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date: 08 December 2021

Pidgin Poetics in Oceaniafree

Pidgin Poetics in Oceaniafree

  • Steven WinduoSteven WinduoManui Publishers


English is the main language of writing among Indigenous writers of Oceania for a number of reasons. The various textual appropriations and ways in which language of writing and language of the culture have been infused together to produce texts do reveal a dialogic process at work. It is impossible to avoid the linguistic features of written texts as they are constructed in Oceania. Writers in Oceania are free to choose the language of their texts without any interference. In this way, they make readers aware of the cultural truth that these writers are representing in their writings.

Metonymy as a poetic device and cultural truth as a thematic in Indigenous writings capture the interests of many of the older and younger generations of Pacific writers. Metonymy is a figure of speech used in rhetoric in which a thing or concept is not called by its own name, but by the name of something intimately associated with that thing or concept. Some of the best poetry published across Oceania by generations of Pacific writers reveals extensive use of metonymy as a device to convey cultural truth. Poetry is written from the intimate knowledge of poets, embedded in the society in which they find inspiration. Bill Ashcroft and coauthors state: “the tropes of the post-colonial text may be fruitfully read as metonymy, language variance itself in such a text is far more profoundly metonym” because nuances in language can represent a whole cultural text. Syntactic fusion is one among different strategies of appropriation in postcolonial writing such as glossing, untranslated words, interlanguage, code-switching, and vernacular transcription.


  • Oceanic Literatures
  • 20th and 21st Century (1900-present)

Linguistic Environment

Cultural analysis and theoretical articulations are often difficult terrains for many Indigenous scholars to navigate to locate their own Indigenous spaces of epistemic articulations. The starting point for analysis of cultural representations in Oceania is usually English because it is the primary language of literary expression and publishing in Oceania. Ashcroft and coauthors make the point that

[the] use of English inserts itself as a political discourse in post-colonial writing, and the use of English variants of all kinds captures that metonymic moment between the culture affirmed on the one hand as “indigenous” or “national,” and that characterized on the other hand as “imperialist,” “metropolitant,” etc.1

In the Papua New Guinean context, speakers of English utilize different language registers from the available languages or can code-switch between standard English, Tokpisin, or both. Papua New Guinean writer John Kasaipwalova uses a variant of English in his writings. An example is the story “Bomana Kalabus O Sori O!” where there is a clear contrast to standard English used in official business and discourse:2

When everybody stopped swearing and making fun at us, the chief gave down his decision and our punishment. We didn’t say anything because our ACO has already finished reporting and making court with the chief, and now we are just going to get our punishment. ACOs always right. Prisoners always wrong.

“OK olgeta, harim gut! Yu wokim rong ausait na lo I putim yu long kalabus. Yu man nogut. Yu man bikhet. Yu ‘kriminol’. Yu brukim lo na yu kalabus samting nogut.”

The chief pauses a little to allow his ACOs to swear at us first before staring out and yelling coldly again.

“Harim gut! Yu mekim trabel ausait na yu kam long kalabus. Mi gat bikpela wok. Mi mas stretim yu. Em taim bilong wok, em taim bilong wok tasol!”

He stops a little to let the words go inside our heads.

“Mi no laik lukim sampela kalabus i go i go na giamanim nabaut nabaut nating! Lo I tok yu mas wok, yu mas wok tasol. Na lukim dispela fopel kalabus. Asde I giaman long wok na I go haitim bihain kona na katim mambu nabaut. Taim bilong wok em I no taim long katim mambu! Nogat!”

Then he turned sharply to us to give us his fierce eyes.3

In the story, Kasaipwalova writes in the English variant used in the everyday urban environment to tell a story. He also provides translations of the mixture of English Tokpisin, the lingua franca used more widely in Papua New Guinea. Kasaipwalova is perhaps the only Papua New Guinean writer to write in both standard and nonstandard English to make the point that written language should also mediate its use in everyday conversations. Thus, he reaffirms the notion that there is an “interdependence of language and identity—you are the way you speak.”4

In Papua New Guinea, while the official languages of government, business, and instructions are English, Tokpisin, and Hiri Motu, English and the variant of it unique to Papua New Guinea—a mixture of English, Tokpisin, Hiri Motu, and vernaculars—are the choices speakers use to communicate. The variant of English Papua New Guineans use is captured in Kasaipwalova’s story. The narrator uses the variant of standard English, and the mixture of Tokpisin and English variant is used by the chief and the ACOs. In so doing, Kasaipwalova creates a cultural space within a postcolonial linguistic environment:

The “cultural space” is the direct consequence of the metonymic function of language variance. It is the “absence,’ which occupies the gap between the contiguous inter/faces of the ‘official’ language of the text, and the cultural difference brought to it. Thus the alterity in that metonymic juncture establishes a silence beyond which the cultural Otherness of the text cannot be traversed by the colonial language.5

This creates a gap of silence, which “resists incorporation into “English literature’ or some universal literary mode.”6 It allows cultural Otherness to occupy its own privileged position.

This position is held because the Indigenous writers are operating between two or three different linguistic spaces. Sometimes the cultural gap, seen as the space in between two different languages, gives birth to new and exciting voices. This coexistence gives rise to the different voices with their own authority. In Pacific spaces such as those in Hawaii, Samoa, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, or Tonga, the resulting post-imperial English is a blend of the local language and the introduced English from a historical past. The English spoken mutates within local registers and refuses to maintain its original form. Thus, the English used in the Pacific Islands is a hybrid language within a hybrid space. English is localized within a space of colonial history and one that is postcolonial. Standard English is substituted in many cases where Island English contests for the same space for coexistence. This process leaves an incubating space for complex linguistic experimentations and provides the foundation for varieties of English to develop in different local communities in the Pacific Islands.

Interlanguage Strategy

Indigenous writers and intellectuals of Oceania use postcolonial language strategies such as glossing, untranslated words, interlanguage, code-switching, and vernacular transcriptions. Glossing takes place when an author uses parenthetical translation of individual words to foreground the text as well as to indicate “continual reality of cultural distance” that makes accuracy of meaning impossible or that the words or terms in the writer’s language cannot be simply substituted with the borrowed language.7 The text that captures this cross-cultural experience provides the stage for its writer to articulate the experience through an interlanguage device. Hence, the emergence of a genuine linguistic system in use in a postcolonial setting is given recognition. Analysis of decolonizing linguistic strategies of Pacific writers reveals the importance of using various languages available to a writer.

Syntactic fusion is also evident in many of the Pacific writings considered in this article. Many Pacific Islander’s writings infuse local pidgin languages and vernacular languages to give identity to their works. Many Papua New Guinean writers tend to employ their own vernaculars and lingua franca into their writings. Papua New Guinea has more than eight hundred different national languages, in addition to three official languages: English, Tokpisin, and Hiri Motu. The latter two, namely, Tokpisin (a pidgin language) and Hiri Motu (a trade language) are the lingua franca languages, which means a language that developed out of the colonial system when a common language was needed for communication among different language speakers. Syntactic fusion involves “the use of nouns as verbs,” “metonymic use of adjectives,” “the use of conjunctions,” “the use of double comparatives,” and the “use of plurals.”8 This linguistic activity reveals the tension between the adopted language and the local vernacular or the creole continuum. Vernacular languages are the mother tongue languages of a people or group, usually not learned or imposed, but spoken as the first language of a person.

Code-switching and vernacular transcription are also “the most common method of inscribing alterity by the process of appropriation [and] is the technique of switching between two or more codes” in the writings of some of the Pacific Islanders. Cultural distinctiveness is made with the use of

variable orthography to make dialect more accessible, double glossing and code-switching to act as an interweaving interpretative mode, and the selection of certain words which remain untranslated in the text. All these are common ways of installing cultural distinctiveness in the writing.9

Another explanation to this strategy is evident in the way writers take the colonial language of English (with an uppercase “E”) and replace that with an english (with a lowercase), to represent it as another variant of the English language. This effort in decolonizing the English language is evident in the writings of Indigenous Pacific Islanders and is discussed in this article.

Island English

Across Oceania, similar tensions and linguistic constructions are deliberately represented. In poetry, evidence of the global and local cultural interface is clear. Discussions on abrogating the English language for their own purposes as Indigenous Pacific writers follow from here onward.

In Karlo Mila’s poem, “Visiting Tonga: A Sestina Variation,” one can see a strong sense of those contests between the global and the local and between the metropolitan and the local perspectives.10 The influence of Western religion has become entrenched in the local culture. The divisions between racial consciousness, however, remain a cultural division as well:

Palangi you call me but I am not white

I don’t know the words but feel at peace within these walls

humming hymns in the church of Zion. I don’t see

Sisu, no. But love?

Yes, I’m not just passing time

On a slow sluggish Sunday. Here where God is Love, I feel it too.

The interface of cultural blending between the lines in Mila’s poetry is profound. Mila observes the hybridity in the modern-day experiences of her people, caused partly by the displacement and the willingness to adopt new ideas, new ways, and new attitudes:

Sisu Kalaisi is always white.

And blonde most of the time

on the cheap Taiwanese tapestries Tongans love

his hair haloed image hangs from church walls

and inside homes and on graves too,

blowing in the wind his blue eyes never seem to see. . .11

Tonga, like many of the Pacific Islands and their cultural world, straddles the local ideas of familial relationship, communal sharing, and exchange, and is also a society that sees the Western ideas of freedom, free expression, love, and embracing individualism, which Mila is accustomed to:

The problem with Tonga is that it is just too

small, my cousin says to me. Even if you aren’t walled

in (by brothers/mothers) there are eyes everywhere—and

worse—mouths. See

they call this cousin of mine fie palangi, “wanting to be white,”

with her notions of freedom she is ahead of her time.

She wants to marry for love.12

Media technologies promote global ideologies and perspectives whereby many Tongans see their lives are not better off than those of bygone generations. These are contrasted with the experiences of other places and times that Tongans have in their diaspora residences in New Zealand, Australia, and the United States. Much of these experiences hardly escape Mila’s observation of life for a Tongan:

And elderly aunt invites me into her fale, wallpapered in white

newspaper sheets of the Tongan Times

her house is an unintentional shrine to 8th May 1999, when

the walls

were pasted anew and poverty—well read between the

headlines love—

my aunt cannot tell you what happened on that day. See,

we see and we don’t see too.13

Then there is the monarchy and the ruled subjects of the monarchy. It is difficult to exist outside of that position of power, even against the globalizing influences of democratic reforms around the world. The absolute power manifested in the monarchy is unquestioned, as Mila explains:

But then you don’t need to know how to read in order to


the King. An incident I chanced to see,

the King in a vaka, rowed by strong men, concentration

fierce, keeping in time

wood ploughing through the water and the walls

of the vaka swam a school of human fish, kicking up white

out of blue. Breathless but keeping up, wanting to honour

their king too.14

In Mila’s work, a sense of understanding her problematic position of reconnecting to place and family and society seems fractured by the contest between the conditions that enable such a fracture to occur. It is one Mila senses as difficult to see and understand because of its conditions of ambivalence created from belonging to three different cultural groups that also resist easy identification. In the last stanza, she declares:

What am I but a Love child who seeks out an absent parent

And mostly misunderstands. She sees

Me too. Tonga whispers from within the walls

Of a white shell: “Koe ha mea fia ma’u? Lau pisi!

Plenty time. No hurry. Ha’ukai”. . .15

The Na Brandy Nalani McDougall’s collection seems to have captured the blending of Hawaiian, Pacific, and American poetics more succinctly. In the poem “Ka Olelo,” she writes about this global and local interface of culture:

O ke alelo ka hoe uli o ka olelo a ka waha. The tongue is the steering paddle of the words uttered by the mouth—olelo no’eau


Think of all the lost words, still unspoken,

waiting to be given use again, claimed,

or for newly born words to unburden

them for their meanings. There are winds and rains

who have lost their names, descending the slopes

of every mountain, each lush valley’s mouth,

and the songs of birds and mo’o, that cope

with our years of slow unknowing, somehow.

It was not long ago that olelo

was silenced, along with its dying race,

who lived, then thrived, reverting to the old

knowing words. English could never replace

the land’s unfolding song, nor the ocean’s

ancient oli, giving us use again.16

McDougall’s point is that even if English (or American as the global English) has silenced the olelo a long time ago, it could never replace the power of the olelo as it has served the Hawaiians for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. Perhaps the sense McDougall is phrasing is that the local language itself is seeing a revival in the early 21st century. It is “the land’s unfolding son” or “the ocean’s ancient oli” that is now useful in its rebirth.

Richard Hamasaki, respected elder Hawaiian writer and intellectual, sums up the contest between the global and the local tensions in the poem “Guerrilla Writers.”17 Hamasaki is bold, direct, and unambiguous about the contests between the English language and the need for Pacific Islanders to write in their own languages or in a language that expresses their experience without necessarily following English language structures and rules of grammar:

Golden rules of english?

conspiracies of languages?

memories unwanted

works are left unknown

if what’s to be spoken

needs to be written

sabotage the language

ignore the golden rules

guerrilla writer

barbarize the rules

conspire against

double talk

turn ivy towers

into a babbling school

if what’s to be written

mustn’t be forgotten

transcribe oral messages

record stories and songs

unleash a conspiracy

of languages

guerrilla writer

barbarize the rules

The elder Hawaiian poet Imaikalani Kalahele infuses Hawaiian English and Hawaiian primarily in the localized space. Kalahele dances in the rhythm of his ancestors by evoking mythical themes. Kalahele reflects the issues of culture, Hawaiian identity, land alienation, American exploitation, and cultural decolonization. His collection has poetry and art speaking simultaneously, imagining a society that links the past with the present and the future. This Hawaiian artist and poet mediate between ancestral knowledge and modern influences in a lace of art and poetry that floats on the currents of the Pacific, across the islands and in space.

In “Paradise,” a felicitous poem written in creolized upbeat form, the poet offers wit in perpetuating the imagery of paradise:

Some come

to see


beaches and

are awed,



they come and

fence off

the beaches


build their homes


they can have

their little piece of



The image of paradise metonymically used for Hawaiian Islands of the Pacific is exploited for tourism and modern metropolitan practices. Resentment of the commercialized marketing of Pacific Islands in a package that is ideologically disruptive to the Pacific way of life is a persistent theme in the collection. The Pacific is no longer insulated from the gaze of the tourists.

Kalahele draws from the pool of his Hawaiian heritage, myths, cultures, language, and contemporary experiences. Kalahele’s collection reflects how poetry in the Pacific has come to express a unique Pacific voice, describing experience in a form and language that arrests, as well as resisting monolithic forms of expressions, and more particularly, shifting the attention to Indigenous expressive forms.

Cross-Cultural Texts

A linguistically diverse society like Papua New Guinea sees many instances of syntactic fusion. In Kasaipwalova’s writings, “both Melanesian Tokpisin and the syntactic tendencies in Papua New Guinean vernacular languages” are evident.19 Syntactic fusion involves “the use of nouns as verbs,” “metonymic use of adjectives,” “the use of conjunctions,” “the use of double comparatives,” and the “use of plurals.”20 In postcolonial Papua New Guinea, this linguistic activity demonstrates the tension between the adopted language and the local vernacular or the creole continuum: “The linguistic adaptation signifies both the difference and the tension of difference, for it is out of this tension that much of the political energy of the cross-cultural text is generated.”21

The use of local languages is critical to the success of Nora Vagi Brash’s plays. Most of her plays were performed in Port Moresby to a primarily Papua New Guinean audience. Brash writes her plays in English, but introduces Tokpisin and Hiri Motu to give the characters their social position in an emerging class society of Papua New Guinea. In Which Way, Big Man, she does this successfully, especially with the characters of Pita, the domestic servant, and Papa, Gou’s father.22 Both characters use Tokpisin to respond to other characters who use English to them and converse with each other in Tokpisin. Pita and Papa do not share the same vernacular.

Scene Five

Doorbell rings.

Gou. Oh! gosh, there’s someone already! I haven’t even got my shirt on! (calls) Pita! Leave what you’re doing in the kitchen and answer the door, I’m going to the bedroom.

Pita runs out the kitchen door to the front door and opens it.

Pita. Ah! Papa yu kam a? Kam insait.

Pita. (Calling excitedly) Masta! Papa ikam.

Sinob comes out to take a peek; upon seeing papa goes out onto the verandah fuming, passing Gou.

Sinob. Gou, it’s your father! Why has he turned up now? Just as we’re flat-out getting ready for our party. What a time to come! Make it clear that we’re entertaining very important people tonight.

Shh! Sinob, he’ll hear you! (Calls out) OK, Papa! Come inside. I’ll be out in a minute.

Papa. Eh! Pita! Pren blong mi. Man! Mi kam lonwei, na mi les liklik.

Pita. Eh! Papa. Na yu sidaun long dispela sia. Pikinini bilong yu I kam nau.

Papa. Man! Mi no inap sindaun long sia, mi sindaun long graun tasol. (Sighs) Ahh! Em nau!

Gou. (Enters) Father! How are you? We—er—weren’t expecting you.

Father. Eh! Pikinini blong mi! Yu tok Inglis. Na mi trim tok olosem. You house here, it long way too much up road to mountain. My bones tired of walk. I find you is good.

Gou. Father, I have been promoted. I’m to be the director of the Department of National Identity. Do you understand?

Father. Pikinini, yu tok wanem long dispela? Mi no save. Yu tok Inglis, na mi no kisim as long tok bilong yu.23

Several linguistic operations are at work in this scene. First, Vagi Brash writes the dialogue in this scene and other scenes without any translations of the Tokpisin responses of Pita and the father. These characters speak Tokpisin without needing to use English. This observation is important in establishing the social positioning of each character in a Papua New Guinean society. Pita uses Tokpisin to communicate with Gou’s father because it is respectful to do so. Pita sees himself in social status below Gou’s father. Even though Pita’s status in Gou’s household is that of a house servant, a status lower than his employers, the language these characters use identify their social status in contemporary Papua New Guinea where English use suggests a higher status but Tokpisin use suggests the blurring of that status.

The attitude of Sinob, Gou’s wife, is one that has invited strong reactions from the audience because of her attitude to fellow Papua New Guineans as someone who is pretentious, snobbish, and looks down on Papua New Guineans. All these are the result of education and learning of the English language, the ingredients of success and elevated social status. Even though Sinob knows Tokpisin, as when Pita speaks to her, she chooses not to use Tokpisin, positioning herself in the English-speaking class of those who refuse to mix with those of lower status, such as Pita and Gou’s father. The latter are Tokpisin speakers who are viewed by Sinob as lower in status and class; they are the poorer relatives. In Papua New Guinea, the official languages of government, business, and instructions are English, Tokpisin, and Hiri Motu, but English and the variant of English unique to Papua New Guinea—a mixture of English, Tokpisin, Hiri Motu, and vernaculars—are the choices speakers use in their everyday communication. Vagi Brash speaks all three languages and can write in all three languages.

Second, Vagi Brash gives stage directions in English but makes no direct translations of Tokpisin into English. This dialogue remains in Tokpisin. Translating these Tokpisin dialogues or providing glossary would have reduced the power of this play to stage the conflict that often happens in the writings of postcolonial writers when English-only speakers demand that writers with multiple language abilities subject themselves to the monolingual English speakers.

Leaving the Tokpisin dialogues without translation gives the play its forceful insistence as a postcolonial intervention that brings the English and Tokpisin speakers on the same stage, much as is the case in contemporary Papua New Guinea. In Papua New Guinea, English, Tokpisin, and Hiri Motu are the three official languages. Papua New Guineans are encouraged to code-switch among these languages. The three languages have equal official status, but the choice to use any of these languages remains with an individual. Choosing to use English over Tokpisin or Tokpisin over English does not invite the criticism that one language is dominant over the other. Rather, it shows the linguistic choices speakers of these languages have for a preferred language.

In the collection Raetemaat: Creative Writing from Solomon Islands, new and experienced writers from the Solomon Islands are comfortable writing in English and in the Solomons Pidgin. Most of the writings in this collection are in English, but a closer reading of these writings reveals an influence from the lingua franca as well as from the local language. For example, in the poem “My Natural Hair,” Jennifer Wate uses a Kwara’ae word, “Araikwao,” which means white person:

Born with my natural hair

It looks good, shiny and short

How I want to keep it like that

But waves of modernization carry me away

I begin to drift and adapt western style

How I longed to be somebody

My hair to look like an araikwao’s

Long and silvery

But that’s hard to get

I better apply Solomon hair recipe.24

Within multilingual communities, selecting the appropriate language is strategic. “Melanesia’s multilingualism makes it a productive context in which to consider the socio-cultural significance of language choice in literature,” writes Michelle Keown:25

They also tend to speak the national variety of Melanesian Pidgin (or Hiri Motu) as a lingua franca (except in New Caledonia), and if they have been formally educated, they speak English (in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and formerly British parts of Vanuatu), or French (in New Caledonia and former French regions of Vanuatu).26

A number of Melanesian writers have attempted to reflect this linguistic diversity in their works by code-switching between different languages and dialects. Some of them are Julian Maka’a, Sam Ngwele, Grace Molisa, Dewe Gorode, and Jully Makini (nee Sipolo).27 Julian Maka’a infuses English and Solomons Pidgin as in the collection The Confession and Other Stories.28 Sam Ngwele uses the Haiku and Tanka form in his poetry. However, Grace Molisa uses the notions of black consciousness within a Kanaky environment in her native New Caledonia to make sense of living. Dewe Gorode, writing in French, is also using poetry drawn from her own folk traditions to protest against French colonization of the Kanaky people. Jully Makini (née Sipolo) writes in English derived from the Solomon variety of English in her best-known collection, Civilized Girl.29 An example from Makini is from the poem “The Hypocrite”: “Don’t be taken in by the Uriah Heep’s of this world / Look deep into the façade of humbleness, / And see Mr Me there.”30 In this writer and others mentioned here, there is always the sense that the poets are conscious of the audience they are writing for, especially the primary local audience who understands and identifies with the language of the writer. Listening to Makini or others perform their work, it becomes clear the language used is often derived from the poet’s own linguistic environment.

Metonymic Function of Language

The metonymic function of language in the writings of Indigenous Pacific Islanders reveals an interplay of texts and discourses. It is a powerful trope of postcolonial texts. For instance, Albert Leomala’s poem, “Cross,” draws associations to Christianity and colonialism in the South Pacific. In the poem, this Vanuatu writer rejects colonization through the Christianity and other ideas of westernization:



Kros mi no wandem yu

Cross I hate you

Yu kilim mi

You are killing me

Yu sakem aot ol

You are destroying

We blong mi

My traditions

Mi no wandem yu Kros

I hate you

Kros ron we

Cross run away

Ron we long mi

Run away from me

Mi no wandem yu

I hate you

Karem ol tingting blong yu

Take your ideas

Mo ol we blong yu

And your civilization

I ko bak long

And go back

Ples blong yu

To where you belong.31

A writer retains the original language to maintain the quality of that expression. The vernacular element that holds the power of that expression is lost in translation but retains its authority in the original language. The interplay of multiple languages in Pacific writing serves as the artistic brush, painting the images with local color, landscapes, feelings, and the way of life in the Islands of Oceania. This may also be a resistance to the colonizing peculiarities of the English language and the Western literary tradition. The lingua franca and the vernacular operate with English as the languages of a writer’s texts. It is a politically unconscious decision to write in English while at the same time being mindful of the need to include the writer’s own language into the text. For the sake of clarity in this article, lingua franca refers to a common language used for communication where many languages intersect and interact with each other. Lingua franca languages in the Pacific include pidgin languages such as Tokpisin (Papua New Guinea), Solomons Pidgin (Solomon Islands), Bislama (Ni Vanuatu Pidgin), Hawaiian Pidgin Creole, Pitcairn Pidgin, and Hiri Motu (Papua New Guinea’s second pidgin language). Vernacular languages refer to mother tongue languages, of which there are thousands in the Pacific Islands.

In the poem “Kalua,” Mahealani Perez-Wendt includes Hawaiian words to match the flow of the local mood:

Whenever ma and Aunit Liz

Sang that song

Tutu would scold

‘A’ole maika’I himeni!


That song is no good

Or more to the point

That song

Is not Hawaiian

She and the girls

Would kui lei

On the front porch

Of the old house

On Cummins Street

For boat days

Then they would sing

Ku’u Pua i Paoakalani,

Kamalani o Keaukaha,


A blend of English is recognized among the Pacific Islanders themselves. The decision to write in English is a political decision. It is an act of their free choice to speak about their own experiences. A critical point made here is that the decision to write in English demonstrates the ability to participate in the internationalization of English as a world language. At the same time, the English language is seized by Indigenous writers and used to bear the burden of their social, political, and economic experiences.

Moreover, writing in English directly resists the Eurocentric notion that the native, colonized, indigene cannot write in English, as it is the preserve of the colonizer. In modern Hawaiian literature written in English and in Hawaiian, such as that of Wayne Westlake and Joe Balaz, the attachments to place, their heritage, inheritance, and land are concerns they expressed intuitively.33 Haunani Kay-Trask asserts that Hawaiian literature is more creative in spoken form than in written form:

Given that the Hawaiian language was only recently reduced to writing, the inclusion of orature guarantees the presence of Hawaiian voices amid hegemonic colonialist and non-Native writings. In terms of creativity, orature enlarges rather than reduces the field of vision. It is a truism that many more oli (chant accompanied by dance) and mele (chant accompanied by dance, or song) are transmitted by memorization and performance than by reduction to writing and publication.34

An interplay between spoken performance and written expression is weighed out here, especially among the Hawaiian, the “creativity continues to be much more literary, that is metaphorical, in its spoken than in its written form.”35

Within Indigenous Pacific writing, the blend of Pacific English captures a powerful force that is both cultural and unique to the Pacific Islander’s postcolonial experiences. Cultural expressions, subtleties, and innuendoes are embedded in the writings of Pacific Islanders. Craig Santos-Perez expresses this in the poem “:oceania compositions:” taken from the collection from unincorporated territory: [saina]:

poetry, too, consists of textual land surfaces and the surrounding deep geogra-

phies of silences, space, and meaning—

the Aztecs and mayans used bark from banyan trees to make paper for their

codices—with stones they drummed strips of bark—the paper was called amatl

in nahuatl and copo in mayan—

no page is ever truly blank—

the sakman hull is asymmetrical—identical bow and stern—the flat side acts as

keel and outrigger mounted on curved side—36

The clearest metaphor that encapsulates the reasons for writing in English is found in that of a main hull of a canoe supported by the two outriggers. English operates as the main hull where the rower and his belongings are held. The supporting outriggers on either side are the writer’s lingua franca and the vernaculars. In the case of Steven Winduo, the outrigger languages are Tokpisin, the lingua franca, and Nagum Boiken, his vernacular. All three languages complement each other, work together, and share the burden of the writer.37

The poem “Fire in the Night” is a good example of how English, Tokpisin, Hiri Motu, and other Papua New Guinean languages are used without any translations. A Papua New Guinean audience immediately recognizes the nuances and popular expressions worked into the Winduo text:

“Fire in the Night”

It lit the sky in the distant

The flame of the night song begins

And sweeps the lives in the candle city

Ask not who started it but who cares

Bush fires wake up the momentary conscience about our culture of tolerance:

This is our city we populate it this is our lives we spoilt it

This is our style we created it

Spak brus, home brew, longlong het

Mipela tari stap na yupela stap

Hagen bus kange king of the road

Wara mi tasol ya nek i sikirap

Tanim kona na metere mangi sanap

Oi be edeseni wait pastaim

Pistol na naip kamap makim nek

Ki kam, lusim bia na ron

Our city our time no problem with it

We don’t worry about crime.38

Untranslated words use the “technique of selective lexical fidelity which leaves some words untranslated in the text . . . for conveying the sense of cultural distinctiveness.”39 To the European reader, this is annoying. Such “a device not only acts to signify the difference between cultures, but also illustrates the importance of discourse in interpreting cultural concepts.”40 This technique forces “the reader into an active engagement with the horizons of the culture in which these terms have meaning.”41 A reader is able to get some sense of the meaning from the context of language use in the text. To further understand the meaning, a reader needs to go beyond the first apprehension of the texts. “The use of untranslated words as interface signs seems a successful way to foreground cultural distinctions,” according to Ashcroft and coauthors, who argue that by doing so, “it would appear even more profitable to attempt to generate an ‘interculture’ by the fusion of the linguistic structures of two languages.”42 For many contemporary Pacific writers, this strategy is encouraged because the inadequacy of the English language to delve deep into the culture is realized immediately in written expression. Reducing the meaning of the local language to its English equivalent is avoided at all costs. Considering that the Francophone writers of the Pacific are also faced with the same dilemma, Robert Nicole says of Dewe Gorode’s defiance:

This, however, has not stopped Gorode from publishing several poems in her mother tongue, with translations (in Mwa Vee, the new Kanak cultural review). Moreover, she confronts French assimilationist policies on the ground by leading the boycott of government schools and teaching in the Ecoles Populaires Kanaks, which challenged the monopoly of knowledge heretofore enjoyed by the dominant culture.43

The defiance is read as a decolonizing strategy writers use to privilege their local languages over the colonizer’s language.

Indigenous Expressive Forms

Indigenous languages embody culture and human values of the people. Indigenous writers recognize language as a vehicle of their cultural values and expressions. In a world where languages contest each other, the dominant language always wins. In the Pacific, the dominant language is English, always insisting on occupying the upper ridges of the argument on language choices for writing. Language choice for writing, however, is not imposed on writers of the Pacific; it is a somewhat compromised choice writers make among the many languages available to them. In the second stanza of the poem “Varua Tupu,” dedicated to Albert Wendt, Robert Sullivan drives home the point:

I see their images in a journal, a photo of Henri Hiro

who calls on the tangata to write! Write in English!

Write in French! Write in Tahitian! Which

reminds me of Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s challenge

to change the world and of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s

Ogoni star dancing in the blackness of heaven

and of Haunani-Kay Trask’s sharkskin rhythms

calling out Pele in her people and Albert Wendt’s

spiraling caul of liquid fire.44

Irrespective of what language the Indigenous writers publish their work in, the discussion on language as culture is common to all postcolonial societies. In Ngugi wa Thiongo’s words, all values are carried in language: “Language as culture is the collective memory bank of a people’s experience in history. Culture is almost indistinguishable from the language that makes possible its genesis, growth, banking, articulation and indeed its transmission from one generation to the next.”45 Language provides the road map to culture. From the perspective of the Pacific writers, the language chosen for their literary work invites a closer look at the importance of language choice. “Culture is a product of history which it in turn reflects. . . . But culture does not merely reflect that history, or rather it does so by actually forming images or pictures of the world of nature and nurture.”46 Language is inseparable from culture and history. In the same poem, “Varua Tupu,” Maori writer Robert Sullivan illustrates the point Ngugi is making:

. . .write out the lives,

write them alive, write till the fire strikes,

another fire, a torch, a whakaaraara warning cry

kia hiwa ra! Kia hiwa ra! kia hiwa ra ki tenei tukul.47

Language also mediates between culture and the author: “Culture transmits or imparts those images of the world and reality through the spoken and the written language, that is through a specific language.”48 A difference between the universal functions of language and the specific functions of a local language exists, as Ngugi wa Thiongo articulates, because

a specific culture is not transmitted through language in its universality but in its particularity as the language of a specific community with a specific history. Written literature and orature are the main means by which a particular language transmits the images of the world contained in the culture its carries.49

Pacific writers have their own reasons for writing in the language of their choice.

The form and the language of writing were inherited from the colonial experience. Writing was introduced to the Pacific Islands as early as the 1700s along with English, the colonizer’s language. The early introduction of the English language to Pacific peoples was received with suspicion and contempt, but through various disciplinary practices of colonial power, such suspicions and contempt were erased. The English language became the tool of the colonizers to insert European cultural truths through a process of linguistic assimilation.50 In Ngugi wa Thiongo’s words: “The domination of a people’s language by the languages of the colonizing nations was crucial to the domination of the mental universe of the colonized.”51 Indigenous Pacific writers are “unwriting” this history and experience in their works.

In her beautiful poem “Tell Me a Story,” Tagi Qolouvaki captures this experience:

He has his father’s tongue.

Owns his mother’s language.

They sing honeyed songs together.

He has even tamed the palagi one—

It rides his tongue

And he is fertile with story.

Deftly, he weaves tales

Like the finest mats

Constructs memories


Stained in soil and

Colored with song

We store them,

Cultural currency for the next birth

Death and wedding.

We carry them

To make us


He is a teller of tall tales, Talanoa.52

The case of Maori writers, writing within a unique bilingual environment characterized as a settler colonial environment, often sees the development of a unique literary tradition viewed against these political and historical contexts. Though this discussion is on Pacific Islands writing, it barely touches the significant corpus of Maori writing, from its earliest documentation of Maori oral literature to perhaps the birth of contemporary Maori writings, starting with Hone Tuwhare’s collection No Ordinary Sun: Poems (1964).53 It appears Tuwhare, with the encouragement of R. A. Mason, published his poems in the late 1950s, culminating in the publication of No Ordinary Sun in the early to mid-1960s, setting the stage for what would follow in the next decade or so in terms of Indigenous literary emergence. In Tuwhare’s poems is the clear blending of two cultures and languages. To be fair, the best discussions on Maori writers within New Zealand and their connections to other Pacific Islanders are through the critical lenses of Maori writer scholars such as Alice Te Punga Somerville and Robert Sullivan, whose works have attempted to redefine the problematic positions scholars choose to use in studies of Pacific literature.54

Most Indigenous writers are happy with whatever languages they use for their works. Allan Duff’s Once Were Warriors is an important book depicting the conditions of the urban Maori and the way they speak in their daily lives. Duff attends to the language depicting a specific reality within New Zealand society. The appropriation of a variety of English used among urban Maori is a blend of English and Maori language. Such a brand of English makes use of registers from both languages, at once enabling language in Duff’s book to become a distinct form of language used among the urban Maori in New Zealand, as it does not fit into standard New Zealand English or even the pure Maori language. Even the language difference is mediated as part of daily survival in modern living in New Zealand, as in the following excerpt from Once Were Warriors:

Oh, kia ora! Jake being greeted in Maori, the language of his physical appearance, his actual ethnic existences, and yet they could be speaking Chink-language for what it mattered. Course a man understood his kia ora, who doesn’t even the honkies do, but as for the rest. Made him uncomfortable if they spoke it to him, so Jake always replied in emphatic English, and sometimes a speaker might exclaim, Ace, the Pakeha took away our language and soon it’ll be all gone. But that was before this kohanga reo stuff they introduced, of getting the language spoken in classes, on the TV. They were older, these speakers of the stolen language, and they ruffled his hair.55

Duff is skeptical about writing as a Maori writer but is willing to use the Maori heritage and experience to the universal stage. In his interview with Vilsoni Hereniko, Duff reveals his intentions: “We can teach white people how to be more relaxed and to be a bit more lively. But then whites can teach us conversations and social skills, so that you don’t have to sit with a group of Maoris for an hour and no one says anything because they’re not taught how to carry on a decent conversation, and how to handle themselves socially.”56

Christina Thompson’s study of Alan Duff’s Once Were Warriors attempts to uncover some of the underlying statements Duff is making about the Maori culture.57 Thompson points out that

Duff’s work is a challenge, in the form of insult, to the Maori to prove their own worth. Whether or not you agree with his views about how that challenge should be met, it is extremely important to understand that what Duff is about, as much as anything, is a reassertion of Maori power to determine the course of Maori lives. This is the real significance of his work.58

Duff’s position is that his writings are about the Maori who are pushed to the edge as a result of the changing New Zealand societies. In Duff’s view, the Maori are facing a real social and political struggle with their own sense of identity and history. Duff’s views are more direct and defiant, as his work reveals, but the underbelly in all this is that ignoring the real struggle of the Maori can be fatal. Duff’s views “may not appeal to Pakeha intellectuals” or “to Maori,” as the issue is something the Maori community needs to consider within their own system.59 He works at shifting away from marginalized thinking toward a greater self-awareness among Maori and Pakeha in New Zealand society. What is needed is an aggressive cultural and linguistic education instituting such programs as Kohanga Reo and Kura Kaupapa to ensure everyone in New Zealand speaks Maori and there is a greater cultural integration.60

Allan Duff has projected the language and cultural experience of the Maori to the forefront without apology. Duff’s style of writing is consistent with the writings of other Pacific Islanders. Unlike Witi Ihimaera or Patricia Grace, Duff refuses to follow traditional structures and requirements of the novel in English.61 His style is similar to Sia Figiel, John Pule, or even Keri Hulme’s work as it bursts open the English canonical novel’s structure to insert the truth of culture on behalf of voiceless Pacific Islanders. If there is an argument for a more radical discourse in the intellectual arena, then it is difficult to ignore the work of Allan Duff and Sia Figiel and to link them to earlier works such as those of Epeli Hau’ofa, Russell Soaba, John Pule, Hitiura Vaite, Teresia Teaiwa, and others within Oceania.62 “Allan Duff produced four novels and a novella and other nonfictional works,” according to Christine Prentice in her study of the Maori novels in English: “Rejecting what he saw as the romanticized culturalist tenor or earlier work, and subscribing to a ‘self-help’ philosophy of Maori advancement, his novels focus on previously under-represented perspectives of working class urban Maori.”63 Duff distances himself from other Maori writers and intellectuals while crusading the plight of urban Maori: “Duff was hailed as a new voice in Maori fiction, through depiction of domestic violence and the suffering of neglected or abused children.”64

Elsewhere in the Pacific, writers such as Sia Figiel and Hitiura Vaite published their novels and novellas in a similar manner to Duff. Figiel focused on Samoan girls caught up in the web of tradition and male hierarchy. Using the language as spoken by young Samoan girls in contemporary settings in Samoa, Figiel began a narrative that disrupted the established voice of male writers in the Pacific. “Figiel’s engagement with Samoan oral culture is also evident at a deeper structural level,” according to Michelle Keown in her study of three Indigenous novelists of the Pacific:

In Where We Once Belonged and The Girl in the Moon Circle in particular, Figiel crafts an adolescent, demotic narrative style that gives energy and rhythm to the story. Though written primarily in English, the books include passages of untranslated Samoan using the colloquial phonological systems (the “speakerly ‘k’ dialect”) rather than the formal ‘t’ dialect often privileged as a written standard.65

Figiel is thinking through the Samoan cultural self, which she draws on to construct her novels. Figiel is especially known for using the cultural metaphor or a lace to weave her narratives: “The circular model Figiel invokes is significant given that the circle is a central motif in Samoan philosophy, architecture, and the traditional calendar, as well as in oral tradition.”66

Tusiata Avia’s poetic discourse is indicative of the writing style observed in Figiel, Duff, and others, as exemplified in “Pa’u-stina”:

I am da develi pa’umuku kirl

I walk down da street shakeshake my susu

I chew gum an smile wif my gold teef flashing

I call our to da good womens

sitting sitting in deir house

Eh, ‘ai kae’ An I make dem see my arse.

I am da dog kirl wif da fire in my arse

Dey call me da women not da kirl

My thighs rub together make da fire in deir house

My fat taro legs my fat taro belly my fat taro susu

I walk pas all da good womens

An I laugh wif my white teef flashing.

I smell like da hot rain flashing

An all da good men are looking for my arse

All da good men are waiting for da back of deir womens

You are da good kirl da sexy kirl da lovelybeautiful kirl

Dey run like da dog I let them lick my susu

Dey run in da back dey run to deir house.67

In her recitals, Tusiata connects with the audience immediately. Her poems have that critical link between language and culture. Her poetry style is unique to her Samoan heritage and language as well. She is writing in the language that is recognized as the medium of expression among her people in Samoa as well as within the New Zealand cultural landscape. The style she brings to her performance is unique to her language and cultural way of speaking among her people.

Negotiating Culture

In Roger M. Keesing’s words: “A more radical Pacific discourse would also be more deeply self-reflexive about the hegemonic force of Western education, of Christianity (an integral part of the colonial-imperial project), of Western pastoral myths as appropriations of Otherness.” He sees “encouraging signs of a deepening critical consciousness regarding these issues, as well, in some recent writings by Pacific Islands scholars.”68 However, Haunani-Kay Trask, in “Natives and Anthropologist,” charges that Western academics still look down on Indigenous scholars and deliberately ignore the work of Indigenous writers and scholars:

Natives don’t know very much, even about their own life ways, thus there is no need to read them. (The only “real” sources are haole sources, hegemony recognizing and reinforcing hegemony. . . .) Not only has he [Keesing] refused to read what we Native nationalists write and say, he has refused to look at our sources of knowledge. But then, Keesing believes, Natives are so colonized, why bother?69

So why bother reading the writings of Indigenous authors who write in island english or a mixture of English and other Pacific languages? Pacific Islanders write in the language they know and use to communicate their social and cultural experience without distorting any aspect of it.70

Knowledge of a language allows one to know the culture of the language and the place it is used. Getting into the language opens up understanding of the knowledge embedded within that language. Their writings take on the responsibility to redefine the styles of writing that are unique to the language communities of the Pacific. This forces consideration of the limits of what is standard and what is outside or beyond that standard. Homi Bhabha’s discussion of the importance of language metaphor is relevant to this discussion:

If culture as epistemology focuses on function and intention, then culture as enunciation focuses on signification and institutionalization; if the epistemological tends toward a reflection of its empirical referent or object, the enunciative attempts repeatedly to reinscribe and relocate the political claim to cultural priority and hierarchy (high/low, ours/theirs) in the social institution of the signifying activity.71

Indigenous Pacific writers have been working on enunciating their experiences within their own sites of cultural negotiation. Their articulation of their experiences in their own languages disrupts the hegemonic permanency dominating since colonial days:

The epistemological is locked into the hermeneutic circle, in the description of cultural elements as they tend toward a totality. The enunciative is a more dialogic process that attempts to track displacements and realignments that are the effects of cultural antagonisms and articulations—subverting the rationale of the hegemonic moment and relocating alternative, hybrid sites of cultural negotiations.72

Scholars such as Subramani, David Gegeo, Vilsoni Hereniko, Caroline Gabbard-Sinavaiana, and Konai Helu Thaman have argued that the languages of enunciation claim an Indigenous epistemology in the Pacific. In their discussions as well as in Bhabha, there is an “enunciative present in the articulation of culture” that provides “a process by which objectified others may be turned into subjects of their history and experience.”73 Indigenous writers are articulating their experiences in the languages that capture their experiences. Albert Wendt enunciated this very well, when asked about using vernaculars in his writings:

Oh, yes. I would encourage you to choose the language of the people themselves, their own language. I’m sure if I did write in Samoan, my insights into my own people would be much deeper, because the Samoan language would better convey what Samoans are as people.74

Wendt has written most of his novels in English but has used Samoan words in most of his works. Writing in Samoan or other Pacific languages has more depth than in English, according to Wendt:

When you’re describing someone whose language is not English, you can go so far, but you cannot go all the way. If I translated my novels into Samoan, they would be very different. But never mind, even in English, I try to work out a style of language that includes some Samoan concept.75

As an example, Wendt points to the use of the Samoan word aiga for family as having no substitute in English. Wendt also points out that in Ola, he uses Samoan words without needing to translate them.76

The writing in vernacular or a blend of English among Pacific Islanders is a way of abrogating the colonizer’s language for their own use: “Abrogation is a refusal of the categories of the imperial culture, its aesthetic, its illusory standard of normative or ‘correct’ usage, and its assumption of a traditional and fixed meaning inscribed in the words.”77 The English language as it was introduced to the Pacific Islanders was still perpetuating its own hegemonic power by insisting on non-abrogation. However, as is now proposed, Pacific Islanders took the colonizer’s language and made it become their own “english,” signifying a form of resistance to the hegemonic view of class and cultural imperialism. A need for “restoration or artificial reconstruction of the voice to which they were initially opposed, a voice for the most part stifled and reduced to silence, marginalized, its own utterances scattered to the winds, or reappropriated in their turn by the hegemonic culture,” is therefore advocated.78 The reversal of perspectives is important to the writers of Oceania. In doing so, a space of viewing is freed from its European colonizing clutches, as scholars have argued elsewhere.79 A reconstruction of the frameworks and structures is taking place in Oceania through the process of writing in English and allowing the coexistence of Pacific languages and lingua franca in the same text.

Postcolonial literary theorists argue that Pacific literature, as other postcolonial literature,

is therefore always written out of the tension between the abrogation of the received English which speaks from the center, and the act of appropriation which brings it under the influence of a vernacular tongue, the complex speech habits which characterize the local language, or even the evolving and distinguishing local English of a monolingual society trying to establish its link with place.80

Without this process, voices of the Pacific Islanders will likely remain in the “sociological” space of the isolated and marginalized groups.

Coupled with language issues and the dialogic expressions in the writings of Pacific Islanders, various textual appropriations and ways in which the language of writing and culture have been fused together to produce texts reveal a dialogic process at work. It is impossible to avoid the linguistic features of the text as they are constructed in Oceania. Texts are thought of as a symbolic act where the “individual text retains its formal structure as a symbolic act: yet value and character of such symbolic action are now significantly modified and enlarged.”81

Outsider Position Reversed

Indigenous Pacific Island writers are using linguistic experimentation in their writings to disrupt the hegemonic system of the English language. Patrice Wilson’s study of oceanic epistemology and representations of Oceanic epistemologies in Oceanic literature suggests a shared conceptual space: “That is why, when Oceanic writers use indigenous words and concepts in their work, the outsider may not fully understand their meaning or nuance and may then experience her position as an outsider.”82 In some sense, there “is an inevitable residual effect of the fact that many Oceanic writers are writing for their own audiences.”83 A peculiar thing happens as a result: “the writer and her/his audience, the indigenous audience, reverse the position of outsider . . . imposed by colonialism.”84 Wilson argues: “therefore, the knowledge/power differential is also reversed, forcing the colonizer to acknowledge the knowledge/power structures of indigenous peoples as different from his/her own.”85

The “unwriting” of Oceanic cultures and representations of Indigenous epistemologies in Oceania reaffirms the Oceanic cultures and spaces of voices. Indigenous writers in Oceania “are once again reinscribing their own epistemologies, reducing the relevance of the outsider’s gaze.”86 There are many ways of representation that follow “a single hegemonic practice.”87 The insistence on the notion of dialogic formation in the writings of Pacific Islanders provides another perspective of such a practice. By allowing a dialogical dimension to take place proactively, efforts to rewrite marginalized cultures become successful. Specific cultural and linguistic structures require appropriating the language and cultures of such an operation, as is evident in the writings by Pacific Islanders themselves.

The importance of metonymy in the writings of Pacific Islanders as discussed here only scratches the surface. More analysis across various genres is expected. There are many anthologies and publications that reflect these discussions thus far. New publications in recent years have yet to receive critical attention. These efforts to access critical studies on Pacific Islanders’ writings have been limited to what researchers can get their hands on.

Discussion of the Literature

In The Novel in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the South Pacific since 1950, editors Coral Ann Howells, Paul Sharrad, and Gerry Turcotte included an important section on the literary culture of the Pacific. “Before the 1950s, one or two people had written things,” writes Paul Sharrad,

but a literary identity as a ‘writer’ required several shifts from a sense of self, defined by the community and orality . . . earliest published writings were conversion narratives (Joel Bulu, The Autobiography of a Native Minister in the South Seas, 1871; Clement Murau, Story of a Melanesian Deacon, 1894) or correspondence between convert missionaries in the field and their regional ‘head office’ (as in Ron and Marjorie Tauinekore Crocombe’s collection of Ta’unga’s letters from New Caledonia to Rev. Pitman in Rarotonga, The Works of Ta’unga 1984).88

In the 1930s, there were literary bubbles in the form of autobiographical writing translated from local vernaculars to English published in Australia and the United States. “In Papua New Guinea, works such as Hosea Ligeremaluoga Linge’s An Account of the Life of Ligeremaluoga (1930) and Ahuia Ova’s ‘The Reminiscence of Ahuia Ova’ (1939) tell of conversion to Christianity and to new ideas of orderly living.”89

The literary culture proper seems to have emerged in full bloom around the 1950s, and the 1960s, giving the earliest literary renaissance in the 1970s, spreading around the Pacific, though limited to New Zealand, Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Fiji. Literary emergence in Papua New Guinea and Fiji were confined to the university environments, in part because the early writers were students attending the universities:

Many Pacific writings from the early phase of literary production take the form of ‘auto-ethnographic’ accounts of village life or the transcription of oral stories in which the viewpoint of the narrative and its use of ‘formal English’ to depict a clearly non-Anglo world.90

English was the preferred language of choice for their writings. The writers chose to construct their writings in English, instead of vernaculars or lingua franca.

Critical literary analysis of South Pacific literature emerged in the 1980s onward as universities in the South Pacific region introduced “Pacific Literature” as a subject in their curriculums, resulting in the emergence of critical scholars from within the Pacific, including New Zealand, Australia, and Hawaii. With advancement in media technologies and online publication platforms, more and more Pacific Islanders are publishing their writings. The older generation of writers is limited to the traditional print form of publication from traditional publishers. With online publication, writers can publish whatever they like in the languages of their choice. A small number of scholars are involved in the research, writing, and teaching of Pacific Literature in Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Samoa, Hawaii, and Cornel.

Links to Digital Materials

A bibliography of Pacific Literature and critical studies of Pacific writing is available at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The Hamilton Library at the University of Hawaii at Manoa is responsible for this site.

Publications of the University of Hawaii Press are also available online. These include critical studies, book reviews, and essays on Pacific Islanders writings.

The University of Athabasca, Canada, has developed an online repository on literature, literary magazines, and other important documents on Papua New Guinea. Materials on early writings are available on this site.

Several publications of the University of Hawaii focus on Pacific Islands writing, Asian writing, and other Indigenous writings. These include Manoa, Oiwi: A Native Hawaiian Journal, Hawaii Review, and The Contemporary Pacific: A Journal of Island Affairs. Back issues of Manoa and The Contemporary Pacific can be accessed via ScholarSpace.

Meanjin, ( Kunapipi, ( and New Literatures Review (, and are some literary journals in Australia publishing the writings of Pacific Islanders. Critical studies on Pacific Islands’ writings are also published in these journals.

In New Zealand, the journals Landfall: A New Zealand Quarterly,( Takahe, Journal of New Zealand Literature, ( and other mainstream magazines such as New Zealand Listener, New Zealand Herald, and Islands have given space for Pacific Islanders to publish their poems, stories, and essays.

The Journal of Postcolonial Literature has also featured writings by Pacific Islanders. Other publications include World Literature Today and ariel: A Review of International English Literature.

Further Reading

  • Arvidson, Ken. “Aspects of Writing in the South Pacific.” The Mana Annual of Creative Writing, 5–8. Suva, Fiji: South Pacific Creative Arts Society, 1973.

Bamboo Ridge, a Journal of Hawaii Literature and Arts. This publication focuses on writings by Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders.

  • Beier, Ulli. Decolonizing the Mind: The Impact of the University on Culture and Identity in Papua New Guinea, 1971–74. Canberra, Australia: Pandanus Books, 2005.
  • Caroll, Jeffrey, Brandy Nalani McDougall, and Georganne Nordstrom, eds. “Introduction.” In Huihui: Navigating Art and Literature in the Pacific, edited by Jeffrey Caroll, Brandy Nalani McDougall, and Georganne Nordstrom, 1–16. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2015.
  • Ellerman, Evelyn. “Literary Institution in Papua New Guinea.” PhD diss., University of Alberta, 1994.
  • Fairbairn-Dunlop, Peggy. “Samoan Writing: The Search for the Written Fagogo.” In Readings in Pacific Literature, edited by Paul Sharrad, 136–160. Wollongong, Australia: CPR, 1993.
  • Hamasaki, Richard. “Mountains in the Sea: The Emergence of Contemporary Hawai’ian Poetry in English.” In Readings in Pacific Literature, edited by Paul Sharrad, 190–204. Wollongong, Australia: New Literatures Research Centre, University of Wollongong, 1993.
  • Hereniko, Vilsoni. “Representations of Cultural Identity.” In Inside Out: Literature, Cultural Politics, and Identity in the New Pacific, edited by Vilsoni Hereniko and Rob Wilson, 137–166. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999.
  • Howells, Coral Ann, Paul Sharrad, and Gerry Turcotte, eds. The Novel in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the South Pacific since 1950 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017). This volume is an excellent resource for insights into the emergence of the writers in the countries featured.
  • Kearney, Shayne. “Missions, Education and Literature in Oceania: With Emphasis on Papua New Guinea,” PhD diss., University of Wollongong, Australia, 2011.
  • Keown, Michelle. Pacific Islands Writing: The Postcolonial Literatures of Aotearoa/New Zealand and Oceania. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • Maka’a, Julian, and Stephen Oxenham. “The Voice in the Shadow: A Survey of Writing in Solomon Islands.” In Readings in Pacific Literature, edited by Paul Sharrad, 81–90. Wollongong, Australia: New Literatures Research Centre, University of Wollongong, 1993.
  • Modjeska, Drusilla. “PNG Writing, Writing PNG.” Meanjin 62, no. 3 (2003): 47–54.
  • Najita, Susan. Decolonizing Cultures in the Pacific: Reading History and Trauma in Contemporary Fiction. New York: Routledge, 2008.
  • Nasta, Susheila, ed., Wasafiri. London: Commonwealth.
  • Nicole, Robert. “Resisting Orientalism: Pacific Literature in French.” In Inside Out: Literature, Cultural Politics, and Identity in the New Pacific, edited by Vilsoni Hereniko and Rob Wilson, 265–290. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999.
  • Prasad, Mohit. “Indigenous Pacific Fiction in English: the ‘Niu Wace.’” In The Novel in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the South Pacific since 1950, edited by Coral Ann Howells, Paul Sharrad, and Gerry Turcotte, 511–526. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.
  • Prentice, Christine. “Maori Novels in English.” In The Novel in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the South Pacific since 1950, edited by Coral Ann Howells, Paul Sharrad, and Gerry Turcotte, 436–451. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.
  • Romaine, Suzanne. Pidgin and Creole Languages. London: Longman, 1988.
  • Sharrad, Paul, ed. Readings in Pacific Literature (Wollongong, Australia: New Literature Research Centre, University of Wollongong, 1993). This work collates early critical studies on Pacific Islanders’ writings.
  • Sharrad, Paul. “South Pacific.” In The Novel in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the South Pacific since 1950, edited by Coral Ann Howells, Paul Sharrad, and Gerry Turcotte, 128–140. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.
  • Stella, Regis. Imagining the Other: The Representation of the Papua New Guinean Subject. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2007.
  • Sturm, Terry, ed. Oxford History of New Zealand Literature in English (Auckland, NZ: Oxford University Press, 1991). This work contains contributions from leading scholars of New Zealand literature.
  • Subramani. South Pacific Literature: From Myth to Fabulation. Revised edition. Suva, Fiji: Institute of Pacific Studies, 1992.
  • Sullivan, Robert. “Varua Tupu.” In Mauri Ola: Contemporary Polynesian Poems in English: Whetu Moana II, edited by Albert Wendt, Reina Whaitiri, and Robert Sullivan, 211. Auckland, NZ: University of Hawaii Press, 2010.
  • Te Punga Sumerville, Alice. Once Were Pacific: Maori Connections to Oceania. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2012.
  • Tewake, Sandra. “Transforming the Insider/Outsider Perspective: Postcolonial Fiction from the Pacific.” The Contemporary Pacific 12, no. 1 (2000): 155–175.
  • Treadaway, Julian. “Hidden Voices: The Development of Creative Writing in Solomon Islands.” Span 48–49 (1999): 53–71.
  • Tusitala Marsh, Selina. “Theory ‘versus’ Pacific Islands Writing: Toward a Tama ‘ita’i Criticism in the Works of Three Pacific Islands Woman Poets.” In Inside Out: Literature, Cultural Politics, and Identity in the New Pacific, edited by Vilsoni Hereniko and Rob Wilson, 337–356. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999.
  • Vaai, Sina. Literary Representations in Western Polynesia: Colonialism and Indigeneity. Apia: National University of Samoa, La Papa-I-Galagal, 1999.
  • Wendt, Albert. “Towards a New Oceania.” Mana Review 1, no.1 (1976): 49–60. Reprinted in Readings in Pacific Literature, edited by Paul Sharrad. Wollongong, Australia: University of Wollongong, 1993.
  • Wilson, Rob. “Introduction: Toward Imagining a New Pacific.” In Inside Outside: Literature, Cultural Politics and Identity in the New Pacific, edited by Vilsoni Hereniko and Rob Wilson, 1–16. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999.
  • Winduo, Steven Edmund. “Unwriting Oceania: The Repositioning of the Pacific Writer Scholars within a Folk Narrative Space.” New Literary History 31, no. 11 (2000): 599–613.
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