Our people are leaving, our climate is changing, our cultures are shifting. In this week’s ONSIDE blog SPASIFIK reporter JARED MACKLEY-CRUMP imagines what our concept of “the Pacific” will look like in 20 years.
Pacific Islanders; it’s a term that means many things to many people. In New Zealand it is most commonly used as the blanket term applied to our communities of people whose ancestors migrated here from Pacific states, largely within the last 50 years.
The picture of these migrations is largely Polynesian, given that the majority of migrants were from Polynesian states. Our Pacific and our Maori communities are considered distinct and different, and there is an underlying sense of tension in that relationship, still.
I interviewed Albert Wendt recently and we talked about the passage in his novel, Sons for the Return Home, when the main character realises his own internal racism, towards Maori, and towards other (non Samoan) Islanders.
The fact is Pacific Islanders, in some respects, were not Pacific Islanders until arriving in New Zealand. And even then it took some time for people to feel and engage in a sense of commonality and collectivity.
In the early 1970s the so-called “Pacific Way” was advocated by Fiji’s post-independence “founding father,” Ratu Kamisise Mara, and promoted with the creation of the Pacific Forum, in 1971.
In Pacific academic thought this concept was most famously captured by the PNG-born, Tongan-descended Fijian Epeli Hau’ofa, and his notion of the Pacific as an interconnected network, a “Sea of Islands.”
This matrix was interwoven and held together by the common cultures and histories of trade and exchange that characterised the Pacific pre-contact. In the modern era, with onward migration to places like New Zealand, the “Sea of Islands” had been extended further, into new homelands and pockets of Pacific-ness, as people underwent new world-making processes and expanded their horizons just as their ancestors had previously done.
Events like Pacific festivals, the Pacific Music Awards, the Pacific Sports Awards, and organisations like the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs and other Pacific-oriented NGOs and service providers, do much to promote and continue this powerful narrative (although there are now plenty of Island-specific community level events and organisations that run alongside these, creating multiple levels of community identities and affiliations).
Recently though, I’ve been wondering: how will these concepts of the Pacific evolve in the coming decades? Only a fool would disagree that things are rapidly changing, so perhaps we should be putting some time and effort into imagining how these are going to affect our communities.
The exodus of people to Australia continues apace. It has been happening for a while, of course, and I don’t sense any let up in the foreseeable future. I don’t know of any statistics but, certainly anecdotally, a lot of Maori and Pacific families, unable to get ahead in New Zealand, have joined the departing hoards.
This happened to my own Tokelauan rellies about a decade ago. To Sydney. From cyclical benefit dependency, they were mostly all quickly employed and charting a course to upward mobility. Other members soon followed. They won’t be back. Why would they?
And so now Australian Pacific Islanders are becoming a new norm. There are now the first generations of Australian-born and raised Pacific people. What does that mean? How will this effect Australia? New Zealand? Pacific cultures and homelands?
In a positive sense it’s a further enlargement of the Pacific world, new outposts of Pacific-ness stretching and strengthening connections into new places. On the flipside though, does it represent a further fracturing, connections stretched ever thinner and made more conducive to being broken?
Is it akin to the twentieth century migrations – the downside of which decimated some villages and small island states – all over again? Except this time it’s the New Zealand communities being emptied out.
For those who move onto Australia from here, is there a triple sense of Home? Can I be, for example, an Australian-Tongan via New Zealand or a New Zealand-Tongan living in Australia? But then what happens once I have children who are born and grow up in Australia, do they have any sense of connection to New Zealand, or Tonga for that matter?
We know that remittances have been a large and important source of income for many of our Pacific neighbour states, for many decades. We also know that, in the case of Tonga most dramatically, these remittances have been falling away. While there are many reasons, logic dictates that people now several generations removed from those homelands, and perhaps having moved on to a new, third homeland, feel less inclined to remit money, especially when they may not have it to give in the first place.
Finally, what about those fabled ancestral homelands, and what about those whose very existence is now under threat from our changing climate change? What will happen to Tuvalu and Tokelau for example, when those lands become uninhabitable?
The people will be forced to move or course, and New Zealand seems like a logical new home. But the bigger question is, what does it mean when concepts like Tokelau and Tuvalu exist only as (or in) people (and in increasingly distant memories)? Will it make those communities hold ever faster to traditions, with protectionist attempts to retain what they deem to be their essence?
A culture not evolving is a culture dying, but what happens when you no longer have a home culture to which you can (safely) refer? Will those communities try to create a sense of purity by shunning the intermarriages that have so mixed us all, forced us to live with each other, and overall made us all the better for it? Surely that can’t be a good thing, but is it understandable?
There are indeed some big questions, and they are questions that will need addressing because change is coming, like it or not. It’s inevitable.
What do you think? What changes lie ahead for our Pacific communities, wherever they are? Post your comments below.