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Racial mobilities: crossing colonial frontiers or colour lines in the Pacific islands


Adrian Muckle, Benoît Trépied

Session presentation

We invite contributions examining the ways in which racialised frontiers or colour lines have been crossed or challenged in the colonial and postcolonial Pacific. To varying degrees islanders in the colonial era were subject to social, physical and political segregation or marginalisation based on racial identifications the legacies of which may still be strongly felt. Key questions include the following: what evidence is there of mobility across such boundaries?; in what ways and circumstances were boundaries crossed or challenged?; to what degree were such efforts temporary or permanent, individual or collective?; to what degree did crossings require dissimulation, public display, or (un)official consent, in order to “pass” as belonging to another category?; what did crossings require in terms of work on one’s body/personal habitus?; was such mobility the subject of any specific preoccupation on the part of authorities?; and how were such crossings experienced and remembered? Studies that examine mixed-race families are especially welcome as are cases that span boundaries between the Pacific and Europe or the Americas or draw attention to intra-Pacific mobilities.

Paper submissions are closed

Accepted papers

Becoming Kanak: the life of Loulou (Louis) Henriot/Napoarea

Adrian Muckle (Victoria University of Wellington)

This paper introduces the collaborative project with Benoît Trépied (CNRS, IRIS, Paris), examining the history of a “mixed-race” family in New Caledonia. The project is centred on individuals from three generations: Auguste Henriot (1874-1958); Loulou Henriot/Napoarea (1902-1976) and his sister Suzanne (1906/10-2006+); and Paul Napoarea (1938-1994). Loulou, the main focus of this paper, was both the son of Auguste, a long-serving settler mayor of the locality of Koné in the interwar period during which Kanak were denied suffrage, and the father of Paul Napoarea, the first Kanak mayor of the same locality in the post-war era of Kanak suffrage. The history of this “family” straddles key social and political divisions of the colonial era, those between Melanesians and Europeans and between citizens and non-citizens. This paper examines some of the ways these divisions were crossed. In particular I examine how Loulou in the course of his lifetime ceased to be "métis" and became fully “Kanak” in the eyes of l’Etat civil.

Denying and acknowledging racial crossings in New Caledonia: family memories of “Loulou” across the colour line

Benoît Trépied (EHESS - Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales)

This paper reflects on the collaborative project with Adrian Muckle (Victoria University of Wellington) examining the history of a “mixed-race” family in New Caledonia. The project is centred on individuals from three generations: Auguste Henriot (1874-1958), Loulou Henriot / Napoaréa (1902-1976) and Paul Napoaréa (1938-1994). Paul, the first Kanak mayor of the locality of Koné was the grandson of Auguste, Koné’s long-serving mayor in the interwar period during which Kanak were denied political rights. Building on Adrian’s examination of how Loulou became “Kanak”, this paper examines how much such crossings have been remembered and represented in family histories from both the Kanak and European sides of the family. These underscore what was at least until recently the denial of métissage / mixed-race identity and the affirmation of belonging to either the “White” or “Kanak” category. The recent acknowledgment of Loulou’s particular journey across the colour line by the Henriot and the Napoaréa descendants does not seem to change fundamentally their own self-perception as either “White” or “Kanak”, which stresses the enduring power of racial categorization in contemporary New Caledonia.

Too Papuan to be an Englishman. Reginald E. Guise cross-racial experience and legacy in British New Guinea

Fabiana Dimpflmeier ('Gabriele d'Annunzio' University of Chieti-Pescara)

Cadet of an ancient Gloucestershire family, Reginald Edward Guise arrived in British New Guinea in 1884, where he spent (quite) the rest of his life in the Hood peninsula, operating as a trepang collector, copra producer, cocoanut planter, and Government Agent. Fluent in local dialects and well acquainted with the natives and their customs, he married two native women and had four children, three of whom where baptised and recognised in his will. Sir John Guise, his grandchild, would become the first Governor-General of independent Papua New Guinea.
Considered by some early sources to be a disreputable beachcomber and debauched man, Guise’s life has been long surrounded by mystery. Today, the recently recovered field notebooks by Italian ethnographer Lamberto Loria shed new light on his interactions with the natives and his mixed-race family. Between 1889 and 1896 Loria made use of Guise’s expertise as guide, interpreter, and field assistant on several occasions, staying at his house, getting to know his wives and upsetting ‘native’ habits as well as his own relationships with public authority.
In his diary, a sort of ante litteram cultural anthropology of British New Guinea, Loria attentively describes Guise’s life and character, rendering an interesting example of colonial and colour crossing mobility, an experience that was going to influence the future shaping of independent Papua New Guinea.

German-Samoans Yesterday and Today: A study of German-Samoans in Europe

Kasia Renae Cook

The case of Germans in Samoa historically—and the resulting ‘’Afakasi class’—has been the subject of numerous articles, books, and theses from the advent of Pacific Studies to now. While the identities and social/racial/economic mobility of this group in Samoa has been looked at in detail (for instance, Damon Salesa's "Troublesome Hal-Castes" MA Thesis), what has not been examined to the same degree is where these individuals fit internationally. Due to the tenuous political climate that existed in Samoa during and after the First World War, hundreds of Germans—part-Samoans among them—were repatriated to Germany. Some of these individuals and families were granted permission to return to Samoa; many however, retain memories of the South Pacific only in photographs and family stories, passed down now to the second and third generations—some of whom have traveled back to
the Islands in recent years. This presentation focuses on the stories and lived experiences of German-Samoans and their descendants in Germany after repatriation to understand their degree of connectedness to Samoa. It is based on ongoing research sponsored by the Samoa
Historical and Cultural Trust in Apia, for the purpose of publishing a comprehensive history of
Germans in Samoa from 1860-1914.

Reasserting Indigeneity of Creole Societies: The case of Norfolk Island in Polynesia

Lorenz Rudolf Gonschor ('Atenisi University)

In the Pacific Islands, current inhabitants are usually classified as either indigenous or settlers, with ethnically mixed peoples generally emphasizing their indigenous ancestry. One important exception are the people of Pitcairn and Norfolk Islands whose identity as distinct and indigenous peoples rests on an equal emphasis of their Tahitian and British origins. Their sense of identity thus resembles that of Creole societies in other parts of the world. On Norfolk Island, this has recently become a point of contention as in 2015 Australia unilaterally abolished the island’s self-government and restored a system of authoritarian colonial rule, all the while claiming that Norfolk Islanders are just “white Australians” with no rights to a specific ethnic identity. In response, Norfolk Islanders are reasserting their indigeneity as a distinct Pacific Islander people and have joined global networks of activism for indigenous rights and decolonization.

Coming of age. Crossing the boundaries of "Jeunesse Kanak"

Matteo Gallo (Università degli Studi di Verona)

Kanak youth (“Jeunesse Kanak”) today are constantly targeted by segregation measures, resulting in their social, physical and political marginalization. They are also the focus for a range of rhetorical discourses that create a degrading image of indigenous youth through constant associations with alcohol and drug abuse, illegal acts, scholastic failure and the loss of culture. The stereotypes generated by these different representations are embedded in the local depiction of Kanak youth. “Jeunesse Kanak”, as it has been shaped by public debate, is no longer perceived as a group based on age, but as a racial, social and gender category and it is subject to strong moral judgements. Coming of age for young Kanak, means dealing with the inequalities created by these imposed boundaries. Overcoming the barrier of “youth” signifies moving from a culturally imposed status to a new imaginary category, which is the result of negotiations between external representations and the agency of Kanak youth themselves. Within this context, what does “becoming adult” mean? What does this crossing require in terms of work on one’s personal habitus? How do young Kanak cope with these degrading representations? Which elements and compromises do they employ to face them? This paper aims to answer these questions drawing from ethnographic fieldwork among the young people of a tribe in the northern region of Grande Terre.