COLONIALISM AND FRENCH POLYNESIA

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By Mere Tuqiri Senior writer, Pacific Magazine

SUVA, Fiji Islands (June 6, 2001 - Pacific Magazine/PINA Nius Online)---Paul Lyons, of the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, says of The Word, the Pen, and the Pistol..."this book will make it impossible to look at Tahiti the same way."

The 230-page literary work, a new publication in the SUNY (State University of New York Press) series, examines the power of language and written texts.

Author Robert Nicole, a history and politics lecturer at the University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji, says that far from being neutral, historical, anthropological, philosophical, scientific texts carry with them powerful messages containing racist allusions in relation to several Pacific communities.

The Word, the Pen, and the Pistol, Nicole's first major publication, is a revision of his original thesis titled Extending Orientalism to the Pacific, The Myth of Tahiti Revisited, which he had submitted as part of his MA at the regional university.

The book does not explore the history of racism in the Pacific, but rather focuses on the French territory of French Polynesia.

Nicole said: "It started off as a history of literature in Tahiti, but I found that running parallel to that was a history of racism and sexism which I found fascinating, the way the Western man constructed the Island woman.

"And what I was trying to show was that power is not necessarily vested in the hands of politicians or people who carry guns. There’s a whole subtle, covert rather than overt way of controlling a people. Often the two work as accomplices for the same end, which is to subjugate the people or the land that needs to conquered."

Nicole borrows from the works of Edward Said and Michel Foucault among others.

He notes that arms control is often not needed because of the assistance of texts, which reflect a particular way of seeing things. Even for other Pacific Islanders there are certain images that come to mind about what Tahiti is and what she represents.

Why Tahiti? It's where Nicole grew up and French is his mother tongue. Colonialism has, to a large extent, influenced national language. The Pacific has a large English-speaking community of Pacific Islanders and substantial French-speaking community of Pacific Islanders.

Therefore, Nicole felt that he could facilitate an exchange of information between countries crossing colonial-imposed artificial boundaries. "It's very convenient for France that there is very little interaction between New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna on the one hand and the rest of the Pacific on the other. As you know there are very strong independent movements in French Polynesia.

"And the idea that independent Pacific Islands countries could exert some influence and give ideas to their Francophone counterparts, I think frightens France. So I wanted to break down the barriers."

The general perception is that colonialism was bad, but Nicole says that the full extent of its destructive power is rarely understood. The focus falls on the exploitation of labor and resources, but rarely on the colonization of the mind.

The Word, the Pen, and the Pistol also shows that colonialism could not fully subdue the native French Polynesian population because, as Nicole aptly says: "Colonialism contains within itself the seeds of its own undoing. There's no system of domination that is always so powerful that it can control every single avenue of resistance.

"Tahitians began to resist almost as immediately as they saw the first ships arrive and there's a very long history of resistance to French colonialism. The one thing that was quite clear was that French history books do not like to acknowledge that fact."

On the history of sexism, Nicole draws an analogy between the thoughts of Greek philosopher Aristotle and the actions of the colonial man. Aristotle believed that women were the passive receptacle of human life.

From origins in Western literature one can trace man's obsession with giving birth. Nicole suggests that when colonial powers came into the Pacific they believed they were giving birth to new peoples and new lands, which often were described as female.

"Apart from giving birth to new lands and peoples, I think that man truly believed they were entering these new places.

"And the fact that they did that violently most of the time, to me, reflects a rape. Because no matter how much islanders resisted, the West entered and they entered with guns, which were also very phallic objects."

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Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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