Date of this Version
THE FRENCH REVIEW. Vol. 93. No. I. (October 2019), pp 141-153
IN AN INTERVIEW conducted in May 2013, the same month in which French Polynesia was inscribed on the United Nations list of countries to be decolonized, the archipelago's best-known writer, Chantal Spitz, declared:
L'Océanie est une et multiple. Une parce qu'habitée par un méme peuple originel venue d'Asie du Sud-Est, notamment Taiwan, qui s'est installé au fil de voyages océaniques a bord de pirogues à double coque et en suivant les étoiles, sur les îles du Pacifique. Multiple par la variété des adaptations imposées à ce peuple par des environnements géographiques souvent très différents et des colonisations européennes diverses. (19)
Spitz evokes the complicated histories that both connect and separate the peoples of Oceania, histories also characterized as "multiple 'translocal' and contested Pacific worlds, sometimes overlapping and often intersecting but always plural" (Armitage and Bashford 9). Simultaneously one and multiple, Oceania, comprised of New Zealand, French Polynesia, the islands of Micronesia and Melanesia, Hawaii, and Easter Island, is a complex, multivalent region, united by a common ancestry yet "separated" by hundreds of indigenous languages (as well as the colonially imposed languages, English, French, and Spanish) and different experiences of colonialism and globalization. The region has recently been producing an equally complex., rich, yet understudied body of literature. In "The Oceanic Imaginary," Fijian scholar Subramani suggests that this literature is a critical site for "the construction of a body of knowledge encompassing the kaleidoscope of Oceanic cultures and tracing diverse and complex forms of knowledge-philosophies, cartographies, languages, genealogies, and repressed knowledges" (151). He envisions a literature that would provide a space for Oceanian voices to question "imagined givens" such as the binary tensions between small and large, indigeneity and introduced, and the notions of space and insularity that he contends are tensions seen in western critical traditions as dialectical, while in Oceania they coalesce. Subramani proposes that this aspiration to reimagine Oceania through its own literature-a literature produced by its own people-would, rather than establish any ideological stance, grand narratives, or complete theories, "avoid dreams of completion; it would allow impurities and accommodate important flaws" (151). I suggest that two contemporary Tahitian women writers, Rai Chaze and Titaua Peu, establish a French Polynesian literary presence in taking up Subramani's call to reimagine Oceania in two novels that illustrate it as simultaneously one and multiple. Integrating complex forms of indigenous epistemologies such as genealogy-based histories and cartographies with intricate narrative constructions, these authors have created works that are representative of their contemporary social, political, and cultural situations in both form and content.