OCEANIA

Captivity, Cannibalism And Colonialism In The Pacific - Part 2

Obeyesekere wrote his chapter, 'Narratives of the self: Chevalier Peter Dillon's Fijian cannibal adventures', while in Australia whee he was able to access a range of key primary sources. His work has provided the impetus and inspiration for this collection of chapters which all - in different degrees - seek to re-read the past and the processes of myth-making to which indigenous peoples have been subjected by the colonising powers of the western world. Many of these chapters were first presented as papers in a symposium held on Magnetic Island in September 1997 in his honour.  

Obeyesekere's chapter re-examines the writings of, and about, Peter Dillon, who was the first seaman to describe in detail a 'cannibal feast', which he claimed to have witnessed in Fiji in 1813. The chapter interrogates the way in which Dillon created himself as the hero of an adventure story in which he does battle with a horde of terrifying cannibals who capture, cook and devour his companions. Starting from the position that the act of cannibalism itself is a mythic construct, Obeyesekere subjects the texts of a number of authors, who lauded Dillon as a hero of the high seas, to meticulous scrutiny. His essay is a carefully woven piece of detective work replete with logic, suspense and was revealing that the verisimilitude of eyewitness accounts - particularly of ritual events such as a cannibal feast - is an 'ethnographic deception'. He writes that 'perfect verisimilitude is only possible in invented accounts or fiction'. Obeyesekere demonstrates how the fabrication of a narrative and the invention of the self are inextricably linked. this concept, of course, can be extended to include the fabrication and/or distortion of events and the invention of the nation, specifically the colonising nations of the western world. In the act of invention - whether of self or nation - the 'other' is invariably stereotyped as an abject being, a threat to the so-called superior values and moral standards of the colonising power.

In the second chapter of this section, Robert Dixon examines cannibal references in the writings of Ion I. Idriess. Between 1933 and 1950 Idriess wrote four exceedingly popular books about white people captured by headhunters in the Torres Strait - Drums of Mer (1933), Headhunters of the Coral Sea (1940), Isles of Despair (1947) and The Wild White Man of Badu (1950). He drew his information partly from Islander informants, partly from A.C. Haddon's Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits (1904-35). These in turn, as Dixon points out, were based on interviews and transcripts supplied to Haddon by his Islander informants in the 1880s. This network of appropriations is revealing about the nature of colonial textuality. Idriess' books about cannibalism are themselves cannibalised from a variety of other textual material much of it stolen from Islander sources. Dixon's chapter provides a new way of looking at fiction which draws on the colonial arena by focusing attention on the importance of language of original source material tracing the genealogies of myth.

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Paul Lyons examines Herman Melville's Typee, demonstrating ways in which, in shifting the focus from cannibals to his own fear of being devoured, Melville critiques the discourse of cannibalism that he saw circulating through early texts of Pacific exploration and exchange. At several points during Typee, Melville refers to the central character, Tomono, as having been 'consumed' by 'fearful apprehensions'. As Lyons argues, 'the pun on "consume" makes literal the link between cannibalism and fear', but Melville is trapped by his own critique, even as he attempts to expose the ways in which the Euro-American gaze of this period seems almost unavoidably held by a series of potentially phantasmal perception. Melville manages as well to suggest some of the relays from the cultural to the political, from Robinson Crusoe's imagined massacres of cannibals to the actual loathing and massacre of cannibals in Wilke's narrative of the American expedition. Lyons' chapter offers a powerful analysis of the ways in which an author's own anxieties, in this instance, anxieties surrounding cannibalism, can subtly influence the creative activities of observation and writing.
 
The third section, entitled 'Captive White Bodies & the colonial Imaginary in "Terra Australia", examines the emergence of captivity narratives in Australia in newspaper reports, documentary accounts and fiction. Youndh! A Tasmanian Aboriginal Romance of the Cataract Gorge (1894), is an obscure novel which tells the story of a white heiress kidnapped and raised by  Tasmanian Aboriginal people. In Youndh a narrative ostensibly sympathetic to the situation of Aboriginal people ultimately works to rep0lace them with 'better' versions of themselves in a reconfigured landscape. the novel's elegiac treatment of 'Tasmanian peoples comfortably post-dates the period when they were regarded as supposedly 'extinct' and by reinforcing this in its pseudo-historical narrative, Youndh, for all its well-meaning rhetoric, is also complicit in the ongoing dispossession and disavowal of Aborigines.
 
 
The next chapter examines the popular stories surrounding the White woman of Gippsland. In December 1840, pioneering settler Angus McMillan's sighting of a white female 'captive' among the Kurnai in Gippsland appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald. rumors of the 'captive' woman continued to surface periodically over the next few years and in 1846 a public meeting was held in Melbourne and a publicly-funded expedition was sent in quest of her. The imagined plight of a genteel, Christian, white woman held in thrall by 'savages' provided the colonists of Port Phillip with salacious reading, an opportunity for point-scoring against the government and a pretext for heroic endeavour. Carr investigates how anxieties about possession of the female body, cannibalism and miscegenation, projected onto the Kurnal, fed racist views which validated the expropriation of Kurnai land by European settlers and speculators. Her discussion of the way in which racist discourses intersect with those of gender offers a powerful way of re-reading the narrative of the Whit3e Woman of Gipps Land.
 
Following is a chapter which examines the role of material culture in stories about captivity. the history of the White Woman of Gipps Land - the most fully documented captivity narrative of colonial Australia - can be traced through expedition journals, official papers, newspapers, fictional accounts and folklore. It can also be told through objects the items of personal property listed in the Sydney Morning Herald letter, the mirrors and handkerchiefs, bearing messages for the white woman distributed throughout Gippsland, and the wooden ship's figurehead of Britannia which was eventually located by one of the search parties. The chapter explores the meanings of both European and Aboriginal material culture in circumscribing the white captivity experience in Australia through examining the use of objects and signs in the White woman of Gippsland narrative and comparing it to a different set of objects associated with the death of Mary Watson in colonial Queensland forty years later. The next chapter examines the details of material culture - signs too frequently overlooked in critical discourse - to offer a complex and fascinating study of the popular colonial narrative of captive women.
 
The final section, 'Film, Desire & the Coloured Body', explores the representation of colonial subjects in both documentary and fiction films. Jeanette Hoorn examines Marlon Fuentes' documentary, Bontox Eulogy, in which the director, through the strategies of auto-ethnography, presents a narrative of his life as a Filipino living in America. This present-day narrative is produced in relationship to the taking of his grandfather Marcod from the Philippines and his display in the Filipino pavilion of the St Louis World Fair, along with more than one thousand other Filipino people. Representatives from a range of ethnicities were exhibited according to a kind of evolutionary ladder, from what was perceived to be the most primitive to the most civilised. the film uses original footage from the period not only of the Filipino people on display but also the so-called civilised Americans strolling through the villages of the exposition subjecting the 'other' to a curious and superior gaze. Fuentes uses melancholia as a trope for his narrative, painfully enacting both his loss and that of the Philippines as an independent nation. through a series of inversions of mainstream filmic, structures, he interrogates the project of colonialism and its representation in popular culture as well as the culture of the museum.
 
In a re-reading of Charles Chauvel's Jedda (1955), Barbara Creed identifies the film as a stolen generation story told through and disguised by the trope of a reverse captivity narrative. Creed traces the film's interest in representing Jedda's captivity in the context of a morality tale - the pastoralist family's quest to rescue Jedda from her own people ('the dirty little monkeys') and transform her into a 'white' girl in line with the controversial assimilationist policies of the day. The second captivity story - a classic captivity narrative - is about Jedda's abduction by Marbuk, a renegade Aborigine. As Jedda matures into a young woman, she finds herself torn between two cultures. Her unspoken desire to return to her own people is brought into sharp focus when she encounters Marbuk, a 'rogue' male who is in trouble with his own people and with the police, for stealing women. Sexually attracted to Marbuk, who is represented in the film as an exotic black 'other', Jedda at first responds freely to his overtures but then finds herself taken captive and forced to flee with him into the bush. The film explores the theme of eroticism and sexual captivity in relation to Jedda's ambivalent response to Marbuk's appeal. the chapter argues that, although the ending of Jedda is problematic and open to a number of interpretations, it nonetheless draws on the classic captivity tale with its themes of sexuality and eroticism to cover over the story of Jedda's original captivity and suffering as one of the stolen generation.
 
 
The history and current plight of the Korean 'comfort women' as depicted in such film texts as The Murmuring, in the final chapter, documents the provision of comfort women for the Japanese military forces stationed in the Pacific and on the Asian mainland during World War II, involving the organisation and administration of an elaborate network of 'comfort stations' over a vast area. the problem of the staffing of these stations with adequate numbers of comfort women was solved by resorting to the abduction, rape, incarceration and forced labour of women of many different nationalities. This persuasively argued chapter explores the personal, political and aesthetic issues involved in the representation of this hitherto hidden history, after fifty years of silence, with particular reference to documentary productions made in 'China, Korea, the Philippines, Japan, New guinea and Australia. the story of the comfort women is one of enduring shame - for their captors. 
 

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