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Leading scholar's tribute to the Pacific's rich cultural history

Alakihihifo Vailala

Damon Salesa's new book retells some of the Pacific's 'great stories' to help young people reconnect with their history.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

A leading scholar’s new book is highlighting New Zealand’s colonial history in the wider Pacific.

Professor Toeolesulusulu Damon Salesa has released An Indigenous Ocean, a collection of essays looking at the rich cultural and historical tapestry of the Pacific.

Salesa says “what I’m hoping to do is to put out some stories into a wider audience, some of the indigenous stories that construct our oceans”.

Speaking with Levi Matautia-Morgan on 531pi’s Pacific Mornings, Salesa explains a specific chapter in the book about two sisters Emma and Phoebe Coe.

“It’s one of these great Pacific stories that spans the Pacific, it’s also a very intimate story about two sisters who are some of the most remarkable lives you could see in the Pacific”.

Watch the full interview here:

Salesa says even though the stories told in his book are over a century old, a lot of young people can relate to them.

“Many kids today understand the complexities of their own lives … in a whole new environment like Pacific people are in New Zealand where they’re not indigenous here but are indigenous elsewhere."

He says New Zealand often forgets that it’s a Pacific nation, and has struggled to come to terms with its colonialism in places including the Cook Islands, Samoa, Tokelau, Niue and Nauru.

With growing interest in the Pacific from China and the United States, Salesa says although New Zealand can’t compete financially with the superpowers, it’s important to maintain the Pacific connections.

“What we have are great relationships and those relationships can be not great if we don’t care for them. I’d rather have relationships protecting me than an army or navy.

“The big advance we saw in climate change was because Pacific nations got together.

Although they didn’t have political power, they had the power of storytelling. They told a great story about the Pacific and they moved the Paris COP with that story so much that it was harder to get a meeting with some Pacific leaders than it was with Obama.”

Salesa hopes his book can keep space for emerging storytellers.

“These amazing, talented and young Pacific academics, they need to make sure when they’re ready to give voice to these stories, that there’s a platform for them to do it … they have a place that hasn’t been occupied and is ready for them."

Hero image: Professor Toeolesulusulu Damon Salesa has just released a new book called, 'An Indigenous Ocean'. Photo / Supplied

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