The Immanence of Culture: An Interview with Prof. Jon Tikivanotau Jonassen

by on Wednesday, 30 January 2013 4224 hits Comments
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In this interview, Cook Islands cultural specialist/drummer prof. Jon Tikivanotau Jonassen shares with us a variety of topics on the different Pacific Asia cultures in terms of indigenous music and language. He starts from a very special story about his own name, signaling us to the hidden force of traditional culture in our modern era, and ends the interview with solemn advice to the indigenous people on how to gain autonomy in a globalizing world...


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Read below the speech pronounced by Prof. Jonassen during the International Austronesian conference on November 27th, 2012 (Taipei)

Double-hulled canoes, navel connections, and sacred pigs
in the Large Ocean Island State: chants, songs and narratives encountered in the Pacific

Jon Tikivanotau M. Jonassen.

The spiritual association with sea voyaging double-hulled construction is entrenched in historical chants, songs and narratives of the Pacific Islands people. At the center in many of the traditional accounts are cultural and genealogical connections between islands. The voyages of "seven" canoes from Rarotonga (Cook Islands) to settle Aotearoa (New Zealand) over a thousand years ago, is especially sketched in stone, and heralded in music and dance.

Although the actual number of voyaging canoes or the era of their journeys varies, the voyages between Rarotonga and Aotearoa are widely recognized in the Pacific as a continuation of earlier weavings of human history. It is seen as a cultural-spiritual wave that persists in setting the atmosphere for modern day reconstructions, reinterpretations, and a growing demand for a suitable shared inner-self identity for the Pacific Islands region as a whole. At the August 2012 Pacific Islands Forum opening session in Rarotonga, the host and chairman of the meeting Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna spotlighted his remarks on changing the misleading perception of small island countries in the Pacific. He suggested that the identity, Large Ocean Island State, was the effective means of fostering more respect and a way of acknowledging the reality of a Pacific Ocean of resources that is larger than even the United States or Russia.

In many ways the new call for regional identity and acknowledgement continues to reflect traditional voyaging canoe accounts of family interconnections and regional unity despite a rich diversity of culture and distinctiveness. During the 1992 Festival of Pacific Arts held in Rarotonga, the Pacific Islander sea voyaging narrative was revisited and several canoes from Cook Islands, Hawaii, New Zealand and Marshall Islands, trans versed the Pacific Ocean to meet in Rarotonga. Twenty years on, in 2012, seven new double-hulled canoes representing several Pacific Island are voyaging around the world to spotlight climatic changes, sea-level rise and human environmental responsibility.

This powerful symbol of vaka taurua (sea voyaging canoe) weaves into other prevailing symbols: pito meaning navel, and puaka tuika'a denoting sacred pig. Pito connects a person to land both in body and in spirit and is a focal symbolism in many Pacific Islands cultures. In fact the name for the after-birth is usually the same as for land. Puaka or pig is another imperative imagery. Puaka tuika'a or sacred pig in particular represents all that is in a tribe. In Rarotonga, the puaka tuika'a is saved for very special occasions usually involving the investiture of a chiefly title. The ceremony invariably involves the aspiring title-holder to bite the left ear of the sacred pig representative of a sacred promise to continuously listen to the voice of the people. The sanctity and spiritual importance of an undertaking and a responsibility, survives from the past, to invariably give some credibility to the present and into the future.



Last modified on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 17:33
Julia Chien (黑玲)

Julia Chien a.k.a 黑玲 is an English/Chinese editor and contributor in eRenlai magazine. She also makes electronic music and DJs under the name of Waywon 味王.

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