Xizhou (Shijou 溪州)) tribal village.

korova

On the first day of our visit to the University of the South Pacific Professor Marika Kuilamu and a graduate student from the university Apisalome Movono shared with us the current state of the tourism industry in Fiji. Apisalome’s presentation compared the social impact of involvement with tourism on two villages. He employed both qualitative and quantitative information to relate how tourism had affected local culture, it felt as if he could just as easily be talking about Taiwanese tribal villages. Taiwanese tribal villages have faced many similar problems, like, for example, funding, professional training, as well as land issues. Apisalome’s presentation reminded us once again of the similarities between the Fijian and Taiwanese indigenous peoples. That afternoon we participated in a forum with five professors who taught at the school, in which one of the professors informed us that the term ‘Austronesian’ was a linguistic term, and that, in fact, people from Oceania did not recognise themselves as being Austronesian. However, recently, some countries that speak Austronesian languages had started to incorporate the concept of ‘Austronesian’ as an ethnic grouping, so younger people were more familiar with the idea. This was quite a shock for me.

On the final day of our trip we visited the Pacific Harbour Arts Village, which resembled something akin to the Taiwan Aboriginal People Culture Park. However, in their arts village they had only to introduce Fijian indigenous people as a whole, they didn’t have the task which falls to Taiwan of introducing fourteen different ethnic groups in one go. At the start the tour was hosted by warm hearted elderly gentleman, who had been working there for 30 years. First he took us to an area where he introduced the origins of the lovo (an earth oven), which had originally been used to cook people, as part of Feiji’s cannibalistic tradition. In our discussion afterwards we considered the possibility that the cannibalism had perhaps been over-emphasized in the interests of tourism. In aboriginal societies, cannibalism perhaps wasn’t as common or as everyday a custom as they seemed to suggest. I think, it perhaps merits comparison with the way Taiwanese aborigines are often said to have loved headhunting, but was headhunting so lightly or casually looked upon by aborigines? I doubt that very much.

We went on a little boat tour, on which they introduced different aspects of the traditional Fijian way of life: mat weaving, making fire by rubbing sticks together, how the tapa bark cloth is made, pottery techniques, as well as traditional Fijian weapons and defences. In the second part they took us into the forest, to experience other aspects of Fijian traditional life. In the course of this second part several interesting things happened, like when a Fijian performer came up on us as if to kill us, and the idea that traditional Fijians didn’t want a pretty wife, because it meant that they would live longer. I gleaned two concepts from this experience:

The first was that the Taiwan Aboriginal People Culture Park could use this performance-led tour experience model to introduce the different tribes within Taiwan, allowing tourists to get closer to the aboriginal way of life, which would help to facilitate better communication between aboriginal peoples and the Han population, or even between different aboriginal tribes. What concerns me, however, is whether or not this experience model would turn make tradition overly formulaic, and would simplify the diversity of development and culture between different tribes.

The second idea was that this experience model would lead to the formation of another stereotype of aborigines. To me aboriginal life is not just about maintaining and continuing traditional ways of life, but aborigines are surviving in the contemporary world, and they play an important part in our country.

On this journey to Fiji, we discovered that Indigenous Fijians owned 80% of the land, and they can choose their own development model. Therefore, some villages, in response to the demand to maintain their livelihood, choose to rent land to property development groups, who launch large scale tourist resorts. Others choose to develop their own tourist industry, and others still choose to protect the natural resources of the village, choosing environmental protection as an orientation for development. Regardless of which developmental model is in place, the village always plays an important model within it. This is very different from the experience of aborigines in Taiwan. In Taiwan, aborigines don’t own their own land completely. The majority of the area of our traditional territory is now called “government-owned land”, and aborigines cannot take the initiative to make use of their own natural resources. To me, land holds the role of a mother to our culture. With the loss of land, how is it possible for a society to pass on its culture and social structure to the next generation? I rejoice for Fijian Indigenous people therefore, as they don’t need to concern themselves with land issues, as land can’t be bought or sold, nor cannot it be lost.

How can we apply what we learned in this experience to the development of Taiwan’s aboriginal people? It’s true that Taiwanese aborigines no longer hold the rights to their traditional territories, and they are still engaged in a struggle over it. This will take a long time to settle, whether from a political point of view, or a cultural one. My experiences in Fiji inspired in me a thought on this issue, the drawing up of the borders between traditional territories and their promulgation is an extremely important act. Although in the context of the gradual erosion of aboriginal knowledge of the ecology, is this really possible? Are we still capable of using the wisdom of our ancestors to manage mountain forests, rivers and lakes or the ocean? Therefore, in addition to continuing to research traditional territory, there should be an attempt to discover and record traditional aboriginal knowledge and ecological knowledge, and pass these on to the younger generations in the tribe. This is the only way that aboriginal wisdom can continue to be passed on. In the future, if aborigines gain autonomy, we’ll be able to demonstrate aboriginal wisdom and techniques to the government, proving our ability to look after the forests, rivers and oceans that our ancestors had entrusted to us.

As well as autonomous development by the villages themselves, we discovered that professors and students from the University of the South Pacific also play an important role. Through cooperation with the University of the South Pacific, the villages got access to a lot of management techniques and wisdom, as well as paving the foundation for a friendship with USP. For the university, the village provides an opportunity to put their theory into practice, and to give back to society. For the village, the university’s participation gives the village more resources in managing the land, allowing the village to keep up their livelihood, as well as passing on local cultural practices. It made me think of National Taiwan University, or any other academic organization that researches aboriginal culture, and how they could take part in tribal village life in this same spirit, allowing the villages to develop autonomously, not just treating it as the passive object of research.

As my undergraduate degree was in diplomacy and by masters is in ethnology, I had hoped that through this experience, I could get a feel for the interaction between different Austronesian communities. I did feel a sense of intimacy between the two groups of aborigines, not only through hearing Paiwan tribe businessman, Shi Xiongwei, who is based in Fiji, sharing his experience, but also through direct interaction with local people, as well as with USP professors and students. They gave me the feeling that Taiwanese aborigines have a lot of brothers and sisters in Oceania. Although Oceanic islanders don’t universally identify as being Austronesian, but I think that the more contact we have with other Austronesian communities, we can form a new connection, reconnecting the people living in Oceania, and this new connection will provide a narrative of the similarities between our languages, cultures and even our social structures.

For me it is important to share my experiences in Fiji with other members of my tribe. Although it’s not possible for them to go to Fiji themselves, I hope that through pictures and film they can get a general idea of what indigenous Fijians were like, and to use the issues revealed about them to reflect on the development of Taiwan’s aboriginal peoples.

This trip also helped to decide my own direction of research into Austronesian peoples. Currently my research is focused on “Austronesian Diplomacy”. However, in the future I hope to go to Oceania and engage in regional research there. I hope, as well as comparing this experience to Taiwan, that my research will enable links between different Austronesian groups in the Pacific.

In the hope of engaging in a pilot study for Austronesian research, I have applied for next year’s World Austronesian Project. As well as this, I am trying to save money, in the hope that I can attend the Pacific Arts Festival, which will be held in 2016 in Guam. If at the time I have enough money, I’m sure that the exchange will be of great benefit for Oceanic arts and culture as well as encouraging links between different groups of Austronesians.

If it were possible, I would have liked to have stayed in the village for a night. If we had stayed in the villages for a night I think we would have gotten a more complete picture of life in the village and it would have facilitated more interaction with the local aboriginal people.

I’m extremely grateful to the Council of Indigenous Affairs and to the Ricci Institute. Thank you for allowing us this rare opportunity, at the same time I hope that this scheme will continue to be held, to give young aborigines a chance to create their own links with aborigines from other countries, and to share their history, their society and culture, as well as harnessing this experience to make a difference to their own tribe, helping contribute to the future development of the Taiwanese indigenous peoples.

Photos by Sra Manpo Ciwidian and Lin Yimiao. Translated from the chinese by Conor Stuart

 


Wednesday, 03 October 2012 16:30

Panay Raranges: Tourism and Authenticity

My hometown is the Mulating tribal village in Fuli, Hualian, I belong to the Amis tribe and my name in the tribal language is Panay. I’m part of an aboriginal university society in which I’ve participated in a lot of debates with my other classmates concerning issues affecting aboriginal peoples, but mostly this is limited to discussion of Taiwan, it’s rare that we discuss foreign indigenous affairs. When I heard of this opportunity to go to Fiji as part of an international exchange program, I knew it was a rare opportunity that I didn’t want to miss out on. From another perspective, as Taiwanese aborigines and Fijians are both Austronesian, in the process of researching in preparation for the trip, I discovered a lot of striking similarities between the two, these similarities were the elements that I was most eager to explore throughout the course of the trip. Our team held countless discussions both in the selection process and in the days before we departed for Fiji, in the hope that we would learn a lot through this once in a lifetime experience, and be able to share this learning experience with other team members as well as our own tribes. The ten day trip was divided into three main parts: visiting indigenous villages, educational institutions and government departments. As everyone in the team had a different specialty, we were able to get different things out of the experience, and we would share these experiences at the end of each day, and more importantly, we were acutely aware that we were not just a group of exchange students, but that we were also representing Taiwanese aborigines, and each member of the group had a different aboriginal background and experience. With each scheduled visit, we would try to use our hearts to interpret all that we saw and heard, and relate it to our own experiences growing up, this is another important tenet of international exchange.

 

Navala and Koromakawa had a very touristic feel to them, both in their sevusevu welcoming ceremony and in their village tours, you felt that the whole thing was as a result of accumulated and experience, somewhat rehearsed.

Readers in Mainland China can watch it here

On the other hand, however, I discovered a lot about the background of the development of tourism in those villages, and how they struggled to preserve traditional culture at the same time. In Navala for example, all the buildings were traditional “bures”, not as a result of government grants or encouragement, but rather because the village residents took the initiative to preserve this tradition. The ceiling of the meeting house in Koromakawa village was covered in all sorts of totems, these were painted by the women of the village bit by bit standing on ladders. It’s possible that the conservation of traditional culture was an attempt to attract tourists, but even if the motives are suspect, the traditional culture is still being preserved, and it plays a very important role in the everyday life of the villagers. In Koromakawa we asked the spokesperson (the person who spoke for the chief) if they were concerned that the development of the tourism would contribute to the loss of traditional culture, he answered that they were; he told us that because of modern developments, that they had suffered cultural leakage, some ways in which the villagers lived their lives had long changed from the way they lived before, the young people leave the village to work elsewhere, there they came in contact with very modern things, and became accustomed to a new way of life. From the example of Koromakawa, I was able to observe that bringing the tourism industry into the village brought another advantage: that young people were gradually returning to the village to help in the development of tourism there.

The University of the South Pacific is one of the most important universities in the Pacific region, concentrating talented young people from all the different islands in one place. Several professors from the region made time in their busy schedules to hold a forum with us, sharing with us their research and their own experiences. What made the deepest impression on me was the response that we got after our dance performance, and the opportunity afforded us to attend Professor Morgan Tuimalealiifano’s class, and get to know his students who came from a wide variety of backgrounds. I was really moved when we got a rare opportunity to share the similarities between our languages, it was as if a family that had been separated by circumstance had been reconciled. Perhaps our life experiences were very different, but the links between us could be felt in a multitude of little similarities. I felt that the way Professor Tuimalealiifano brought the backgrounds and experiences of the students and the teacher into the discussion was different from the usual model of the teacher just feeding the students a string of impersonal professional knowledge, which really resonated with me and provided a lot of food for thought. When Professor Tumalealiifano was sharing his thoughts about Fijian identity he got quite emotional at times, which just went to show how much of himself he invested in each class, and led me to the discovery that the classroom can be quite an emotional place.

In the course of this trip, I was charged with observing of the legal and political system, in an attempt to understand what channels of communication there were between the government and the villages, how ideas were exchanged between them, and how the implementation of policy concerning indigenous people could effectively incorporate the opinions of the villages, enabling the compatibility of government activities and the expectations and demands of the indigenous people. What struck me most was the extent to which Fiji’s chiefly system was still so intact. This traditional leadership structure of the villages was developed by the British colonists and became the structure of governance for Fiji. The British even set up the Great Council of Chiefs, with the aim of more effectively governing the colony, although it later became an important safeguard ensuring the rights and protecting the interests of indigenous people. Each chief is like an elder of the village, dealing with everything within the village, and collecting together opinions from villagers; he acts as a spokesperson to the outside world for the village, the decisions he makes are a result of consensus amongst the entire village, encouraging close relationships between villagers, and good communication between a chief and his villagers. This interactive model functions within the Fijian government structure in the way the Great Council of Chiefs incorporates the opinions of all the villages represented by each of the chiefs who form its ranks, and through discussion and cooperation work towards a consensus, to influence government policy, and oversee the implementation of policy, creating closer links between the government and the villages, as well as clear channels of communication between the two. The application of the traditional chiefly system into the modern system is an accumulation of long-term experience, even though there have been several political upheavals in Fiji in recent years, the importance of the chiefs in the politics of Fiji cannot be overlooked, which left us with the impression that traditional knowledge and the modern system were not necessarily in conflict. With enough communication and discussion, the two can integrate with one another. Perhaps Taiwan’s situation is a little more complicated, but this makes a good reference point for us. We discovered that the sense of autonomy and initiative among the villages was very strong, although many young people leave the villages to work, you could still feel the presence of traditional culture in the villages was being preserved. Some of the mountain villages had preserved the traditional architectural style, elders and youths in the village took the initiative to teach the traditional building skills to the children in their spare time, hoping to pass on these skills to future generations.

The coastal villages continue to fish using traditional canoes, not only making use of traditional wisdom, but also preserving a sustainable balance in the ecology. The cultural similarities, are essentially that they are both engaged in a Fijian way of life, traditional culture is inseparable from their daily lives, which preserves it, and this again is a very good example for us to reference. To have just such an opportunity to get to know Fiji is, without doubt an invaluable experience, and we were burdened with an important mission, we were most likely a group of young people amongst Taiwanese aborigines who most understood Fiji, and we have a duty to maintain this important link between Taiwan and Fiji, and to share the things we had learned in Fiji with our tribes, this latter is one of the most important objectives for our group. We both belong to the Austronesian ethnic group, we were very excited about discovering the common features between us, using this to try improve our relationship, although the vast Pacific lies between us, but it is this very stretch of ocean that is what connects us, the ocean is not an obstacle, but rather it is a connecting bridge, connecting our languages, culture and even our history.

I haven’t lived in Hualian since I was a little girl, I was brought up in the city and received a modern style education, and was always in search of an identity of my own, but I had forgotten to turn my gaze to the world’s many aboriginal peoples who have never forgotten their own roots, living on with all their efforts for their selves and for their tribe, they told me that having heart is always important, going with one’s heart will always lead you to where you belong. This Pacific connection was not the end of the story, but rather it was an important beginning.

Translated from the chinese by Conor Stuart


Tuesday, 29 March 2011 17:10

Cultural autonomy: Balancing soul and survival

Vilsoni Hereniko is a hugely important figure in the Austronesian world charged with the mission of establishing the University of South Pacific's Oceania Centre for Art and Culture and Pacific Studies. He is also one of those inheriting the mission of Epeli Hau`ofa to 'rediscover' Oceania, their sea of islands, removed from its colonial legacy and based on respect for other cultures. Vilsoni was a keynote speaker at the Mapping and Unmapping the Pacific conference at the National Central Library, Taiwan in February 2011. Following the conference we interviewed him in Taitung. In the interview he discussed the indigenous dilemma and the importance of cultural autonomy as opposed to cultural authenticity.


Wednesday, 23 March 2011 17:17

Celebrating Connections among our Sea of Islands

Noai e mauri:  Noaia e mauri is how we greet each other on Rotuma, a Polynesian island 300 miles north of Fiji, and my original homeland. This greeting literally translates as “Thank you for your life.” Let me change that to “Thank you for your lives”, all of you attending this important conference. Your presence brings much prestige, and your knowledge has enriched, and will continue to enrich, our discussions at this conference.

I want to thank the organizers and funders for bringing us all together, from far and near, and for all their hard work in putting together this landmark event. I also want to thank June Lee in particular. She has been in touch with me over several months now, and I must admit to being impressed by her negotiation skills. Without her tenacity, efficiency and diplomatic skills, I wouldn’t be here. June – Faiaksia, which means thank you, in the Rotuman language.

In this short presentation, I want to reflect upon the work and the words of the late Professor Epeli Hau`ofa of Tonga, the man whose job I have now inherited. In my opinion, Epeli was, and still is, the most influential thinker in the field of Pacific Studies for the past twenty years or so. He didn’t write all that much – a comic novel, a collection of satirical short stories, a slim volume on his research, and a number of essays – but whatever he wrote was remarkable because of its perceptive and inspired visionary take on Oceanic life. Although his fiction is more entertaining than his other works, I want to highlight his essays, most of which have been published under the title: We are the Ocean: Selected Works.

Alternative (for readers in China)

If you are not familiar with Epeli’s writing, I would encourage you to buy yourself a copy of We are the Ocean and read it before you go to bed at night, and as soon as you get up in the morning. I did that last night and this morning as well, and I am the better for it. But be careful, it is the kind of book that could possess you, which is what happened to me this morning. My alarm went off, I jumped out of bed, showered, and got ready for breakfast, only to realize that my iphone was still in Fiji time, and that the correct time in Taiwan was 1 a.m. Yes, one in the morning. So what was I to do? All dressed up and nowhere to go. I took out my speech, and in rereading it, found myself rewriting it like a man possessed by Epeli’s spirit. Well, they say in parts of Polynesia that around two or three in the morning is when the spirit world is most active, and I can vouch for that. According to my abstract, I was supposed to talk more about the arts, but Epeli wanted me to talk more about himself (how could I refuse the man?) Epeli took me in a different direction. But being a spirit he knows more about what our needs are in this conference than I do and I am quite happy to be guided by him.

I should remind you that Epeli passed away about two years ago now, and that I get no royalties for recommending his book. Just in case you are wondering . . .

In 1997, Epeli founded the Oceania Centre for Arts and Culture at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji. Epeli’s vision for the Centre is that it would become a safe and protected space where artists – painters, dancers, woodcarvers, sculptors, and musicians particularly – could come together to create original works of art without fear or prejudice. Thirteen years later, the Centre has acquired a reputation for the development, creation, and promotion of innovative and original art, particularly in the area of contemporary dance, music, and painting. It has also grown in terms of its physical and human resources, and now it has become a vital and dynamic Centre, not just at USP but increasingly for the rest of Oceania as well.

Owned by 12 nations within our Sea of Islands, a phrase made popular by Hau`ofa in his influential essay of the same title, USP is one of only two universities in the world (the other being the University of the West Indies) that can be said to be truly regional, with 14 campuses spread out over an ocean that covers one-third of the earth’s surface. Students at USP are drawn mainly from USP’s owner countries -- Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Marshall Islands, Niue, Tokelau, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, and Tuvalu – and the result is a very diverse student body.

It is no surprise then that since its humble beginnings in 1968, the creation of a regional identity at USP, instead of a narrow and nationalistic one, has always been a challenge. Ugly incidents of brawls between certain ethnic groups, such as Tongans versus Samoans, ultimately led to USP’s leaders abolishing its once popular Pacific Week when cultural groups on campus performed their dances and demonstrated aspects of their cultures with pride and sometimes with defiance. Today, although ethnic dances can still be seen on campus and students still tend to hang out and socialize according to their own cultural groups, the ugly brawls of former years seem to have disappeared. Instead, what has emerged is a regional identity, based firmly on traditional cultures of our ancestors, but free of their shackles, as well as those of former colonial powers. This has come about mainly because of efforts to encourage students to form social groups according to interests rather than culture.

Leading the creation of this regional identity was, and is, the Oceania Centre where students from different ethnic backgrounds can be seen working and playing together. The Oceania Centre therefore provides a model for the creation of identities that are open and fluid, instead of closed and unchanging.

Taking its cue from the vast and ever flowing Pacific Ocean whose waters wash and crash “on the whole Pacific Rim from Antarctica to New Zealand, Australia, South East and East Asia, and right around to the Americas,” the Oceania Centre in Fiji draws its inspiration not just from within Oceania, but also from East and West. In Hau`ofa’s words, the Oceania Centre promotes the kind of identity “that transcends all forms of insularity島國性質, to become one that is openly searching, inventing, and welcoming.”

Hauofa’s vision focuses on the vast ocean, and not on the small islands that our colonizers and our detractors tell us are too small and will always be dependent on the largesse of larger nations. By encouraging us to mentally shift our perspective, Epeli liberates our minds to recognize that the world of our ancestors was as vast as the Pacific ocean and that Oceanians traversed its highways long before the arrival of Captain Cook.

It is in this spirit of expansion that we welcome and launch the Taiwan Society for Pacific Studies, the newest Pacific Studies organization in the world. Like a new canoe that has taken years to build and has just been completed, the Taiwan Society for Pacific Studies is about to leave the safety of land and venture out into the wide open ocean, where seas can be rough, and the weather stormy. This, however, is a journey that our ancestors took thousands of years ago when they left these shores and ventured out to find new and unknown lands in what we call today the Pacific Ocean. Our ancestors must have been brave men and women, for there was so much more that was unknown then than is the case today. But this doesn’t mean that this new journey is going to be less difficult, because like all long canoe journeys, successful arrival at destination will depend on careful preparation and planning, physical and intellectual prowess, and when necessary, sheer determination and tenacity when the seas become rough and hurricanes or cyclones threaten to destroy the canoe and every brave person on it.

On the eve of your departure into the blue continent, may I make a few suggestions that might help you on your maiden voyage. Please take whatever you feel might be useful, and discard whatever you feel will only burden and weigh you down. And since you want your canoe to skip along the surface of the Ocean blue with speed and ease, let me suggest then that you take with you just three baskets of sand. I call these baskets of sand because in our mythology, it was sand poured on rock that created Rotuma.

Please fill your first basket, let’s call this the responsibility basket,  with this quote from Epeli’s essay titled “The Ocean in Us” in which he wrote: “Our most important role should be that of custodians of the ocean: as such we must reach out to similar people elsewhere in the common task of protecting the sea for the general welfare of all living things” (55). It is this feeling of responsibility toward the Ocean that led Epeli to use the term Oceania instead of Pacific for the name of his Centre. Given our sea-faring heritage, I think we would agree with Epeli’s emphasis on the importance of the ocean to all of us, particularly now that sea-level rise has become an issue of pressing concern.

In your second basket, let’s call this the inheritance basket, and this is a big one, please fill it with this quote, from Epeli’s essay titled “Pasts to Remember”: “To remove a people from their ancestral, natural surroundings or vice versa—or to destroy their lands with mining, deforestation, bombing, large scale industrial and urban developments, and the like – is to sever them not only from their traditional sources of livelihood but also, and much more importantly, from their ancestry, their history, their identity, and their ultimate claim for the legitimacy of their existence. It is the destruction of age-old rhythms of cyclical dramas that lock together familiar time, motion, and space. Such acts are therefore sacriligeous and of the same order of enormity as the complete destruction of all of a nation’s libraries (think Library of Congress), archives, museums, monuments, historic buildings, and all its books and other such documents” (75).

In your third basket, let’s call this the identity basket because it deals with the arts, this is what Epeli wrote in his essay titled “Our Place Within”:  He wrote: “We begin with what we have in common and draw inspiration from the diverse patterns that have emerged from the successes and failures in our adaptations to the influences of the sea.  From there we can range beyond the tenth horizon, secure in the knowledge of the home base to which we will always return for replenishment and revision of the purposes and directions of our journeys. We shall visit our people who have gone to the land of diaspora and tell them that we have built something: a new home for all of us. And taking a cue from the ocean’s everflowing and encircling nature, we will travel far and wide to connect with oceanic and maritime peoples elsewhere, and swap stories of voyages we have taken and those yet to be embarked on. We will show them what we have created; we will learn from them different kinds of music, dance, art, ceremonies, and other forms of cultural production. We may even together make new sounds, new rhythms, new choreographies, and new songs and verses about how wonderful and terrible the sea is, and how we cannot live without it. We will talk about the good things the ocean has bestowed on us, the damaging things we have done to them, and how we must together try to heal their wounds and protect them forever.”

These three baskets-- baskets of responsibility, inheritance, and identity-- will be enormously helpful as you carry out research in Oceania and among Oceanians, people of the sea. When you make landfall, pour these baskets liberally on the rocks along the coastline, and new islands will form.

Let me conclude then with Epeli’s observation that the ocean connects us all, you here in Taiwan, to the rest of us in the Pacific, and that at one time, before our colonizers arrived and carved up the Pacific into Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia (leaving out Taiwan altogether), and required us to have passports and visas before we travelled among our sea of islands, our ancestors traversed the seascapes like highways that connected one island to another.

Epeli exhorts us to free ourselves from colonial thinking, and reconnect with the larger reality of our seafaring ancestors whose world was anything but small: This is his conclusion to the most influential essay in Pacific Studies ever written. Titled “Our Sea of Islands”, this is what Epeli wrote in his conclusion:

“We are the sea, we are the ocean, we must wake up to this ancient truth and together use it to overturn all hegemonic views that aim ultimately to confine us again, physically and psychologically, in the tiny spaces that we have resisted as our sole appointed places and from which we have recently liberated ourselves. We must not allow anyone to belittle us again, and take away our freedom.”

Thank You again for your kind invitation to address this esteemed gathering tonight. I look forward to the rest of this conference, and to everything else you have planned for us during this time we have together.

Ma ta ma maria’ ma of sia. And that is the end of my speech.

 

 


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