Wednesday, September 12, 2007

"Smallness is a State of Mind"

The first thing that came to mind after reading Hau’ofa’s “Our Sea of Islands” and Wendt’s “Pacific Maps and Fiction(s)” was my environmental ethics class from last year in which my teacher had pronounced America as being centered around roads; a country, and thus a culture, becoming more and more isolated and concerned with minimizing its landscape. If “smallness is a state of mind,” as Hau’ofa states, it is a state of mind which I believe Americans subscribe to (31).

Look at how few barren and untouched places we have in the country compared to the number of highways and parkways we have. Our desire to connect to one another with roads has left Americans completely devoid of a connection to the landscape, which, if I’m reading Hau’ofa and Wendt correctly, takes us away from our own history and culture, isolating us from who we truly are. We have an enormous amount of maps telling us how to get from point A to point B, but I become hesitant in thinking of the maps Wendt speaks of in his lecture; the maps that guide and shape our identities.

In reading these two pieces, I realized how much of my own preconceived notions about small islands and their contributions to the larger world were wrong. I feel as though I have been brainwashed to think that the bigger the country the more it contributes to the so-called well being of the world. In fact, I feel now it may just be the opposite. The size of Oceania becomes so much greater when the people’s “myths, legends, oral traditions, and cosmologies” are examined (30). It is within these stories that a people’s identity is captured and almost all of these stories are intertwined with the landscape of the islands. Thus, language and tradition and landscape are all connected, and if once one of those things is taken out of the equation, they all fall apart. An example of this is when Wendt speaks of how the educational systems he belonged to would exclude his own Samoan culture leaving him to believe that his culture was “poor” and “boring” (69).

Fortunately for Wendt, he was able to make a connection to his family’s stories and traditions through the landscape of his native villages. Like Ihimaera, Wendt writes as if the natural world and his own humanity are merging when he talks of his trip to Sava’i as a “journey” that “put the lava fields and the essence of Samoanness into my bones” (72). Wendt speaks of the landscape of Sava’i as becoming a part of him; giving him an identity and a oneness with his people’s past. This, in the end, is what Ihimaera describes in the character of Kahu: a link between a culture’s landscape, their present traditions and past myths as encompassed by their own language.

I think Hau’ofa says it the best in the line, “conquerors come, conquerors go, the ocean remains, mother only to her children” (33). Like Ihimaera, Hau’ofa sees the ocean as the signifier and the signified. It is a landscape that encompasses the Oceania tradition and carries it off to wherever its people go. Just as the ocean for Kahu and the Mahori people is where her traditions and myths lie and will continue to propel their traditions into the future.

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