Modern Pacific Women’s Poetry

They’ve taken away our hongi

Replaced it with a kiss

A ‘there you go little lady

While the fulla next to me
gets the works

Spose I should be grateful
it’s no more


No flat squishy ones

Long pointy ones

Hairy ones and dripping ones

Just a safe mouth to cheek
and maybe a rub

the back

I could even get used to

But I won’t

I shall grab your hand
firmly, there will be

confusion, no nose kissing

We shall greet each other
the way we


With a hongi


The mingling of breath

Of life force

Tēnā koe.

Grace Smith “They’ve Taken Away Our Hongi.” Toi
Wähine: The Worlds of Māori Women


“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. Kēhaulani
Kauanui, Women Writing Oceania (2008)


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,
“birthing the nation” in literal and figurative ways. In fact, the intersection
between arts (culture) and politics, the personal as the political, as the
“piko” (navel, center, in extension, the foundation) of indigenous (maoli)
women’s writing of Moana Nui (Oceania, or the Pacific). Issues surrounding our
‘āina (land), ‘ohana (family), and mana wahine (female empowerment) mourning
the losses and expressing anguish and rage with sexual, national, and political
oppression are as inexorably intertwined as the need to celebrate the beauty
and wonder of our culture and environment, bearing witness of our times for
future generations.

            This course explores a range of works of modern Maoli
(Indigenous) Pacific women (MMPW) poets from the later decades of the twentieth
century to the present within the interpretive contexts of literature, culture,
gender and politics. Texts will be primarily written in or translated into
English. Throughout the course we will examine how poetry by indigenous Pacific
women writers reflects, embodies and continues the literary, artistic,
performative and political resistance to settler colonialism and is a positive
(re-)generation of indigenous ethnic and national cultures and identities
across the Pacific.

            Some of the primary questions we will examine include:
How do we study indigenous Pacific women’s poetry? What is its’ cultural,
literary, and political “piko”? What do we know about traditional indigenous
women’s poetry? How does it influence, shape, or inform modern indigenous
Pacific women’s poetry? Who are the major figures in the genre? What kinds of
contributions have they made to the genre of poetry? To literary arts? To the
cultures they reflect and embody? What are major metaphors and themes? Is there
a commonality across the Pacific? 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 poetry differ from western, colonial, or “mainstream”
women’s poetry? How does Maoli women’s writing exemplify feminism? How is,
according to indigenous Pacific women writers, a different kind of feminism
from mainstream feminism? What have been the effects of colonization on
indigenous Pacific people, and how is that reflected in or expressed in our
women’s poetry?  What are the
contemporary issues in Pacific poetry? What can indigenous Pacific women’s
poetry teach us? What can it (and does it) contribute to the world?

            No prior knowledge of indigenous Pacific languages or
cultures is required, although students with such backgrounds are encouraged to
utilize their skills and knowledge throughout the course in class discussions,
course papers, and other assignments. As students who study French or Japanese
literatures, for example, should have some basic knowledge of these languages
(and cultures) as related to these literatures, students should expect to
develop a working knowledge of indigenous Pacific vocabulary relevant to the
readings throughout the semester.


Course Requirements: 


  • Class participation through regular attendance and in-class
  • An oral presentation on an assigned topic chosen in consultation
    with the professor
  • 4 formal papers, one of which is a longer research paper (12-15
  • Informal writing assignments (such as Laulima discussion board
    posts and in-class writing as assigned)
  • “Experience art” by attending at least one literary, cultural, or
    community event during the semester that is relevant to the overall course
  • A short (650-800 word) reaction/review of your “experience art.”
  • Quizzes on reading
  • A mid-term and a final exam, which are not cumulative.


Primary readings:


  • Avia, Tusiata, Wild Dogs Under My Skirts
  • Kileng, Emelihter. My Urohs
  • Marsh, Selina Tusitala. Fast Talkin’ PI
  • McDougall, Brandy Nālani. The Salt Wind, Ka Makani Pa‘akai
  • Milo, Karlo. Dream
    Fish Floating
  • Molisa, Grace. Black Stone
  • Perez Wendt, Mahealani. Uluhaimalama
  • Sinavaiana, Caroline Sinavaiana. Alchemies of Distance
  • Taylor, Grace Teuila. Afakasi Speaks
  • Teaiwa, Teresia, I Can See Fiji(audio CD)
  • Thaman, Konai Helu. Hingano
  • Trask, Haunani-Kay. Light in the Crevice Never Seen
  • A course reader


*An H and W focus has been
applied for and is currently pending.