1In the late 1920s, Alfred North Whitehead regarded the universe as an interplay of consciousness and concrescence. At the same time, quantum physics was arguing that observation, both human and mechanical, collapses myriad potentialities into dimensional reality.
2Social science has been shy to admit that what is advertised as Pacific culture is, in fact, a dialogue between indigenous actors and those who interpret them. And whilst Judith Bennett’s lively anthology, Oceanian Journeys and Sojourns, makes no such broad admission, it at times focuses presciently on the psychology of the observer, thereby revisiting a key component of what this reviewer considers regional fact.
3The theme of the compendium is migration to and from bush, town, city, capital, and the metropolises of the developed world.
4But first to the confessions of observers:
5In a candid interview with David Gegeo in Hilo, Murray Chapman, the emeritus geographer of Melanesia, recalls the raw serendipity of his landmark studies of the Tasimauri coast of Guadalcanal. Asenati Liki, who coordinates gender studies at usp/Suva, sheepishly admits she embarked on her PhD without a grasp of epistemology… but the fact she recounts this naivety trumpets her commitment to social philosophy. And although Tarcisius Kabutaulaka has been teaching in Fiji and Hawai’i for over two decades, he resents being grouped with the Solomon diaspora:
« I belong to multiple worlds, yet am rooted in Tasimauri. »
6Editor Bennett is equally alert in presenting Lieutenant Commander John Burke, a Columbia University law graduate whose early assignment in World War II involved managing naval ports in the Florida Islands for the U.S. Navy. Burke is portrayed as something of an artefact Schindler in the Solomons, urgently shipping endangered art to safety despite bureaucratic resistance from the U.K.’s resident commissioner.
7But beyond these revelations, there’s cogent social science in this anthology:
8To counter the presumed finality of diaspora, geographer Sa’iliemanu Lilomaiava-Doktor recalls a Samoan remark: ‘E maota tau‘ave pe laoa tau‘ave le Samoa’ [Samoans carry the manners of the house and morals of place with them.] Nor, she argues, does distance diminish attachment to ‘āiga [family]: the security it affords and obligations it entails remain indelibly with the Samoan emigrant.
9For his part Kiwi social scientist Raymond Young challenges the notion that diaspora dooms emigrants to fragmentation and alienation. Such a view, he contends, empowers hosts and belittles migrants. He insists on the potential of immigrants to “restructure worlds” – i.e., to reinvent social and cultural fabrics derived from the experience of displacement.
10The shortcoming of this compendium is shared by many other studies of the Pacific islands. There’s a relentless conflation of traditional roots and modernity in ojs, as if tapping one’s heritage is the only informed way to migrate. Here in Tonga, with its pervasive diaspora, the picture is more muddled, which is why perhaps the kingdom was not accorded its own chapter in this collection. Yet inasmuch as Tonga escaped a colonial past, it can – and often does – claim to retain an endemic Polynesian spirit.
11And in the end that spirit may have more to do with pioneering than with sourcing tradition. There are contemporary Tongan journeys that refer more to global prototypes than native folkways. At the corporate level, of course, there’s transnational banking, aviation, and rugby competition. But there are grassroots examples as well, such as transnational hacking and gaming online, gay romance and commerce, and syndicated crime.
12Literature pertaining to these subcultures is admittedly sparse, yet not impossible to integrate. Over the course of his career, multinational anthropologist Niko Besnier has, among other forays, sleuthed Tonga’s fakaleiti and rugby subcultures (Besnier, 2003, 2015) And in August 2015, Todd Henry – a U.S. postgraduate student in New Zealand – posted a poignant interview with Sione Ngaue, a Tongan tattoo artist imprisoned in the U.S. with compatriots implicated in syndicated crime (http://culturesofoblivion.com/2015/08/09/deported-an-interview-with-sione-ngaue-in-the-kingdom-of-tonga).
13It’s difficult to comprehensively respond to the promise of ojs’ talent and disappointment with its parochial scope. In less than a decade, Judith Bennett’s study of the Pacific environment in World War II has become definitive (Bennett, 2009). And in the territory it maps, ojs boasts similar acuity. One can only hope, however, that an ensuing edition – or second volume – will conceive a broader spectrum of Pacific migrants.