Moana Nui 2013 revealed how the currents of the great Pacific Ocean are layered with colonialism after colonialism, lapping up onto every shore. Palm oil plantations in Papua New Guinea, the redefinition of Gross National Product in Vanuatu, and the Tongan diasporic activists reconnecting to their roots in the U.S., are filled with meanings of mimicry and resistance to colonialism. Through stories of pain and struggle, we were shown paths of healing—paths not far from our own here in the U.S.
Rosa Koian and Rosa Moiwend discussed how the mass production of palm oil requires the taking of indigenous lands to create plantations, such as in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Indigenous peoples have inhabited PNG for many millennia. But the presence of plantations displaces indigenous people from their lands, to become tenants or migrants; many of them have been uprooted from subsistence culture, and bound to the cash economy.
What is uncomfortable about this common experience is who are we to blame? Western and settler nations like the U.K., Dutch, Portuguese, U.S., and Australia, are no longer the sole culprits. Asian-Pacific countries like China, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Philippines… are also homes of cultures and companies that demand this stuff. Who we consider the colonized has also become the colonizer. Colonization is not just relegated to a particular country or region of the world. It is cultural virus that has circulated, internalized and reproduced within “modern, global” societies everywhere. Some groups can return back to their subsistence cultures, because they have the land. But others have lost so much that they make up the urban centers that are based on disconnection to subsistence.
Cynthia Ong, from the Borneo organization LEAP, talked about the possibility of sustainable palm oil harvesting, so that it isn’t so extractive as the unregulated ways. She discussed harnessing the flow of ideas locally and internationally, to find an alchemy, so that those making the decisions and controlling resources, can become aware to not make those typical, heavy handed, mass plans of corporate, plantation production, but recognize the genius within communities to generate sustainable, small scale energy. This paradigm can be the design for manifesting and innovating out of our imperfect conditions.
Vanuatu seeks to development itself based on its own standards of well being, rather than imported discourses of neo-liberal globalization summits. This is partly because Ralph Regenvanu, Minister of Lands, utilizes his knowledge of the colonial bureaucratic context he is working in, to facilitate decolonization of Vanuatu’s development agenda based on Ni-Vanuatu traditional knowledge. At this moment, Vanuatu is uniquely positioned because it is not seen as a mineral or oil resource frontier for global corporations. As a result, they have been pursuing opportunities to define development themselves through creating policies based on cultural knowledge. They partner with local traditional knowledge holders, who generate the data that leads to policy formation to address government initiatives. They outreach to other smaller nations to create trade, based on these locally determined values.
Fuifuilupe Niumeitolu and Loa Niumeitalu talked about their activism within the Tongan diaspora in the U.S. The gendering in the Mormon church has disciplined many of them into strict discourses of right and wrong that are performed as aggression to the “wrong,” and submission to the “right.” The violence that landed many of their diaspora brothers and sisters into U.S. prisons is a reflection of the misunderstanding of the pain being forced to leave their homelands. Going back to their roots, in the U.S., when their back is against the wall, is connected to the struggle in their homelands, to remember who they are in times of globalization that seek to erase and replace their identities.
Moana Nui brings together Pacific Island indigenous rights activists to talk about their local struggles. Moana Nui functions as a space of global indigenous rights dialogue that helps create information and infrastructure to circulate another way that countries can develop, kind of like the tacit vision of the former Non-Alignment movement. Things are complicated and different across each country, as we all have different experiences under diverse colonizers, and the infrastructures they developed in different ways and times. Staying in communication with each other can help us learn about our own oppression here at home. Healing is not an individual, isolated process, but one of being in relation to each other, and how we can change our relation outside the patterns and dynamics learned from those who colonized us and treated us as such.
June 6, 2013
Listen to KPFA Clips of Moana Nui 2013