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Panel 18: Pacific worlding and the ʻephemerally concrete’


Patricia Fifita, Lelemia Irvine, Lea Lani Kinikini Kauvaka

Session presentation

Pacific worlds and environments are constituted through the creative dynamic forces between parent energies pō (world of dark– that which remains unseen, immeasurable) and ʻao (world of light–that which is empirically verified). Pō and ao are worlding forces moderated by humans through dense worlding or ʻknowledge practices’ that are fleeting, ephemeral and consequently derided as impermanent, hence empirically unverifiable. Yet these ephemeral practices mark out the thresholds of what this panel calls the ʻephemerally concrete’. ʻEphemerally concrete’ Oceanic knowledge practices are persistent and consistently emerge throughout many technological and cultural disruptions recreating a consistent pale to Pacific worlds, casting a common ontological net across Oceania’s environments. These dense Oceanic practices include indigenous creative expressions, rituals and productive life processes such as birthing, death, agriculture, healing, material culture, tatau and other indigenous practices and technologies connecting people to environments. This panel seeks a (re)evaluation of ʻao-pō/ science-irrationality referencing multiple indigenous practices that explore intersections of pō, ʻao and other epistemologies and philosophies which highlight how human and non-human entities or forces moderate environments (ʻworlding’) via various creative forms.

Paper submissions are closed

Accepted papers

Destroying “original wisdom” in Oceania: The impermanence of concrete – a vignette on maka –

Lea Lani Kinikini Kauvaka (EU PacTVET project)

The word “concrete” comes from the latin concrescere meaning “grow together”. Concrete is a building material that dates to the 20th century and was introduced to the Pacific Islands as an alternative building material. In Tonga, concrete has totally transformed the built environment, and architectures of modernity most notably rectangular houses built from timber and concrete, have replaced indigenous forms, indigenous forms of water storage are now obsolete and forgotten in favour of firstly cement and later plastic water tanks. This paper will explore the built environment of fale, vai sima, as well as meditating on historical coral rock monuments like Vaʻepopua Sia, recently under threat of housing development, the 15th century Makahokovalu, under threat from coastal tides, and other sia and ʻesi and petroglyphs uncovered as a result of increasing cyclones, to express a particular theoretical line around permanence, impermanence and oceanic ways of knowing and to tease out the Tongan love of masonry both before concrete cement and after. My aim is to make a visual and sound vignette linking the disruptions of cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible, which feed each other. I argue that tangible heritage and built environments influence our very ability to imagine. As a result our built environment must be considered when doing work in safeguarding intangible forms of cultural heritage.

(Re)emerging Pacific worlds and the ephemerality of Oceania’s “concrete jungles”

Patricia Fifita (University of Hawai'i-Manoa)

Robin Fifita (Oregon State University)

Public murals have become an important medium for delivering sociopolitical messages across the urban Oceanic landscape. This presentation will examine a transoceanic community mural created in the Kaka‘ako district of downtown Honolulu. Informed and inspired by the history of the place and the importance of cultural memory within the context of the built urban environment, the project engaged a collective of indigenous Pacific Islander artists in creating a mural on a temporary construction wall stretching over 300 feet along Auahi Street. Prior to U.S. colonial occupation, this area was once the shoreline marking the edges of land and sea, and home to island communities, fishing villages and fish ponds, salt flats, native marshlands, sea life, birds and diverse plant and animal species. This presentation will reflect on the reawakening of creative Oceanic forces through the integration of indigenous symbols, grids, and designs informed by ancestral knowledge, used to facilitate the (re)emergence of the “ephemerally concrete” essences of Kaka‘ako’s past, present and future. We argue that community based murals have the power to mobilize communities to articulate cultural identity, reaffirm a sense of place and resistance to oppression, while conjuring the Oceanic worlding forces of ao and pō through artistic cultural expression.

Worlding the Reef, Reefing the World: Marshallese Visualizations of the Transoceanian Now

Greg Dvorak (Waseda University)

In this visual talking-story session, I explore, through the Oceanian metaphor of coral--symbol of voyaging, migration, memory, and ephemerality--how histories, genealogies, and enduring identities have been forged dynamically and resourcefully by the people of the Marshall Islands, despite incredibly unfavorable odds. Comparing Islanders' evolving reef-like pasts and presents to the pretend permanence of the "concrete" literally and figuratively laid by German, Japanese, and American colonialism, I draw upon the work of Marshallese artists who have worked in "ephemeral" dimensions, such as photographer Joachim DeBrum, poet Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, weavers of baskets and mats, and master navigator Alson Kelen, in conversation with works by Tongan master lalava lasher/sculptor Filipe Tohi, the new media work of Japanese artist collective teamLab, and others. In reframing the tremendous adaptability and creativity of Oceanian worlding and transmission of knowledge, this paper advocates a holistic trans-nesian re-articulation around themes of environmental sustainability, collaboration, imagination, solidarity, integrity, and mutual recognition.

A Community Participatory Approach to Protecting Geo-Heritage Structures, Pō kāneloa Case Study

Lelemia Irvine (University of Hawaii at Manoa)

Pō Kāneloa monolithic is located in theʻ ili Kamōhio on the island of Kahoʻolawe, in the ahupuaʻa of Honua ʻula of the island of Maui. It is a geo-heritage structure of “significant historic property” of intangible Hawaiian and Pacific Islander value. It is believed to be to be an ancient Hawaiian astro-achaelogical tool and has been identified by the Edith Kanakaole Foundation as the most important feature to protect in continued efforts in “Kūkulu ke ea a Kanaloa” (to build the sovereign foundation of Kanaloa, Kahoolawe). Pō Kāneloa is precariously balanced on a pedestal on the edge of a fast-eroding gulch of 0.118-mm/year (3-mm/year) and about 20-feet (6.10 m) away to fall into a gully stream bed. This study shares creative dynamic insights from a community participatory approach and experiences as indigenous engineers by integrating pō and ʻao forces to protect the ‘ephemerally concrete’ spiritual and physical essences of Pō Kāneloa. Perhaps our approach can serve as a model for other threatened sacred geo-heritage structures across the Pacific and beyond.

Ke Aka o Kāne: Reflections on ‘Awa Regeneration in Hawai‘i

Ty Tengan (University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa)

Ceremonial and social use of the ‘awa (kava or Piper methysticum) plant and drink has accompanied numerous phases of Kanaka ‘Ōiwi Maoli (Indigenous Hawaiian) regeneration, particularly among men. Whether offered in the blessing of voyaging canoes or sold in a Waikīkī health bar, ‘awa has become a reflection of the various strategies Kānaka employ to achieve spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical well-being. In this essay I reflect upon my various experiences as a cultural practitioner and recreational user of ‘awa over the last twenty years to trace the relationships between ‘awa, identity, and health. I argue that whether formally or informally, each time that Kanaka gather around the ‘awa bowl, they create a sacred community that reconnects them to the source of life that is the land and their ancestors. While this applies to women and LGBTQI people, ‘awa has had a particularly strong appeal to men. In part this stems from the relationship of ‘awa to the Hawaiian deity Kāne, whose name translates to “male.” When Hawaiian men today chant ‘awa prayers that reference “ke aka o Kāne” (the reflection/shadow of Kāne), they in turn become the likeness of that deity as the pō (world of the ancestors) intersects with the ao (world of the living). Noting this, I explore the generative tensions that have emerged in this practice while also offering tentative suggestions on how ‘awa might be more fully integrated into ‘Ōiwi healing and re-worldings.

Teine o le Vineula: Auteurs of Samoan Performance

Dionne Fonoti (National University of Samoa)

This article examines the history and significance of the Vineula, the women's organization from the village of Apia, and progenitors of a specific brand of Samoan music and performance. Vineula songs are some of the most iconic Samoan songs known today, and the women of the Vineula are renowned entertainers and composers, besides being the backbone of Apia village. This paper will focus on how the Vineula epitomizes the resilience and creative innovation of Apia, which is both capital and village, and continues to thrive amidst the constantly developing national landscape.

Art as investigative, transformative and communicative: A reflective yet creative tāvāist perspective

Semisi Potauaine

'Okusitino (Hufanga) Mahina

This joint paper offers a reflective yet creative tāvāist perspective of art as investigative, transformative and communicative in both theory and practice. Our common subject matter of investigation is placed in the broader context of Tongan arts, which are generally divided into three genres, namely, faiva (performance), tufunga (material) and nimamea‘a (fine) arts. In old Tonga, art and education were made synonymous, in the sense that education was conducted alongside the performance, material and fine arts. As types of disciplinary practices and forms of social activity, the three arts were, in turn, socioeconomically organised along ha‘a (professional classes), as in the performance, material and fine arts ha‘a faiva fānifo (surfing), ha‘a tufunga tātatau (tattooing) and ha‘a nimamea‘a koka‘anga (barkcloth-making).

In Tonga, the practice of ‘aati (art) is theorised as a tā-vā (time-space), fuo-uho (form-content) and ‘aonga (functional) transformation of the subject matters under the creative process from a condition of felekeu (chaos) to a state of maau (order) through sustained tatau (symmetry) and potupotutatau (harmony) to create mālie/faka‘ofo‘ofa (beauty). Similarly, the Tongan theory of the practice of ako (education) involves a tā-vā, fuo-uho and ‘aonga transformation of the ‘atamai (mind) and fakakaukau (thinking) by virtue of subject matters in the investigative process from vale (ignorance) to both ‘ilo (knowledge) and poto (skill) through sustained tatau and