Oceania in Diaspora: Poetic Revelations

Communities living in diaspora commonly express their experiences through various art forms. For Oceania diaspora communities, poetry has served as a common medium through which individuals discuss living in diaspora. In addition to writing about the diasporic experience, some of these poets have also emphasized ‘Pacifikizsing’ literature by “debunking the myths surrounding colonial discovery and settlement.”

 

Selina Tusitala Marsh, in her lauded work Fast Talking PI, explores political issues, imperialism, and race issues associated with imperialism in the Pacific. The namesake poem of the collection, “Fast Talking PI,” strives to reject stereotypes about Pacific Islanders. She includes so many differing descriptions throughout the poem that readers cannot reduce Pacific Islanders to merely one singular description.

 

“I’m a melting pot PI

An homogenous PI

I’m a skim milk, green top, fat free heterogeneous PI

 

I’m a bit of both PI

A chameleon PI

A hybrid, mongrelized, self-satisfied PI”

 

In addition to her poetry, Marsh also writes about Pasifikizsing literature, how Indigenous women approach reading poetry, and what ‘Pasifika’ as a term means. For Marsh, ‘Pasifika’ places more emphasis on the Pacific and helps counteract the “derogatory undertones” affiliated with ‘PI’. She, along with other female poets, has worked to reinvigorate the literature surrounding a central figure in Samoan history, Nafanua. Through her discussion about mana tama’ita’i, which addresses Pacific Island women’s approach to reading Indigenous poetry, Marsh provides a framework through which to consider this movement in poetry. The poetic reinvigoration of the history of Nafanua, a female warrior in Samoan history, aims to relate and respond to contemporary Samoan women.

 

Lehua M. Taitano, a queer Chamoru poet, also writes about her diasporic experience. Her most recent work, Inside Me an Island, takes readers through the Chamoru “struggle with issues of colonization, militarization, displacement, invisibility, environmental degradation and cultural erasure.She separates this work into three sections: Correspondence, Ma’te (low tide), and Hafnot (high tide). She uses Correspondence to emphasize the traditions of the Chamorus. Ma’te tells a story of “displacement and disconnection” and Hafnot tells of “replacement and reconnection.” The entire work is tied to the sea.

 

Craig Santos Perez advocates for Pasifika poets and tells of his diasporic Chamoru experience. In an online collection, he organized a folio of work by Pacific Islander poets in order to introduce new readers to this poetry. He begins his note to the readers stating, “We belong to Oceania. We belong to a diverse sea of moving islands, peoples, cultures, languages, and ecologies. We belong to a legacy of navigation that teaches us how to read the stars, waves, currents, winds, and horizons.”

 

Further emphasizing the shared Oceanic experience, Perez goes on to write, “We have many names, indigenous and imposed: Hawaiian, Samoan, Chamorro, Tongan, Fijian, Marshallese, Tahitian, Tokelauan, Maori, Palauan, Kosraean, Pohnpeian, Chuukese, Yapese, I-Kiribati, Papua New Guinean, Solomon Islander, Ni-Vanuatu, and more.” In addition to naming the variety of communities in the region, he acknowledges the shared experience throughout the region by beginning the statement with ‘We.’ His use of ‘imposed’ also alludes to his opinions about the colonizing history in Oceania, which is further clarified throughout his work.

 

In a poem from his collection “understory,” Perez simultaneously talks about his wife taking care of their young daughter and the colonizing of Oceania. Using phrases that elicit a strong emotional reaction, such as “the rape of Oceania,” Perez shows the pain associated with being colonized. He also emphasizes his family’s connection to Oceania, stating:

 

my daughter,

i know

 

our stories

are heavier

 

than stones,

but you

 

must carry

them with

 

you no

matter how

 

far from

home the

 

storms take

your canoe

 

because you

will always

find shelter

in our

stories, you

will always

belong in

our stories,

you will

always be

sacred in

our ocean

of stories –

hanom hanom

 

Through this poem, Perez expresses the difficulties of living in diaspora by providing examples of events in his home that cause him pain while emphasizing the permanent connection with the region through interactions between his wife and their child.

 

Even though iterations of poetic expression concerning Oceanic diaspora come from a variety of places, the commonalities serve to provide an audience outside Oceania with an idea of the diasporic experience. In particular, the emphasis placed on the sea, the connection with both recent and established histories, and the pain associated with the colonized experience can be seen in many poets’ works.

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