Doctor of Philosophy
School of English Literatures, Philosophy and Language
Kearney, Shayne, Missions, education and literature in Oceania: with emphasis on Papua New Guinea, Doctor of Philosophy thesis, School of English Literatures, Philosophy and Language, University of Wollongong, 2011. https://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/3572
The London Missionary Society’s [LMS] first mission endeavour was in the South Seas at Tahiti in 1797. The mostly Calvinist missionaries unquestionably transformed the lives of the Pacific Islanders forever. Although the missionaries primary goal was Christian conversion, their influence far exceeded the religious realm. They became, perhaps unwittingly, agents of colonialism by introducing their own social mores and morality; enforced Western codes of law, banned traditional practices and captivated the Islanders with Western technologies. Their success was not instant; it took years of dedication and sheer doggedness to achieve their goal, but success when it came, was staggering.
Teaching the indigene to read and write was a vital adjunct to Christian conversion and the LMS was the first facilitator of Western (English) education. It was through formal schooling that their influence was nurtured as they introduced four culturally transformative concepts to the indigene student: literacy, Christianity, Western education and eventually the English language. Stemming from this education is the production of Pacific writing in English by indigenous writers: a legacy as enduring as that of Christian conversion in the region. Through schooling, often in remote locations, the missions had a destabilising influence on whole generations as they severed the indigene child from his or her traditional culture.
This thesis examines the production of indigenous literature written by students taught or influenced by missions by analysing it through two postcolonial models. The indigenous élite offer a significant contribution to Oceanic history as they ‘write back’ to the dominant white history of the region (Ashcroft et al 2001). Many of these writers were of the “first mission contact” generation of their respective societies. Through their letters, journals, diaries, autobiographies, novels and poetry, a fascinating insight into their thoughts (feelings, frustrations and attitudes) on the numerous and enduring transformations they were undergoing unfolds.
Post-colonial Pacific writing exhibits many of the attributes of other former colonised regions and has ‘followed the trends, (in the most part), of other colonised territories worldwide such as India, Africa, the Caribbean, Canada and Australia’ (Ashcroft et al 2001 7). Firstly, this thesis examines the style of writing as it exhibits the shifts and progresses of Western (mission) colonisation; which Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin define within three categories as imitation, abrogation and appropriation (2001 5-6). It then, compares and contrasts the phenomenological state or the conscious awareness of the ‘native intellectuals’ defined by Frantz Fanon within three distinct stages: unqualified assimilation, restlessness and resistance.
Fanon’s theory is central to my thesis. The manifestation of the confusions of cultural disconnection and identity continues to be a topical theme within Oceanic literature. Postcolonial theory also insists on attending to the local specificities of history and power and accordingly this thesis shows that Pacific literature suggests the need for an additional two stages to Fanon’s model.
In the Pacific context, it is apparent that a stage precedes Fanon’s first stage of unqualified assimilation. There is a resistance by the indigene to whole-heartedly accept Westernisation. In this proposed stage, the indigenous writer shows signs of accepting colonial inculcation as normal, however, the indigenous writer continues to assert their own traditional culture so, the assimilation is incomplete. The Tahitian kings Pomaré I and II exemplify this phase as they retain their traditions while adopting some Western practices.
Furthermore, Martinique-born Fanon died in 1961 as his adopted country, Algeria, was gaining its independence, so I humbly suggest that his model is incomplete. The final stage that I propose is one of acceptance – a stage of renewed vigour, a syncretic stage. Two groups of writers may be categorised within the stage. Firstly, many of the writers of this stage are at least two generations removed from the cultural transformation period and the impact on them was never, therefore, as great as the early writers. Secondly, for the writers who began their careers within the emergent generation, the evolution in their works could be deemed to be an example of dynamic syncretism, whereby aspects of colonial inheritance, both welcome and unwelcome, are tenuously reconciled into a form of hybridity.
A further reason to modify Fanon’s three-stage model is that postcolonial theory also insists on attending to the local specificities of history and power and accordingly this thesis shows that Pacific literature suggests the need for an additional two stages to be added to Fanon’s model.