Seminar in Pacific Literatures

“Reading and Writing Native Bodies as Texts”

ENG 771: Seminar in Pacific Literatures LSE/CSAP,HAP


“I argue for a theory of the polygenesis of Pacific literature… a sophisticated indigenous understanding of the visual.”

  • Teresia Teaiwa, “What Remains to Be Seen: Reclaiming the Visual Roots of Pacific



“Tatauing is part of everything else that is the people, the aiga, the village, the community, the environment, the atua, the cosmos…not just beautiful decoration, they are scripts-texts-testimonies to do with relationships, order, form, and so on.”

  • Albert Wendt, “Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body”


Course Description

This course examines how the Indigenous body has been used for millennia to make meaning and carry narratives throughout the Pacific and beyond. The Hawaiian word “kākau,” taken from the Proto Polynesian word “tatau” (tattoo), is both a noun, the physical mark placed upon the body, and a verb, to write. This course will engage both of these definitions to explore moments when these bodily and literary mediums intersect: Namely, what Indigenous Pacific peoples write about how their bodies’ narratives are created, received, and (mis)read by Indigenous and settler populations. Across the Pacific, kākau is commonly ascribed peripatetic origins, making it a useful device to guide our readings across regions. Rooted in this etymology, this course will examine Indigenous bodies within and across Polynesia and the greater Moana Nui, treating them as texts that tell the stories of individuals and communities.


Imbricated in our exploration of bodies-as-texts is the exploration of generic alacrity in traditional and contemporary Pacific literatures. As a result of forces such as migration, colonialism, militarism, and tourism, the contemporary Pacific is home to myriad bodies, which are often a complex amalgamation of diverse races, nationalities, cultural perspectives, sexualities, genders, and socioeconomic classes. We will analyze a wide range of sources—fiction, drama, essays, paintings, photographs, periodicals, auto/biography, legal documents, film, and rap music—to examine the ways contemporary Native peoples variously navigate, instigate, and resist the multiple and overlapping readings of their bodies as texts.  We will pay special attention to: (1) The importance of reading and writing bodies as rooted to specific homelands and; (2) the ways Native authors and artists draw on international and/or transnational cultural, intellectual, and political ideas and movements to create inter/textual notions of regional and global indigeneity.



Some of the guiding questions for our course will include: What are common bodily or sensory elements in Indigenous cosmogonies across the Pacific? How do forms of embodied knowledge function in contemporary Pacific literature? How do gender, race, class, and place affect narratives about kākau? Can texts without kākau still utilize the Indigenous body as text? How does the literary body represent and articulate Indigenous sovereignty movements? What are the relationships between the human body and the land, sea, and sky? How does the body function in theories such as Mana Wahine and Mana Tama’ita’i? What are the relationships between these theories and other bodily- and experiential-based theories like Womanism and Black Feminist Thought? How do broader conversations in fields like Native Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, Performance Studies, and Critical Mixed/Race Studies provide useful contexts to understand the body in Pacific literature and theory? How do literary representations of the body vary across the Pacific? How do Indigenous Pacific texts focused on the body, navigate the complex intersections of Indigenous identity in the diaspora?  Do Indigenous Pacific writers deploy the body the same way in Indigenous genres (e.g. oli, fāgogo, whaikōrero) as they do in other genres (e.g. novel, short story)?


After this class, students should possess:

  • Advanced knowledge of the Native body as a tool to identify, understand, and theorize Indigenous Pacific literature and criticism.
  • Advanced knowledge of the historical, cultural, and regional developments of Indigenous Pacific literature.
  • Foundational knowledge of Indigenous Pacific forms and theories of literary and artistic criticism.
  • Foundational knowledge of major authors and various forms, periods, and genres of Indigenous Pacific orature and literature.
  • Professional development through enhanced research, presentation, and writing skills, with an eye towards subsequent conference participation and article submission.
  • Ability to situate their own work within larger critical conversations.

Course Requirements

  1. Weekly response papers
  2. Publishable review of a recent book or event in Pacific or Native American/ Indigenous literature or theory
  3. Oral presentation on a text, theme, or theory (20 minutes)
  4. Seminar paper (20 pages)


Possible Texts:

Primary Texts:

Sia Figiel, They Who Do Not Grieve

Epeli Hauʻofa, Kisses in the Nederends

Patricia Grace, Potiki

Albert Wendt, Pouliuli

Vincent Eri, The Crocodile

Joseph Veramu, Black Messiah

Kristiana Kahakauwila, This is Paradise

Florence Johnny Frisbie, Miss Ulysses from Puka-Puka: The Autobiography of a South

Sea Trader’s Daughter

Robyn Kahukiwa and Patricia Grace, Wahine Toa: Women of Maori Myth

Grace Teuila Evelyn Taylor, Afakasi Speaks


Selected Secondary Texts (mostly excerpts):

Teresia Teaiwa, “What Remains to Be Seen: Reclaiming the Visual Roots of Pacific Literature” (2010)

Albert Wendt, “Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body” (1999)

Ngahuia Te Awekotuku et al, Mau Moko: The World of Māori Tattoo (2007)

Michelle Keown, Postcolonial Pacific Writing: Representations of the Body (2005)

ku‘ualoha ho‘omanawanui, Voices of Fire: Reweaving the Literary Lei of Pele and Hiʻiaka (2014)

Stephanie Nohelani Teves, Defiant Indigeneity: The Politics of Hawaiian Performance

Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, Mana Wāhine Maori: Selected Writings on Māori Women’s Art,

Culture, and Politics (1991)

Huia Tomlins Jahnke, “Toward a Theory of Mana Wahine” (1997)

Elizabeth M. DeLoughrey, Routes and Roots: Navigating Caribbean and Pacific Island


Tamasailau M. Sualii-Sauni et al, eds. Whispers and Vanities: Samoan Indigenous Knowledge

and Religion (2014)

Stephanie Nohelani Teves, Andrea Smith, and Michelle Raheja, eds. Native Studies Keywords (2015)

John Dominis Holt, On Being Hawaiian (1964)