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Our sea of islands: migration and mtissage in contemporary Polynesian writing

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This article explores metaphors of oceanic migration in contemporary Polynesian writing, investigating the notion of a regional Oceanic identity embraced by a variety of Pacific (and particularly Polynesian) writers and theorists, while also acknowledging the specific historical circumstances and consequences of sea migration within individual Polynesian cultures. Throughout, the essay maintains a multiple temporal focus, identifying the ways in which imagery of the sea and more specifically the traditional Polynesian waka/vaka (voyaging canoe) has been deployed by Polynesian writers as a chronotope not only of pre-European (and early contact) patterns of migration and cultural exchange within the Pacific, but also of the large-scale migrations of Polynesians to various neighbouring nations since the Second World War. The essay also engages with the complex cultural exchanges brought about by various historical phases of European maritime exploration and settlement in the Pacific, analysing how Polynesian writers explore the effects of intermarriage and cultural contact between Polynesians and Europeans since the late eighteenth century. In investigating these patterns of cross-cultural exchange, the essay adopts the French term mtissage, which, alongside the related concepts of hybridity and syncreticity, denotes genetic and cultural exchanges and intermixing. Drawing upon the work of various postcolonial theorists, the essay examines mtissage in the Pacific both at the level of (material) cultural exchange, and within literary texts produced by anglophone and francophone Polynesian writers, particularly those who explicitly identify themselves as of mixed race.
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Keywords: Oceania; Polynesia; diaspora; migration; mtissage; postcolonial; voyaging; waka

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Edinburgh.

Publication date: December 1, 2008

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  • The International Journal of Francophone Studies offers a critical preview for a new development in the understanding of 'France outside France', with a thorough insight into the network of disciplinary issues affiliated with this study. The journal complements the thriving area of scholarly interest in the French-speaking regions of the world, bringing a location of linguistic, cultural, historical and social dynamics within a single academic arena.
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