Seminar in Cultural Studies: Women Writing Oceania

“It is with profound gratitude to our ancestors, ATUA and spiritual teachers that we have survived to (help) tell the tale.” — Caroline Sinavaiana and J. Kehaulani Kauanui, WOMEN WRITING OCEANIA (2008)

Across the oceanic Pacific, indigenous women have played important roles in movements for political sovereignty from colonial powers, personal autonomy for women’s rights, and have also been quite active in the production of literary arts. The intersection of the two is often seen in the central themes expressed in most indigenous women”s writing—issues of land, family, sexual and national/political oppression.

This course will explore major works of multi-genre Maoli (Indigenous) Pacific Women’s literature from the early nineteenth century to the present within historical and interpretive contexts. Texts will be primarily written in or translated into English. We will examine how colonial resistance surfaced in Pacific literary art forms, especially through the traditional genres of poetry (through chant, song, and genealogy), mo‘olelo or hi/story (oral and written) and dance (choreographed poetry, or poetry in motion), and how that changed under the influence of western forms of literacy (i.e. reading and writing) in the early 1800s.

We will look at the transition from oral tradition to written literature, as well as the shift from indigenous languages to colonial ones (primarily English), paying attention to both the interplay between these factors. We will then turn to contemporary literature and examine how social/political history has shaped and influenced these modern works, and how it is reflected in them as well. These texts will be multimedia and include poetry, drama, short stories, non-fiction, songs, chants, audio CD, and video/DVD.

Some questions we will examine include: What are common themes (are there?) in Pacific Maoli Women’s writing? What are the contributing factors to Maoli women focusing on these themes? Are they similar to or different from Maoli men’s writing? Indigenous women’s writing from other parts of the world? How does Maoli women’s writing differ from western, colonial, or “mainstream” women’s writing? How does Maoli women’s writing exemplify feminism? How is it, according to indigenous Pacific women writers, a different kind of feminism from mainstream feminism?

Course goals:

  1. familiarizing students with a substantial range of literary work by Maoli women writers in the Pacific over a period of approximately 150 years, and reading these texts as cultural, political, and historical productions as well as literary texts
  2. identifying and applying indigenous and other critical theories to the reading of these texts
  3. developing more complex understandings of the dynamics of cultural translation between the practices and aesthetic concerns of
  4. Pacific literature in conversation with other literatures.

Students are encouraged to discuss their own theoretical, critical, historical and cultural interests to the reading of these texts, although we will focus on how ethnicity, culture, politics and history have informed, influenced, and changed Pacific literary aesthetics and expression over time. Foundational texts we will use include Donna Awatere (Maori Sovereignty, My Journey), Haunani Trask (From a Native Daugher), Noenoe Silva (Aloha Betrayed), Manu Meyer (Ho‘oulu, our time of becoming), Linda Tuhiwai-Smith (Decolonizing Methodologies), and Konai Helu Thaman (“Of Daffodils and Heilala”), amongst others.

We will read the texts chronologically, beginning with early oral texts collected by indigenous women, such as Lili‘uokalani’s KUMULIPO and selections from Teuria Henry’s ANCIENT TAHITI. We will also look at selections of early female goddesses and guardians, who also demonstrate cultural views on women; figures such as “Pele and Hi‘iaka” (Hawai‘i), Hina (Samoa), and Hinenuitepo (Aotearoa) will be featured as examples of early forms of written folklore in translation. KALUAIKO‘OLAU in translation is an early historical mo‘olelo which we will read next, in addition to mele (songs, poems) and other literature of the period surrounding the Overthrow and Annexation in Hawai‘i. This will be followed by contemporary land and political struggles documented in various literature around the Pacific.

Course Requirements:

Students will pose critical questions and write weekly responses on Laulima to the assigned reading. They will also give two oral presentations; the first will be to lead a class discussion on a critical reading, the second will be panel (2-3 members each) which will utilize at least one critical theory or text and apply it to selected readings. Students will also produce a handout to be distributed in class, as well as a short paper (5-7 pages) to accompany each oral presentation. A 25-30 page critical essay on an aspect of Pacific Women”s literature utilizing at least one text from the course will also be required.

Selected Fiction, Poetry, and Drama for the Course:

  • Avia, Tusiata, Wild Dogs Under My Skirt. (Tonga)
  • Figiel, Sia. Girl in the Moon Circle (novel, Samoa)
  • Figiel, Sia and Teresia Teaiwi. Terenesia. (poetry, audio recording, Oceania)
  • Frazier, Frances, tr. The True Story of Kaluaikoolau. (non-fiction, Hawai‘i)
  • George, Miria. And What Remains. (drama, Aotearoa)
  • Grace, Patricia. Cousins. (novel, Aotearoa)
  • Kihleng, Emelihter. My Urohs. (poetry, Micronesia)
  • Kneubuhl, Victoria Nālani. Hawai‘i Nei, Island Plays. (drama, Hawai‘i)
  • Lili‘uokalani. Hawai‘i’s Story by Hawai‘i’s Queen. (non-fiction/ autobiography, Hawai‘i)
  • Makini, Jully. Civilized Girl. (poetry, Melanesia)
  • Marsh, Selina. Fast Talkin’ P.I. (poetry, sound recording, Aotearoa)
  • Mila, Karlo. Dream Fish Floating. (poetry, Aotearoa)
  • McDougall, Brandy Nālani. Ka Makani Pa‘akaiThe Salt Wind (poetry, Hawai‘i)
  • McGregor, Lurline Wailana. Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me (novel, Hawai‘i)
  • Perez-Wendt, Mahealani. Uluhaimalama. (poetry, Hawai‘i)
  • Potiki, Roma. Shaking the Tree. (poetry, Aotearoa)
  • Sinavaiana, Caroline and J. Kehaulani Kauanui, eds. Women WritingOceania: Weaving the Sails of the vaka, (anthology, Oceania)
  • Spitz, Chantal. Island of Shattered Dreams. (novel, Tahiti)
  • Takehiro, Sage U‘ilani. Honua. (poetry, Hawai‘i)
  • Te Awekotuku, Ngahuia. Ruahine, Mythic Women. (stories, Aotearoa)
  • Vaite, Celestine. Breadfruit. (novel, Tahiti)