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In the belly of the canoe with Ihimaera, Hulme and Gorod. The waka as a locus of hybridity

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The canoe has become a material metaphor for the intrepid skill and ancient knowledge of ancestral indigenous migrations and connections and a popular culture symbol of identity in Oceania. I examine the central role played by the great canoes of the ancestors in Pacific literature, especially as the canoe is identified with the mauri or spirit of the land in two well-known novels, The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera and The Bone People by Keri Hulme. The representations of incest, violence against very young women and sexual possession linked to the site of a canoe stone in the first Kanak novel, L'Epave, however, open up a troubling and critical space within such apparently idealizing images. Dw Gorod's text makes explicit the extent to which the locations of the (wrecked) forms of the canoe are shifting at once ancestral, imposed by colonialism and commodified by a global capitalist society. The canoe itself is a hybrid. Hybridity in Gorod's texts derives not only from a century and a half of co-existence with a socio-politically dominant white New Caledonian society but also from a sense of wreckage present behind the surfaces of custom in whose survival and renewal the writer is nonetheless deeply emotionally and politically invested. Through the metonymy of the canoe rock as wreck I argue, Gorod's work connects with other Pacific writing exploring violence and more generally, hybridity. Paradoxically, there is transnationality concealed within the very insularity and cultural-centredness of this single published Kanak novelist. Unspoken questions of the pleasure of the feminine body, its power, and, more particularly, the modes of its exploitation, create connections and migrations across indigenous Pacific communities and between literary texts. In all of these texts, the fluidity and mediation of the sea-voyaging canoe remains a contradictory but not mutually exclusive avatar of the stone, buried deeply in the earth. The voyage into the belly of the canoe is emblematic of the search for both roots and routes, a locus of hybridity seeking to create new third spaces where women have a different place.
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Keywords: Bone People; Dw Gorod; Keri Hulme; L'Epave; Pacific literatures; Ten Canoes; Whale Rider; Witi Ihimaera; canoe; hybridity; sexual violence

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Auckland.

Publication date: 2008-12-01

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