More polemic than analysis, Barrie Macdonald

Tu Galala: Social Change in the Pacific
David Robie (ed),
Bridget Williams Books, Wellington, and Pluto Press, Annandale, Australia, 1992, $39.95

At one level David Robie, a journalist well-versed in political and environmental conflicts in Oceania, has succeeded in bringing together a like-minded collection of essays. Tu Galala (a Fijian term meaning ‘sovereignty, freedom and self-determination’) is, as Robie says, ‘an introduction to the other side of the Pacific from the tourist brochures and glossy postcards, the oppressed and underprivileged side’. Generally, these are accounts from activists defending or promoting minority points of view from within the Pacific. ‘The Pacific’, however, is not defined, but seems to include Indonesia and the Philippines alongside the Pacific Islands; the region is thus defined more by specific cases than by regional characteristics.

The main body of the book is divided into two parts, regional perspectives and case studies. There is a fair coverage of current political activism in the Pacific Islands and in parts of Southeast Asia. But, as Richard Naidu notes in an Afterword, Tu Galala is more about polemic than analysis. It is also correct to note, as Naidu does, that ‘The interlinked themes of colonialism, militarism, repression and racism‑and the unbalanced economic structures which both sustain and exploit them‑feature in most of the essays in this book’.

But is this enough? A weakness of the book lies in its dearth of explanation and analysis, and its unwillingness to pursue issues that are raised. While the oppressed have their oppression in common, the oppressors are much more difficult to identify. The discussion is conducted over shifting ground of Old/ New World Order, Western militarism, democracy and indigenous rights. For example, Dakuvula asserts that ‘The indigenous Fijian does not belong any more naturally to Fiji than people of other cultures who were born there’. Here, and in other discussions on Fiji, the various authors eschew ethnic separatism for multi-racial democracy, and deny the notion of primacy bestowed by indigenous rights. Yet the assertion of these rights is central to most discussions of Kanaky/ New Caledonia.

How do we decide here, or in Fiji, Bougainville, or Kanaky, what is ‘right’? Who decides the relative weighting to he given to ‘tradition’, indigenous rights, or the principles of western democracy in a changing society? Similarly, what are the rights of minorities, and are they to be decided in local terms or against some code of universal human rights? Do the numbers make a difference? These are not easy questions, and they cannot be resolved by ideology or slogans, but they are fundamental to any discussion of justice, oppression and poverty. They must be addressed and explored if we are to understand the process of political and social change in the Pacific. Those who want more information on what is happening in the Pacific now and in the recent past will learn from this book; those who seek a deeper understanding of how the Pacific got the way it is may be disappointed.

 

Barrie Macdonald is Professor of History at Massey University.

 

 

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Posted in Non-fiction, Pacific, Review and Sociology
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