1Janet Malcolm, “Six Glimpses of the Past: On Photography and Memory,” The New Yorker, October 11, 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/
2Anne Salmond, “Back to the Future: First Encounters in Te Tai Rawhiti,” Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand 42, no. 2 (2012): 71.
3Tupaia, Maori Trading a Crayfish with Joseph Banks, from the collection “Drawings illustrative of Captain Cook’s first voyage, 1768–1770, chiefly relating to Otaheite and New Zealand, by A. Buchan, John F. Miller, and others,” held by the British Library, London.
4Alice Te Punga Somerville, Once Were Pacific: Māori Connections to Oceania (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), xxx.
5Conrad Malte–Brun, A System of Universal Geography; or, A Description of all the Parts of the World, on a New Plan, According to the Great Natural Divisions of the Globe, Accompanied with Analytical, Synoptical, and Elementary Tables (Boston: Samuel Walker, 1834), vol. 1, book LIII, 557.
6Albert Wendt, “Towards a New Oceania,” Mana Review: A South Pacific Journal of Language and Literature 1, no. 1 (1976): 49–60.
7Epeli Hau’ofa, “The Ocean in Us,” The Contemporary Pacific 10, no. 2 (1998): 392–410.
8Teresia Teaiwa, quoted in Peter Brunt, “Round Table: Thinking through Oceania now,” Reading Room 4 (2010): 82–103.
9Zumbohm, quoted in Jacinta Arthur, Reclaiming Mana: Repatriation in Rapa Nui (PhD diss., University of California, 2015), https://cloudfront.escholarship.org/dist/prd/
10Dundas, quoted in Mike Pitts, “More on Hoa Hakananai’a: Paint, Petroglyphs, and a Sledge, and the Independent Value of Archaeological and Historical Evidence,” Rapa Nui Journal 28, no. 2 (2014): 52.
11Arthur, Reclaiming Mana, 144.
12“Easter Island People Want British Museum to Return Moai Statue,” The Guardian, August 7, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/07/
13“The British Museum Has Kept an Easter Island Statue for 150 years. Now, the Rapa Nui People Want it Back,” Artnews, August 8, 2018,https://news.artnet.com/art-world/easter-island
14“Rapa Nui to Negotiate Return of Statue in London this Week,” Radio New Zealand, November 13, 2018,https://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/
Autobiography is a misnamed genre; memory speaks only some of its lines.
In September of 2018, the Minister for the Environment and Culture of French Polynesia, Hon. Heremoana Maamaatuaiahutapu, addresses an audience gathered upstairs at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. He describes the Tahitian objects exhibited in Oceania— which the crowd has gathered to bless—as homesick. He asks for their return.
Tupaia was born in Ha’amanino Bay, Ra’iātea at the beginning of the 18th century. He left the island in 1760, taking with him an oro figure and maro ura, for Paparā.
In 1767 Tahiti made first, violent, contact with Europeans. Two years later the HMS Endeavour arrived. Tupaia, Tairoa, Nunahau, Tupura’a and Taiata boarded on April 18. Together they travelled around Tahiti.
Tupaia and Taiata continued onboard the Endeavour, with the intention of returning to England with the crew, after the ship left Tahiti. They navigated to Huahine, and then to Ra’iātea, before continuing south in search of Terra Australis.
On October 6, 1769, Nicholas Young sighted land. From land, the people of Tūranganui-a-Kiwa sighted something moving on the pae. When a party from the ship went on shore two days later, Tupaia was not among them. Te Maro, of Ngāti Oneone, was killed.
In the following days, in Tūranganui-a-Kiwa as in the rest of their travel around Aotearoa, Tupaia made some progress in easing the relations between Māori and the ship’s crew, though acts of violence and conflict continued. Amongst these tensions, relationships were made and objects traded.
In Uawa, where the Endeavour spent a number of days, Tupaia made two paintings. The first, on the wall of the cave where he slept, was of a European ship. It is no longer visible.2 The second, a watercolour on paper, shows two men engaged in trade. The man on the left wears his hair tied up on the top of his head. Over his shoulders is draped a kahu huruhuru. Both of his hands—one holding out a lobster, the other ready to receive a piece of tapa—extend towards a man in black coat and white trousers.3
Alice Te Punga Somerville, with much eloquence, imagines
Tupaia recognizing the significance of that moment in which Māori acquired the first new [emphasis in original] influx of material culture from one of their ancestral homes—tangible affirmation of oral traditions and cultural practices that had been passed down through generations of isolation from the rest of the Pacific—and choosing that as the image to record for posterity.4
Tupaia never arrived in England. He died of fever in Batavia. His drawings and possessions—the items he had traded for and been gifted—completed the journey in his absence.
Oceania, derived from the French Océanique, was invoked by Conrad Malt-Brun in 1822 when he wrote that “the fifth part of the world thus determined is found to be situated in the Great ocean.... It will be called Oceania”.5 Many years later it was redefined in two key formulations: the first proposed by Albert Wendt in his 1976 essay “Towards a New Oceania”;6 the second called for by Epeli Hau’ofa in “The Ocean in Us” in 1997.7 Though their visions have been problematised and complicated in the years since, their images of the creative and political potential of a unified Oceania have proved enduring.
Wendt and Hau’ofa’s texts share an insistence that any framing of Oceania defined by the distance between islands misunderstands the power and the pull of its currents; that such a vastness as is occupied by the region is best understood not as an empty space between, but rather as a shared site of connection and potential.
Taloi Havini, whose works Jedi, Buka and Jennifer, Buka from the series Blood Generation (2009) are in Oceania, noted at a symposium held at the Royal Academy of Arts in September 2018, that given she holds an Australian passport, having emigrated to Australia as a child (Bougainville nationals being unable to hold more than one passport), and were it not for her involvement, she could not enter the exhibition (as Pacific passport holders could) for free.
Such divisions, invisible lines drawn across land and sea, wield tangible effect. The question, then, becomes not whether Wendt and Hau’ofa’s texts must account for every political reality—they must not—but whether those who borrow from their theories will push them towards confronting contemporary obstacles. A body so large as the Pacific Ocean does not hold a single shape for long and the tides, unlikely to pause for anyone’s vision, resist our dehistoricisation. “If we go to the water, the ocean, the moana, what might decolonization look like?”8
It is thought that on November 4, 1868, Lt. William Metcalf Lang and Dr. Charles Bailey Greenfield of the HMS Topaze took the moai Hoa Hakananai’a from where it stood inside a stone-roofed building, called Taura Renga, high above a sea cliff in Orongo, Rono Kau, Rapa Nui. Father Gaspard Zumbohm provides a short record of the day:
A British ship called Topaze had come to spend some days at our bay of Hanga Roa. The commodore of this embarkation wanted to take one of our “moai” to give it to the museum of London, but it was impossible to transport one of these enormous masses on board. Now, a league from our residency there was the bust of an idol half buried. The British admiral visited this monument and found it of his taste. Despite the reduced dimensions of this piece, the work of 500 crewmen aided by two or three hundred Indians was required to move it. The operation was benefited from the new route that we recently finished, which did not prevent the idol from marking with the nose a long line on the land, despite of all of our precautions to avoid this accident. Our archaeologists feared that much of the captive god’s face were noticeable disfigured, but the enterprise resulted beyond their hopes; also to declare their joy they offered us a splendid meal.9
This “most perfect specimen” travelled more than thirteen-thousand kilometres at sea to be presented to Queen Victoria in 1896.10 She handed it on to the British Museum, where it has stood on display almost every day since. The museum estimates that six million visitors view it every year, which tells us very little about anything and nothing as to the quality of their encounter.
Hoa Hakananai’a has often been translated as “stolen” or “hidden” friend which, though conveniently prophetic à la manifest destiny, is up for debate. Jacinta Arthur argues it is a mistranslation that occurred when the British misunderstood Hoa Haka Nana ’Ia, “the friend that brings joy,” as Hoa Haka Na’a ’Ia, “the friend that hides.”11
In August of this year, Rapa Nui asked for the return of Hoa Hakananai’a, describing it as “a unique piece, the only tangible link that accounts for two important stages in our ancestral history,” the return of which would mark an “important symbol in closing the sad chapter of violation of our rights by European navigators.”12 The Museum responded by saying it had not received any official request for return and that they believe there is great value in presenting objects from across the world, alongside the stories of other cultures at the British Museum.13
In October, it was reported that Rapa Nui’s Ma’u Henua had offered to carve the Museum an exact replica in basalt, in exchange for Hoa Hakananai’a. In November, a delegation travelled to London to commence discussions with the British Museum.14
There is a woman living in a one-bedroom, single-story house above the ocean, alone. The house sits flat on the ground, surrounded by grass. The windows are narrow and without glass; not a lot can be seen from outside.
When she was a child she was sent to school in Papeete. She came home for the holidays, four times a year. It took most of a day in the dinghy, rowed by the chef, from the port. It was not unusual for them to arrive at the reef and find it too dangerous to cross. They would turn around and try again the next day.
The woman’s home is accessible only by boat, which she does not have. Her father is buried on the land. The railway tracks laid for the copra plantation have grown over. The chef left a long time ago.
The woman collects shells. She watches the turtles and looks for dolphins. On the island grows ha’ari, pae’ora, pia ma’a, iita, ‘uru, taporo and vanira. She is rarely with appetite.
On the island grows kou. When she left, she took with her a bowl made of this wood. Many years later, her daughter and granddaughter stand in front of a carved kou sculpture in London. His name is Ti’i. He left home 196 years ago, carried to England on the HMS Dauntless by Captain Sampon Jervis. Her daughter begins to cry.
When her hair was still black and her hands soft she travelled four thousand kilometres south–west. She spoke no English but she learned on the tobacco farms. One evening, dancing in a barn, she met a man. Together they would have nine children, of the islands of Ra’iātea and Huahine and the peoples of Te Atiawa, Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Toa.
Once a week a catamaran filled with French tourists arrives. They don’t see her but she sees them. They smoke and drop their butts on the ground, trample past her house in reef shoes to reach the other side of the island. She waits for them to leave. A guide tells them the history of this place; to that she cannot listen.
The woman is no longer homesick, because she is home, but she is alone here.
The author and publisher wish to acknowledge the different uses of Rapa Nui names in this text. “Hoa Hakananai’a” is how the moai is most commonly referred to, by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous sources. “Hoa Haka Nana ’Ia” is the spelling of an alternative translation suggested by Jacinta Arthur. The former “Hoa Hakananai’a” is used within this text to align with other sources, including requests by the people of Rapa Nui for the moai to be returned home.