Accepted paper:

The Bright Wake: facing the past in post-colonial Fiji


Chloe Colchester (Oxford University)

Paper short abstract:

Why does tapa-making continue in the South West Pacific, even now? By discussing the emergence of an Oceanic theory of space-time in the post-colonial literature we may be in a better position to understand how tapa imagery came to sustain rival temporalities in colonial and post-colonial Fiji.

Paper long abstract:

In developing an Oceanic theory of space-time Tongan anthropologists have asserted the right of Pacific Islanders to construct their own pasts in their own fashion, through poetry, oratory, dance or through the ongoing remaking of artefacts and imagery. The idea that one faces the past, which is linked to a cyclical or circular conception of time is, they argue, fundamental to these creative activities, as is the sense that things and imagery and subjective social experience merge into each other through semi-ritualized performance. 'What is ahead of us', Hau'ofa has written, 'cannot be ignored for it is in front of our minds' eyes, always reminding us of its presence. Since the past is alive in us, the dead are alive—we are our history'. In late 19th and early 20th century colonial spatial controls - restrictions to movement, to ocean voyaging and ceremonial exchange (solevu) meant that circular time was significantly suppressed - with the implication that barkcloth left 'its time'. Nevertheless this was a period that witnessed the production of large, optically dazzling barkcloth 'heads' which were made and displayed by women in the interior of their houses during the performance of burial rites and rites of atonement, as a discreet side event to the main exchanges taking place in public. These displays show how barkcloth imagery came to occupy an entirely new role, by providing point of orientation - a means of deepening reality and widening of the imagination - at a distinct tangent to dominant 'outsider' formulations of space and time.

panel Cre08
Time and tradition: theorising the temporalities in and of cultural production