Names dropping in the Pacific is a life project gathering different materials: images, poems, short essays, sounds, archives… weaving critical thoughts, fantasies, performances, theories, emotions, research… From these materials, we aim to produce a movie and a publication, along with installations and workshops.
Names dropping in the Pacific is dedicated to the Maori people of the Pacific I am tied to, but also to the American, Chinese, French, Japanese, and all mixed communities who are the children of (post)colonization histories, developing their lives in these areas and having a true attachment to this vast ocean.
It is fascinating to research how names, and of course how each individual/collective life, area and context related to them, could open complex streams and unexpected threads to better understand how the Pacific, going along with its history and contemporary development, is constantly reframed by geopolitical strategies of naming due to the re-de-mapping of the sea according to colonization histories and current economical appropriations of the ocean.
Moreover, naming, renaming, de-naming is also an impressive private and collective cultural “thesaurus” of the Pacific generated by people themselves, individuals, families, societies and identities living or/and migrating in the Pacific.
As the ocean, the process of naming is a boundlessness area crossing:
– The (still unknown) origins of the Maoris: some Maoris have been struggling to keep their indigenous names while others were “renamed” after colonization and mixed filiations. It appears also that people have western family name but Maori first name, or vice-versa. Then, the resurgence of Maori cultures are leading young generations of renaming themselves with Maori names.
– The inter connections of the people from the Pacific with America, Asia and Europe as continents: as an example, some European families transformed their names when they migrated to the United States and before arriving in the Pacific archipelagos. Asian communities in China and Japan who migrated by choice and opportunities of job offered by western colonizers saw their names changed or more precisely “distorted” since their names were written (means recreated) phonetically by French or US administrations. Other Asian communities like the Hakka people in French Polynesia tried to preserve their names and cultures, openly or discreetly.
– Illegitimate relations and recreation of mixed families: the Pacific, from the colonization to now, was not only made of an official history of political, administrative and legal administration and governance. So many individuals had illegal love relations (French with indegnous, Chinese with indigenous, indigenous from one locality (New Zealand) with another indigenous locality (Tahiti). So in the Pacific you can meet people who have a name that is not their real name, but a name coming from another family who adopted the child to hide the illegitimate relation.
– Some of the people in the Pacific have simply… no name
What is in a name? How sounds a name? De-naming? Re-naming? Integrating a name? Alienated by a name? Claiming a name? Original naming? No naming?
All these questions relate to multiple and complex representations of the Pacific, inside or on the margins of official history. That is the challenge of such research project.
Of course names dropping in the Pacific is neither about the construction of a (sub) history nor an obsession for finding some true origins.
It is an on-going practice of archiving, experiencing, performing, practicing and engaging the Pacific, combining different layers of sounds, texts and images (re)creation, of course connecting with other cultural backgrounds from Asia to Europe, from the Americas to this sea of islands that is the Pacific.
This project is not (only) a theoretical academic project but it is more an in-between artistic, historical, anthropological, poetical, sonic, visual, theoretical, private/public statements.
In the following texts and images selection, the reader might cross some passages related to my personal story and experience (Larys Frogier aka Ocean) as a mixed Polynesian and displaced person from my childhood to now, having different life journeys from Polynesia to Europe to Asia. Thank you to take such process, not as an “exhibition” of a self-centered story-telling, but more as one voice among multiple other voices and contributors who could/will engage the project.
Names dropping in the Pacific is a salty ‘clin d’oeil’ to the real bombs dropping in and looming from the ocean related to the past and contemporary colonial histories, conflicts, reunifications that happened for geopolitical and ideological strategies, exploiting people, building walls of exotic representations, occupying remote, invisible places to make happen the worse of humanity like nuclear explosions (French Polynesia, Marshall islands etc.), war bombings (Hawaii Pearl Harbor, Tahiti). But this project does not limit itself to (post)colonization history. It aims to look (back and forth) to much more complex ancient and current practices of migration from multiple communities. It also observes and questions the contemporary capitalist and communist strategies of economical invasion of territories, destruction of environment and cultures in the Pacific.
Following the colonization of the Pacific in the XVIth-XVIIth centuries and since the middle of the XIXth century to now, the Pacific has been the very first and most strategic “crossroad” for experimenting the system of what we call today ‘globalization’ based on profit, commodification, planning, exploitation, creating stereotypes of indigenous people (especially women) to better submit people to Western and Asian continental standards of society, economy and “development”. The invisibility of such tiny archipelagos was and is still very convenient for continental nations to occupy, hide, destroy atolls with nuclear bombings, to deport and to impact people with radioactivity and other diseases, to crush coral reefs and islands, killing life environment for the future decades and centuries.
Needless to say that Globalization is not only a Western practice but nowadays it is also an Asian infiltration with authoritarian systems promising trade, education (well you know what I mean…), financial help (well you know what I mean…), drowning these islands and independent governances into indebtment and ideological submission.
I am the fruit of colonialism means I do not belong to any “pure, unique and exclusive” origin. Made of very unbalanced mixtures of Tahitian, European (Danish, German, French, American) and Chinese roots, I am claiming such family history made of displacements and life experiences because it radically changed my understanding of the official history of colonization.
Of course I am and will forever be traumatized with official administrative, religious, economical colonization acts and atrocities. However, I feel also committed into more constructive ways of (re)considering the alternatives impacts of colonization. Indeed, many people and individuals living in the Pacific have reinvented invisible but powerful alternatives of localities based on unexpected combinations: for example forbidden love stories between Polynesian, French, Chinese, American etc. have made possible the emergence of new generations who are very much engaged in more unexpected, opened acts of life, cultural cooperation, artistic creation, bringing with them their own challenges, ideas and creativity. And this is just as precious as the limitative dichotomies about the “colonizer” versus the “colonized”.
The origins of the Maoris and Polynesians are very much unknown with many theories still opened to questions. So this add another deep layer in feeling constantly rooted and de-rooted in the same time. For the best… because we are always standing far away from and out of any enclosure of nationalism, localism, regionalism, territorialism, separation between “us” and “them”: I believe into this on going process of change, displacement, re-adaptation. Never integration… Since we are already des-integrated, while keeping safe cultural heritage and preservation of environment and quality of life.
In other words, the ocean is our horizon not our land as a property, a nation or a continent. We are not only coming from small islands or archipelagos in the sea but fundamentally from the ocean. Instead of using the Western invented name of the “Pacific”, the anthropologist and poet Epeli Hau o’Faa prefers wording OCEANIA as multiple peoples, movements of the sea, on-going and changing interconnections between (is)lands and seas, non-human elements of the ocean, dense layers of histories and cultural practices. Such position is also quite different from Edouard Glissant’s concept of the archipelagic that is still tied to (is)lands, territories and anthropo centered areas, as well as dependent on or extending from the history of colonization.
Continental men (…) on entering the Pacific after crossing huge expanses of ocean, introduced the view of “islands in a far sea.” (…) I have just the term “ocean peoples” because our ancestors, who had lived in the Pacific for over two thousand years, viewed their world as “a sea of islands” rather than “islands in the sea.(…)
An identity that is grounded in something as vast as the sea should exercise our minds and rekindle in us the spirit that sent our ancestors to explore the oceanic unknown and make it their home, our home. I would like to make it clear at the outset that I am not in any way suggesting cultural homogeneity for our region. Such thing is neither possible nor desirable. Besides, our diversity is necessary for the struggle against the homonegising forces of the global juggernaut.
Epeli Hau’Ofa, We Are the Ocean, 2008, University of Hawai’i Press, Honolulu, p.32, 42.
SAVAGE was the name of the boat on which my Danish ancestor named Samuel Brothersen (1825-1915) embarked from the United Kingdom to the United States of America. Once in San Francisco, he changed his name to an American name as Brothers, and he developed with a business partner and friend Joseph Browne a trading company, navigating from North to South, East to West through the Pacific Ocean. He got married with Mary Browne (1845-1934), renaming the schooner MARIA.
Samuel and Mary Brothers made several voyages from Tahiti to San Francisco trading import/export of copra from coconut plantations, orange, lime, vanilla, fish, guano fertilizer, pearl shell. During one of their trip, their very young son died of dysentery. Mary was distraught since she had already lost her daughter two years before, committing her body to the sea. So they decided to make a stop on Caroline Atoll part of the Kiribati archipelago, and there they buried the Willy son’s body. A small islet of the Caroline Atoll bore now the name of “Brothers islet”. Captain Samuel and Mary Brothers had eleven children, five of them survived.
Following troubles about import/export pearl shell with the young queen of Bora-Bora island – French Polynesia (where was shot the movie TABU by Murnau in 1930), they settled in Fiji in 1875. But during one their trip the boat was sabotaged and sank into deep waters nearby Tahiti. The family lost all and get semi-retirement on Raiatea island French Polynesia, working for the Société Commerciale de l’Océanie (Commercial Society of Oceania). Samuel died in 1915, aged 90 years old, Mary died in 1934; aged 89 years old, both bodies are buried in Papeete-Tahiti French Polynesia.
Video recording of TARAVA TAHITI REO PAPARA, 2017, who won the first prize for the “Himene Tarava” during the famous yearly HEIVA festival in Tahiti.
“Himene Tarava” (quirky song) is a traditional way of singing from Polynesia.
The style is started by one person singing a stanza. Other singers gradually join in and rhyme with the person. The men sing in a deep voice for punctuation, while the women sing in a light voice.
One of the earliest forms of Himene Tarava originated in 1844 in Tubuai island in the far Austral area of French Polynesia where my Brothers traveled and settled in the Tubuai island.
There are different forms of the music in each region.
– In the Windward Islands of Tahiti and Mo’orea, there are five vocal parts of the song.
– The islands of Rimatara and Rurutu use between 10 and 12 vocal parts.
– Raivavae and Rawa have thirteen lines.
Which sonic flames for setting fire to my desires?
The sliding of our bodies soaked in sweat
A furtive gesture suspended into the unfathomable
The wet tongue of a dog licking my bleeding skin
Words dripping from your lips
That will never be said or heard
The breeze whispering on my blowing hole over the grass
The friction of my hands on your words to milk my rage
Vibrations of the celestial
The media of the social
Endless on line talks
Exposure of knowledge and arrogance
Making me speechless
Lectures of power
Deafening anthems of the human
Screens of the obscene
My music is a vibration of the unsaid
Pulsating from the deep drums of my ancestors
Who had no text, no book
But contained growling inside their chests
Spreading over the burning waves of the ocean
Louder than the radioactive bombings
Resonating beyond assassinated souls
Is this your house of knowledge?
Putrid rotten concepts
Quoted until nausea and revulsion
Confiscated to comfort an academic position
A non curatorial statement
Followers of the haunting dominant choir
Left is left
My books are made of
Blowing multicolored bubbles of air
Thick and heavy algae
Swinging in deep dark waters
Dancing under the armpits of rolling cascades
Your obsession with horizontality is highly suspicious to me
Why should there be only verticality or horizontality in this world?
Between us, there is no hurt to fly high, very high
Getting lost in many upside down
Biased, tilted, rounded, melted, stretched, scratched, deepened, cut
Your theories about social equality
Built up the violence of our administrations and bureaucracies
Undermining the beauty of the politics in dream
And the power of democracy in practice
Can you hear
Millions of fluttering bats
Flying out of millions souls
Echoing our ignominies
Touching the invisible image
Vibrating the inaudible tear?
The word of the world today
Turning any murmur, motion and accident of life
Into a flattened system to be designed, managed, controlled
A practice of life
Not a text
As a fish
Slipping out in a millisecond
From the iron collar of man’s mind
Sand slides in my flesh
A velvet smoke is infiltrating my fluids
At the extreme opposite of rationality
Are rumbling the deep bass
Of the anima
Un-mapping the Pacific
Rebbelib is a chart system specific to Marshall islands in Micronesia (more than one thousands islands and islets spread across several hundred miles) used by seafarers to navigate with their canoes between the islands. Vertical and horizontal sticks are used as supports while diagonals and curved sticks indicate swells movements and waves. Shells are locating the islands. The charts were memorized and would not be carried on voyages.
Beyond the Rebbelib from the Marshall islands, some studies have been made in the past years to understand how Maori people were traveling without any map. In 1995, Dr. Te Taka Keegan from the University of Waikato, New Zealand, rebuilt with teams of people traditional canoes and travelled from Hawaii to Rarotonga (2,700 miles) using traditional Polynesian techniques of navigation. According to Dr. Te Taka there are three main attributes to Polynesian navigation:
To read the waves: most ocean waves (swells) are formed by the wind so always changing accordingly and, for a professional maori navigator, they are key indicators to constantly pay attention to. Some other ocean waves are main (stable) swells such as the main westerly swell. Interferences of waves and their own patterns are also important since they indicate directions but also tell if the canoe is far from or close to an island.
To deduce position, speed and direction: stars rising up from the horizon are indicators of position and direction. Speed is measured by evaluating the swells with time taken by the (right or wrong position) of the canoe to cover a distance.
To keep the canoe driven during all the journey, means seafarers do not sleep or have alternate from one to another in order to keep going on the observation of the wind, the waves patterns, the swells, the stars and the position/speed of the canoe.
Map or no map? There is no way to privilege neither to oppose here traditionalist, historicist or scientific cartographic approaches. The question is more about different cultural practices and historical backgrounds that contributed to the lives of people on the sea and their interconnection through voyages and migrations.
“Cartography”, from the ancient Greek etymology “paper” and “to write”, is the study of making and using maps, combining observation, memories, science, fantasies, aesthetics, techniques, practices… The origins and the methods of mapping are not only a “Western” tradition and science but they can be traced in different areas and times like the wall paintings from the 7th millennium in Anatolia or the rock cravings in France from the 4th millennium or the engraved maps found in Babylon from 14th-12th centuries BCE, or the Polynesian ways of mapping and navigating before the western colonization, or the maps found in China from the 5th century BCE and developing from the Han and the Song Dynasties.
The map shown above was made in 1529 by the Portuguese Diogo Ribero who served the Spanish kingdom as an explorer and cartographer, while he also invented some navigation instruments like astrolabs and quadrants. His major work “Padrón Real” is known as the first representation on paper of the Pacific Ocean. But the word “Pacific” was not yet “there”… While the western edge of the ocean was explored since 1513 by the Portuguese followed by the Spanish, it was in 1520 that the explorer Ferdinand Magellan (Portuguese serving under the Spanish monarchy) used for the first time the name “Pacifico” (Peaceful) Ocean to express his feelings of a “calm” sea after going through the stormy and risky Cape Horn that connects the Atlantic to the Pacific.
From the western colonization to the cold war era and to the contemporary Asian geopolitics infiltration of seas and oceans as new forms of colonization, the Pacific has been subsumed remapped, renamed and dissected into different zones that could satisfy the economical and military interests coming from different continental or regional structures of power. Of course this brought a lot of confusion and, most importantly, always excluded or slotted the people who are living in this ocean of islands into areas that do not reflect the complexity, the interaction and the migrations of Pacific islanders. Here are some examples of naming and mapping the Pacific:
“The South Seas” was the name generally used during the colonial era to identify this far area from the Western and Eastern representations of the Pacific. It helped to build different stereotypes of the Exotic like the uneducated but “Good Savage”, the “beautiful female Polynesian women (Vahines)”, the “wild” cannibalism from different archipelagos like the Marquesas islands etc.
“Australasia” (Concise Oxford Dictionary) is another division of the Pacific taking Australia and Asia, means the Southwest Pacific, as the main dominant areas supposed to develop a “region” and to guard the Pacific against intrusions from “behind”.
“South Pacific” appeared after the Second World War II from military Western Alliances terminology, and spread over popular global industries and cultures (music, tourism) as a new stereotyped image of the exotic Pacific. This name was used to include a larger area than the “South”, including the far North Pacific (Mariana islands), the West Pacific with New Zealand and the South Pacific archipelagos inside the Polynesian triangle (Hawaii, New Zealand, Tahiti).
“Pacific islands” is a general term used after the Cold War to claim regionalism especially after the creation in 1950 “South Pacific Conference”, taking distance with the Western geopolitics strategy. But the “Pacific islands” name was then subsumed under the umbrella of the “South Pacific” generic name and then excluded the far Pacific islanders and created more distinction and separation between “us” and “them”.
“Asia Pacific” was and is still a name used by different political agencies like the United Nations, as well as by many cultural and artistic communities. Such name is supposed to reposition economical and cultural development of the Pacific from Asian “perspectives” (like the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation APEC founded in 1989 by Australia). But such “Asia Pacific” name reflects also the emergence of the “Pacific Rim” as the leading dominant structures of power and control (mainly Australia, South East Asia and New Zealand) and completely excluding the rest of the whole Pacific islands.
“Indo Pacific” is another academic name that was created in 1920 in Germany by western geopolitics, but was then progressively transferred to Japan to develop marine biology researches on species that do not exist in the Atlantic. Since the 2000s to now, “Indo Pacific” has been used for important global geopolitics coming from the West and the East continental and national systems of power. Indeed the significant resources of the Pacific, the strategic circulation of goods, the conflicts happening in the South China Sea between China-South East Asian countries-US, the strategic maritime routes between China and India leading to Africa and Europe, are positioning again the Pacific as a key area to remap, rename and of course, exploit and justify conflicts, occupations, obliteration of the Pacific islanders. From the building of fake islands in the Philippines to the so called “New Silk Road”, here we are… tossed around and alienated floating souls…