Too Many Deaths: Decolonizing Western Academic Research on Indigenous Cultures
By Gabrielle Welford
A dissertation submitted to the Graduate Division of the University of Hawaii in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in English, May 2003
© 2003 Gabrielle Welford (welford@hawaii.edu)

Chapter 1 - Introduction

 
Main
 

Title Page, Acknowledgements, Abstract, Table of Contents, Preface

 
Chapter 1 - Introduction
 
Inbetween I
 
Chapter 2 -Approaching Scholarship
 
Inbetween II
 
Chapter 3 - The Western Academy Described: Purpose and Means
 
Inbetween III
 
Chapter 4 - Objectivity
 
Inbetween IV
 
Chapter 5 - Externalization of Viewpoint Unwillingness to be Affected
 
Inbetween V
 
Chapter 6 - Fact and Fiction Written vs. Oral Linear Argument
 
Inbetween VI
 
Chapter 7 - Modes of Thought Effects
 
Inbetween VII
 
Chapter 8 - Examples
 
Inbetween VIII
 
Chapter 9 - What Are Our Options?
 
Inbetween IX
 
Chapter 10 - Conclusion Responsibility
 
Bibliography

 

  CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION

"There should be a moratorium on studying, unearthing,
slicing, crushing, and analyzing us."
(Haunani-Kay Trask From a Native Daughter 172)

The above quote from Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) activist and scholar Haunani-Kay Trask is one response to the question posed by this dissertation:

"What is it to behave ethically in the context of literary studies--including, currently, in cultural studies?"

The question hinges on Trask's demand and, as philosophical as it sounds, it is not an abstract problem in ethics but is one response to the pain and anger revealed in Trask's call for a moratorium. The question of ethical behavior foregrounds other questions about our actions and understanding of who we (western and western-trained (endnote 1) scholars) are, individually and as a culture. Such identity-probing queries rise to the surface of otherwise steadily proceeding disciplines when contradictions and anomalies become too pressing to ignore. (endnote 2) This is a time when such contradictions are requiring western academics to rigorously question the way we go about scholarship, especially with regard to endangered indigenous cultures.

Trask's quote is important as direction from an indigenous woman in response to distorting definitions of her culture by non-indigenous scholars. Reactions of indigenous scholars to non-indigenous research, publishing, and teaching are increasingly available, and it is reactions of indigenous scholars to western representations of their cultures that have engaged and supported me in this work. Trask's response in the quote above is not "Do this or do that to understand us" but "For goodness sake, stop!" Why this might be and what we might do/not do in response is the subject matter of my enquiry. I do not claim to have "an answer," only to be feeling and thinking my way toward answers while committing myself to ongoing conversation and relationship with all concerned.

We are used to hearing ethical problems discussed as questions of rights. For instance, "Who has the right to ask questions, pursue research, draw conclusions and publish them?" However, it seems more fruitful, as Cherokee literary scholar Daniel Justice and Kanaka Maoli historian Jonathan Osorio have suggested, to ask questions like "what are the responsibilities that go along with academic searches for knowledge?" What it is to responsibly seek and use knowledge rather than assume the right to conduct research in pursuit of knowledge is the focus of what I am concerned about. Some questions that have been put to me by indigenous scholars in relation to questions of academic responsibility are: "What is knowledge?" or "What are knowledges?"; "What are they for?"; "Who gets to use them?"; "What is our individual and/or collective responsibility to them?"; "How does the whole question of ownership sit here?" (Osorio, Conversations); and "How does appropriation of knowledges by people in power harm indigenous peoples and subjects of cultural studies and what can be done about this?" (Kanaka Maoli Political Science scholar Noenoe Silva, Conversations). (endnote 3) (endnote 4)

Further exploring and formulating theories from within western academic culture will not elucidate our responsibilities as scholars from (or trained by) western cultures which continue to colonize. Edward Said in Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism; Maori scholar Linda Tuhiwai Smith in Decolonizing Methodologies; Laguna Pueblo scholar Paula Gunn Allen in The Sacred Hoop; Kanaka Maoli scholar Manu Meyer in "Our Own Liberation: Reflections on Hawaiian Epistemology;" haole (white (endnote 5)) scholar Houston Wood in Displacing Natives, Pakistani scholar Aijaz Ahmad in "Jameson's Rhetoric of Otherness and the 'National Allegory,'" and many others argue that western academic theory and practice are complicit in continuing colonization across the globe.

An example of western academic practice experienced as colonial (pointed out by Paula Gunn Allen in "Special Problems in Teaching Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony") is the assumption that "the more knowledge we have the better," which goes unquestioned in the western academy. Unlike those in many indigenous cultures, we expect to be able to ask any question of anyone at any time and receive answers. We do not expect there to be limits to what we seek to know or say or whether we can make public what we find out. There are large problems with this and other western academic attitudes which I will explore in the course of this work. It is important to say here that I am not claiming, as a relativist might, that western scholars can have no understanding of indigenous cultures, although there will be (sometimes serious) limits to understanding. These limits, to some of which I attend in Chapters 2-7, suggest, at the very least, that it is time for western academics to engage for a while in enquiry without the goal of publishing--a dialogue between communities, as Cherokee scholar Mary Churchill puts it--leaving definition to those indigenous people who are describing, defining, and exploring their cultures for themselves, on their own terms, whether or not anyone else is listening (x).

My own role in presenting this material has to be addressed. I may also misuse, misrepresent, and distort indigenous voices I rely on to support what I am saying, whether or not I intend to. My use of indigenous voices of resistance to support my arguments, my lifelong need to find a "home," and haole "mouthiness"--having to have something to say--also put me in danger of slipping into appropriation and misrepresentation. One way I have chosen to try to allay this problem is by writing between chapters about my process in coming to and producing this dissertation so that I leave a personal track record of the wobbly path I have taken and the engagements with the people who encouraged and urged me to begin, continue, and finish this project--hopefully a more transparent route. Also, and fortunately for me, friends, allies, and scholarly mentors have been there to shunt me back when I strayed into representing them--which has been often enough.

The bottom line of what I hope to communicate is addressed to western academics about the importance of stepping back from a position of expertise; of waiting to be asked to comment or make suggestions; accepting an apprentice, guest, and/or student place in the order of "who may speak" about indigenous realities, and working from a stance of engagement or friendship rather than distance and objectivity. I hope to show that it is time for those in the western academy who study indigenous cultures to take a break from publishing and/or teaching about the indigenous world while those we have continued to dominate with our scholarly observations take up the space we vacate to talk about, publish, discuss, rediscover and define themselves (if that is what they want to do). Supporting this idea, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in response to criticisms of Black canon formation from both traditionalist western literature scholars and allies who describe subjectivity as essentialist, has pointed to the need for Black writers and scholars to

step outside of the circle of opposition which notions of a fixed, and transcendent, and value-free canon traced around us, even before we had begun to create fictions for and of ourselves. Many of us believe that the time has come for us to valorize our black textual heritage, and to bracket at the margins our white adoptive parentage as we define our own tradition and enshrine its canon--as ironic as we understand this process to be--in institutional, marketable, and teachable forms such as a Norton anthology. ("On the Rhetoric of Racism in the Profession" 26)

Maori scholar Toroa Pohatu put this idea into practice in helping build a Maori university in the 1980s. Kanaka Maoli scholar Manu Meyer is taking a similar path right now. I also suggest western scholars may want to turn our focus on our own scholarship within which we may find answers to why colonialism continues in the academy.

To return to questions of responsibility, a possible methodological direction which emphasizes responsibility over rights appears in Edward Said's Orientalism. Before starting critical work, he suggests, a scholar has an obligation to reach a "consciousness of what one really is." Quoting Antonio Gramsci's Prison Notebooks, he insists that scholars first come to know ourselves "as a product of the historical process to date, which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory." Said goes on, "The only available English translation inexplicably leaves Gramsci's comment at that, whereas in fact Gramsci's Italian text concludes by adding, 'therefore it is imperative at the outset to compile such an inventory'" (25). Gramsci and Said's call for an explicit inventory from each scholar before starting a project is not, I believe, a demand for a simple list of what we know, at first blush, about ourselves. Neither is an inventory a justification of what we are about to do. It is, rather, a charge upon us to undertake a painstaking and possibly painful process of self-examination. Such an inventory will include an honest account of relationships between scholar and producer of texts (in the case of literary studies), since, particularly in the case of western scholarship and indigenous writing, such relationships are historically and presently fraught. Such an inventory cannot be a superficial accounting of where one comes from, how one got there, and what one is doing now as a cursory precursor to going ahead with what may well be experienced as a colonizing critique by those from the culture being studied. Such a superficial listing can too easily ignore the deep and sometimes impassable differences between the world views of people from different cultures. Gramsci calls for an inventory of "the consciousness of what one really is" to ensure rigorous internal questioning necessary for maintaining an ethical stance in problematic areas of criticism. As will appear in the process of this dissertation, making an inventory conscious so that we can act ethically does not guarantee that we will choose to continue scholarly projects about other cultures.

As I said above, theory will not elucidate what responsibility is, and neither will it illuminate "what we really are" prior to and as we undertake scholarship. Nor, I claim in the following pages, can formulating theories provide answers to the further ethical questions that ensue. As I have moved, with the help of so many friends, through the process of producing this dissertation, I have found that commitment to the formation of relationships--to engagement (as opposed to disengagement) with solid, day-to-day, interactions as allies (endnote 6) with the people we are used to writing and teaching about--can alleviate repeated colonization of others. Engagement rather than distance, however, cannot be a guideline without acknowledging and adjusting for the imbalances of privilege and oppression. Haole (white) Political Science scholar Kelly Kraemer, in her dissertation, does much to clarify a "core/ally distinction" among those within liberation movements, whereby "the core group claims control over access to itself and its affairs, thereby redefining the relationship between itself and other social groups" (41).

In suggesting a commitment to relationship, I cannot in reality expect every academic to make friends with those we are writing about and whose works we are teaching (they would probably be horrified at the idea too). What I press for is that we choose, as Kraemer suggests, to offer our positions of privilege as aids to ending the imbalance. While committing to moving aside (as Trask and many others ask), we may also commit to listening to and dialoguing with people whose cultures we have, until now, professed to know from a distance. Relationship and engagement, friendship, suggests that we will suffer if we cause pain to those we are used to writing and teaching about. Friendship hopefully includes its own limits to the way we listen and pay attention, to what we are willing to do to a person, to what we are willing to undergo ourselves in order to act responsibly. Satya Mohanty in "Colonial Legacies, Multicultural Futures: Relativism, Objectivity, and the Challenge of Otherness," quotes Rosemary Jolly to suggest, "The implicit goal is to define a discursive and epistemic relationship that will be 'noncolonizing,' that will make possible 'a mutual exploration of difference' (109). Mohanty takes as his starting point, a claim that unquestionable "human worth" can be the basis for equal dialogue's beginning, and from there "lies the difficult but necessary job of specifying commonalities and articulating disagreements and of learning from one another" (117). Whether one takes as a starting point commitment to uncover one's inventory or a universal concept of human worth or practical commitments to friendship or explorations of what it is to be an ally, or all of these, some attempt at stepping back and looking at how we do what we do is imperative, especially at this time of renewed U.S. imperialism.

The next seven chapters of this dissertation present a preliminary look both (in Chapter 2) at what is currently being said about the academy by some of those we study and (in Chapters 3-7) at limitations of western academic methods seen through these indigenous critiques. A quote from Laguna Pueblo scholar Paula Gunn Allen's The Sacred Hoop in Chapter 2 opens a discussion of what Gunn Allen and others might mean by a "white mindset" and how that might differ, for instance, from Gunn Allen's preferred mindset as a Laguna Pueblo woman, Linda Tuhiwai Smith's as a Maori, or Manu Meyer's as a Kanaka Maoli. Chapter 2 also begins to name problems that arise when culturally western scholars attempt to describe and define indigenous knowledges and to consider why western scholars are drawn to study indigenous cultures. It reiterates, as well, the call for a moratorium on such studies. In Chapters. 2-7, I do not focus on a particular mending path. I concentrate on examining problems with western academic methods.

Chapter 3 opens an examination of 10 features of western academic culture with a discussion of purpose and means. Chapter 4 looks at western academic treatment of objectivity. Chapter 5 examines externalization of viewpoint and not allowing ourselves to be changed by what we study. Chapter 6 examines the concepts of fact and fiction, written vs. oral traditions, and linear argument. Chapter 7 addresses modes of thought and effects of western academic research on those we study and on ourselves.

Chapters 2 through 7 explore aspects of the academy that contribute to colonialism and address current concerns of indigenous critics, who accuse western academics of continued racism, ethnocentrism, and colonialism in research. Western and western-trained academics need to spend energy and time re-thinking what we are doing in the light of calls such as the one made by Trask at the beginning of this chapter. We are being asked to vacate our positions of expertise on other cultures because of material effects (physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, psychological) on indigenous peoples worldwide. If and as we do so, I suggest we allow ourselves to empathize with the people of the cultures we study, since I believe empathy, relationship, engagement, are the way to ensure humane and responsible behavior on our part. I argue that for academics not to practice poaching on other cultures, classes, sexes, and so on, we need to become vulnerable and adopt open engagement as an attitude, rather than disengagement in the name of objective analysis, since colonialism is co-spatial with distance from the objects of colonialism. Engaging will mean allowing ourselves to be deeply affected by relationships we form with those we are studying. Whether we can continue to study people we are actually involved with is a question that will be answered only when we do engage.

As Ngugi wa Thiongo makes clear in Decolonizing the Mind, European nations and the U.S. have colonized very large portions of the world, using both violent physical force and emotional, mental, and psychic/spiritual strategies to disrupt and often partially or totally destroy the cultures they have colonized (9). Among emotional/mental/psychic strategies, education has clearly been and continues to be an important tool. Many well-intentioned academics accept, on reading Ngugi, that education is a tool of colonialism. However, there seems to be a problem when it comes to taking action about our realizations. We may accept deeply and seriously our own implication in a colonial education process, but our own colonization in a system that does not have the good of indigenous peoples at heart means that, often, the steps we take to right things do not go far or deep enough or, worse, are just less obviously colonial--to us but not to many of those we are colonizing. It is not, therefore, surprising that we continue to hear outrage and calls for change directed toward researchers and teachers, despite our continued attempts to make what we do politically correct and ethical.

Colonialism is not, in the end, beneficial to anyone--neither the colonized nor the colonizer. Those who are oppressed by it lose culture and self respect and go on suffering from cultural post traumatic stress syndrome long after openly colonial governments are gone (endnote 7). Those of us who deliver colonial culture via education are also colonized by it and have an additional handicap--not being able to see our oppression and the damage we are perpetuating because of our privilege. When we educate those we are colonizing by teaching them to think "critically" according to western standards, to write in acceptable Standard English, to produce valid research papers (according to western standards), what we are doing derives from a place that is also colonized. Education systems rising straight from a colonizing culture base carry the distortions and destructive messages of colonialism despite the best intentions of good hearted people within them. Attempts to sidestep this truth result only in more hidden agendas, even when the intentions are admirable, and it is for this reason that the subject matter of this dissertation is so pressing.

Having looked at what is being said by indigenous critics about academic culture in relation to the indigenous world and at examples of distortions that result, my focus turns in Chapters 8 through 10 to possible answers. Since solutions offered till now do not go far or deep enough in the view of very many of those most affected by our process, my suggestions come from my and others' experiences working closely with indigenous people and from committing to being open to critical feedback received from them as we learn to see what they are experiencing. Jewish-American literary scholar Linda Krumholz, in her article, "'To understand this world differently': Reading and Subversion in Leslie Marmon Silko's 'Storyteller,'" addresses the possibilities of white scholars working to adopt a "reverse double consciousness" (from W.E.B. DuBois) when we want to understand literature from other cultures. Often the process of becoming open to the perspectives of others, especially when they have been colonized by our culture, is painful and requires a commitment to staying the course when we are told we misunderstand. In my case, opportunities and the challenge to see myself from outside have been various: growing up and living in non-western parts of the world, studying women's spirituality with Paula Gunn Allen for three years, as well as my friendship with Alaskan Athabascan writer Mary TallMountain, and my invitation to participate in the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) sovereignty movement on the island of O'ahu in Hawai'i.

The problems that give rise to my particular interest in all these questions have appeared in very specific circumstances, namely, my having come to Hawai'i, a foreigner, to pursue a Ph.D. in English literature. I am a haole, a white woman, who, although originally from the far southwest of England, has spent half my life in the United States. As such, when I arrived in Hawai'i, my privileges and responsibilities in this place and to its people were not immediately clear. But because I have been fortunate enough to form close friendships with people who belong to these islands, Kanaka Maoli whose land and culture Euroamericans have in the past and continue today to violently overlay with western cultural practices, I have--as a friend--had to come face to face with deep and painful interrogations they are increasingly making concerning the damage done to them individually and as a people by studies on them, commentaries about them, portrayals of their culture from the outside, however well-meaning and well-researched these might be. The closeness of these friendships has forced me to consider deeply and painfully what privileges I enjoy and what my responsibilities are as a scholar alien to this land.

To begin to explain what may seem my extreme support of Kanaka Maoli, American Indian, and other indigenous calls for a moratorium on western academic commentary on indigenous culture, although I am a U.S. citizen, I am not American at root. I come from working class English culture, planted for thousands of years in England, and from a people who do not forget, after 1000 years, that the land was taken: the Normans replaced Old English with French as the official language, enslaved Celts and Saxons for hundreds of years, and have maintained an aristocratic succession, bringing in outsiders when necessary, that perpetuates a colonial (endnote 8) (now class) system. The situation is also one of conqueror and conquered. I can vouch that in my family and in many others, we maintain both gut and brain memory of the theft and of extreme oppression under the Enclosure Acts and enforced industrialization. Therefore, perhaps, I better understand than many Americans (who have often purposely buried pre-American memories of persecution, while they have embraced the industrialization that my father and others of his generation understood had destroyed their families and communities) the pain of having one's land forcibly taken and treated as property rather than as a part of one's family, and occupied by a people who have no deep love or respect for that land.

In order to respond appropriately to what is happening in Hawai'i, however, I have also had to let myself be sometimes painfully vulnerable to the unknown, to foundational theories that are not from my own culture (endnote 9). The outcome is unknown/unknowable if I be guided in my scholarship by people who speak from within a culture I want to understand--not from the outside as a scholar but from the inside as a friend. I have been asked to stop writing about those from other cultures altogether. I have been told that sources I was wedded to were fakes. Each time, I have been knocked off my feet for a time while I let the new information percolate. The outcome of this struggle has been that the struggle itself has become my focus, replacing what I was originally going to write. What I have found to be most important and compelling has not been what I was going to focus on, but what happens when a scholarly project causes pain to one's friends. I believe a close and honest study of this dilemma will be a powerful tool in understanding and hopefully acting to alleviate deep-rooted and bitter criticisms we have and continue to receive from the indigenous community about responsibility in scholarship.

Beginning with Linda Krumholz' article, moving on to Paula Gunn Allen's essay on teaching Silko's Ceremony (Chapter 2), and finally and, I think most importantly, listening respectfully to Kanaka Maoli and Indian friends, I have found in many places wisdom that has helped me formulate ways into openness and change. I consider the most essential commitment to be a continued, scrupulously responsible and vulnerable engagement with people whose cultures we habitually disengage from in order to study them. For me this has been a daily lived experiences of working closely and becoming friends with people whose ancestors some of my ancestors crushed. There is certainly fear and the possibility of pain in this engagement, on both sides, but there is also delight and the possibility of real change.

In addition to this, several other concepts have proved fruitful. One is the idea of "tuning" as Jewish-American poet and philosopher David Antin uses it in correspondence with Boundary2 editor William Spanos. Another is the deep psychology concept of "silenced knowings" as used by California psychologists Helene Lorenz Shulman, and Mary Watkins in "Silenced Knowings, Forgotten Springs: Paths to Healing in the Wake of Colonialism." I also refer to Kelly Kraemer's dissertation, which deals with problems and solutions when non-indigenous activists become allies in indigenous movements for sovereignty and justice. The work of Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein has continued to be helpful in keeping me aware of the temptations and dangers of aligning with theoretical positions, of forming broad general theories and generalizing feelings (dangers I am not very good at sidestepping). Wittgenstein tells stories to open up and explore the logical boundaries of concepts. His methods are very useful for western scholars who wish to negotiate the spaces between western and indigenous cultures.

David Antin describes tuning as an ingredient in his improvisational performance poetry. He finds out as much as he can about his topic and then lets circumstances, input from others, audience reactions, the weather, detours, the "cracks by the side of the road," as he puts it, guide him in his explorations rather than determining in advance what the course of his investigation will be. This means that he has to remain open to the unknown, developing what Retallack calls "the unintelligability," and that the process involves a large dash of risk and necessary humility since he never knows in advance quite what he will come up with. Tuning can be a useful metaphor for informed "not-knowing" that may help us become sensitive to problem areas of academic research.

Silenced knowings, according to Lorenz and Watkins, are "cultural understandings that take refuge in silence, as it feels dangerous to speak them to ourselves and to others" (1). Among such silenced knowings might be awareness, as we place a "Save Tibet" sticker on our car, that Hawai'i itself is an occupied nation, that children are going hungry in Hawai'i, that Kanaka Maoli have the highest infant mortality rate in the country. An example used by Lorenz and Watkins is the unexpected uncovering of an Austrian family's involvement in the Jewish holocaust. The concept of silenced knowings and research into what can be undone to bring our silences to consciousness is useful when we are thinking about raising awareness of our colonialism in the academy.

***

What brought me here: an expanded inventory

As I pointed out earlier, Edward Said repeats Antonio Gramsci's call on scholars to become conscious of ourselves as "a product of the historical process to date, which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory," and to compile such an inventory before undertaking scholarly criticism (Orientalism 25). For each scholar, such an inventory will reveal not only the sources of his or her interests in the topic at hand but his/her blind spots, what strengths (even limited ones) s/he has to offer on the subject, and most importantly whether s/he has any business undertaking such a study in the first place. In the pages that follow and in the passages in between chapters, I have tried as honestly as possible to turn the light on myself in this way, to unsilence some of my own knowings.

I begin with my coming into academia, becoming "part of the conversation," and finding little practical acceptance of the claim increasingly advanced by indigenous scholars, that depth and breadth of personal involvement--either engagement with other people in the manner I outline above or knowledge grounded in personal history as an indigenous person--are valid as theory and methodology in scholarship. Western academics are not necessarily capable of seeing theory that is culturally not their own. A year after I arrived and following a session at the 1994 Pacific Writers Forum at the East/West Center of the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, a colleague, who had also recently arrived in Hawai'i, despaired over the "lack of theory" in the discussion among writers who had come from all over the Pacific to talk about their work. I thought that everything I had heard at the session was theory--about writing or problems of language, audience, publishing, and sovereignty among indigenous writers of the Pacific, so I said maybe we needed to listen for theory in such discussions, oral or written, rather than imposing our own criteria for recognizing it from a western academic point of view, that it was important for theory and criticism to come from within a writer's culture at least as well as but preferably rather than be imposed from without. In a recent conversation, the same colleague acknowledged he was probably incapable in 1994 of recognizing the conceptual differences revealed in the writers' conversations. He has also found ways to engage with life in Hawai'i and he presently occupies a position similar to that taken by this dissertation and is developing his own ideas about engagement and friendship.

It is important for theory and criticism to come from within a writer's culture. It is as important for western scholars to ask questions if they do not understand what they hear rather than assuming they do understand or preferring to use or formulate western theories. Because academic training requires scholars to analyze the perceived meaning of anything, anywhere, at any time, many do not question their right to do so. But it is conceivable that they might misunderstand what they are writing/teaching about and also that they are imposing colonization in the process. Many, unfortunately, seem unaware of widespread and increasing resentment over these assumptions.

Both the location in which I have been doing this study and the part the academy plays in Hawai'i have been important causes of growing discomfort. Hawai'i has been subject to oppression and outsider definition by colonizers for more than 200 years and illegally occupied by the U.S. without title for more than 100, since the overthrow of its constitutional monarch by American sugar planters in 1893. Colonization continues today, perhaps more subtly but just as ruthlessly as before and just after the overthrow. "Overcoming Colonial Violence: Cultural Representation and the Hawaiian Body," a March 2001 forum presented by graduate students in anthropology at U.H. Manoa (endnote 10), occurred when an incoming high school principal insisted that a sculpture commissioned from a Kanaka Maoli sculptor, Kazu Kauinana Fukuda, by the State Foundation for Culture and the Arts and the school--of the Hawaiian shark goddess Ka'ahupahau being released to the sea by her mother--be clothed rather than bare breasted. Fukuda explained that the sculpture had already been selected by consensus among the students and community and was ready to be cast. The artist had sculpted the mother purposefully to reflect a strong, proud, and, according to his research, true image of a pre-contact Hawaiian woman, with short hair and tapa covering her lower body, her upper body bare. The attempted censoring projected a pornographic reading (rousing support among Christian conservatives in the community after the fact) on what was the opposite--a vibrant attempt to restore a non-sexualized image of the body and of motherhood in the person of a Hawaiian woman--repeating the horrified censoring imposed and enforced as the will of God by the original Puritan missionaries upon their arrival in Hawai'i in 1820.

The university I work and study at is at least partially on land taken from the Hawaiian nation (ceded lands) at the time of what Kanaka Maoli activist David Keanu Sai calls "a fake revolution" (endnote 11) by a small group of white landowners ("Revisiting" 1). Ethnic Studies Professor Marion Kelly calls the university "the last plantation," and while it is not the last, it is certainly a bastion of white male (and female) power--colonial in a place where whites are a minority and the culture is easily recognizable as not American, nor even western.

The English Department at U.H. Manoa struggles with these issues but remains overwhelmingly mainland haole in composition and world view. This is a serious problem, since, as Western Samoan scholar and teacher Epi Enari pointed out to me in response to my own venture into writing about Pacific literature (endnote 12), myself, my colleagues and other western and western-trained faculty members are privileged voices just by virtue of that status. Our scholarship on indigenous cultures that we may see as more spiritually intact than our own may provide us with a welcome opportunity to pursue knowledge we find intriguing or challenging, but, whether we like it or not, when western scholars (especially men but also women) give public voice to what we see, we are more likely to be listened to, published, believed, to impress even those we are writing about, and our understanding of indigenous cultures is often severely limited.

As Cherokee scholar Mary Churchill and many others have pointed out, often what western experts say adversely affects the people being written about in our studies (endnote 13). Internalization of the gaze of the colonizer makes any word coming from the colonial camp more unquestioningly accepted than local/indigenous words, just as we have experienced women trusting the words of male doctors, for instance, over those of female doctors. This is especially true when the "experts" are teachers and scholars. Haunani-Kay Trask has found it necessary to yell loudly to be heard as an indigenous woman. For yelling, she has been dubbed angry and violent, whereas western academic commentators are not seen as violent, however appropriative their work. However much they define and therefore shape Kanaka Maoli culture from the outside, they are seen as inexplicable victims of her rage because their "seeing" is done from within the colonizing culture.

As well as my discomfort with colonial politics at the university in Hawai'i, I have felt uncomfortable with the academic requirement of objective distance, which too often demands removal from immediate involvement in the life of the community: a choice between commitment to an academic response to the world and other commitments more pressing for me. Academic process tends to force one to externalize one's viewpoint in order to make it objective, since the model of truth we work with, however we may think we have outgrown it temporally and culturally, is a western, scientific materialist one. Too often, then, what western scholars contribute to the world I and others find destructive--reductive, disjoining, distorting. A friend in the English Department tells a story of a group of feminists at U.H. Manoa who met regularly to discuss feminist theory. She finally left the group because when she brought personal experience to the discussion to illustrate an argument, there was no response. At the time, academic feminists were beginning to change their language, their ways of validating their arguments in order that Women's Studies become acceptable as an academic discipline, so only theoretical arguments, no longer life experience, were allowable as support for a point of view. Similar stringencies have appeared over time in Ethnic Studies.

The requirement of distance is particularly distressing in a place that has been and continues to be as ruthlessly occupied and colonized as Hawai'i. For Kanaka Maoli, the insult of being defined by the colonizer is perpetuated in an academic environment no different from western academia elsewhere in that, for the most part, we analyze, comment on, discuss, and publish upon our surroundings, then teach our viewpoints to the local (endnote 14) population, without, for the most part, being intimately involved in local cultures. The surroundings are, in Hawai'i, largely non-white, non-academic, non-western, and colonized. The academic voice, because it claims to be objective and external, also claims it speaks universally, for anybody. Its modus operandi is to be disembodied (endnote 15).

This dissertation will not be about indigenous ways of being that, in my experience, focus, not on separation, analysis, and criticism, but on bringing together, on wholeness, balance, and community healing, since, as I have said, those ways of being are not mine to elaborate on. My writing attempts to talk about and to be inside experience--my own because I do not have the authority to speak about anyone else's. It begins here with what has happened to me as I have tried to write it:

about having been ready to fly into a straight academic dissertation when my partner drowned at Makapu'u; about being put off over and over again in my thinking process by a professor who insisted I posit a hypothesis before starting to write; about finding myself rooted to this land of Hawai'i, reluctantly, by my partner's dying and about that drawing me more and more into what is going on here at ground level; about the process I went through, long and mostly alone, of re-making my world after Bill's death, about walking up Aina Haina Valley stream on my own to sleep among the trees and experiencing visions there; about learning to teach--because of his dying knowing that I wasn't going to be much of a teacher in my tears--by letting my students run the class and finding the class become dynamic once I allowed their intelligence and abandoned "professing;" about getting to know Lynette Cruz and James Nakapa'ahu in the Wobblies, the Industrial Workers of the World, because I needed to find some anarchists; about Lynette continuing to pull me with her away from the Wobblies into the Guerrilla Gardeners Union, up into Kahana Valley once a month with Ahupua'a Action Alliance on a yellow school bus, to the American Friends Service Committee Subcommittee on Hawaiian Sovereignty Education and the Kanaka Maoli sovereignty movement; about being invited to go teach at Leeward Community College Waianae extension, where the students are older, mothers, former drug addicts, former military, Hawaiian, Samoan, Black, local haole, struggling to live as well as to go to school, and where Bea, the secretary welcomed me and chanted me and my friend Donna into the heiau at Makaha.

It is about always having been a foreigner who knows she has to listen, watch, learn to behave the way the people "here" behave. This is self-preservation for someone who was born in an English county where the Cornish call anyone who has not lived there for 10 generations a foreigner, who left at the age of three weeks on a six-week ocean voyage to Calcutta to be nursed by a street sweeper's wife, an Untouchable Ayah, then at one back to England never to see her again or even know her name, just remember the warmth, the sound of her language, being held by someone who didn't have to read a book by experts to know how to be with a baby. Then years one to two near London with a new sister, American grandmother and English grandfather, uncle and aunt and cousins, boys from the local orphanage, no father: "Brown bread is made of lead and if you eat it you'll fall down dead." Two to three with no father in a one-up-one-down no-water no-electricity cottage in a tiny Cornish village (later when I read Laurie Lee's Cider With Rosie, I knew in my gut where he had lived, what the earth smelled like, the voices sounded like). Three to four in an upstairs flat in Ontario, Canada, with a weekend-visiting-from-across-the-border-at-Poughkeepsie-frightening-father. Four to five on the island of Euboia off the east coast of Greece, helping the goatherds with the goats, imbibing the sound of Greek from them and from Eriklia who came to help my mother and from the family my parents left us with for 10 days while they went to Naples and from the egg man who came and whirled the chickens round by their heads till their bodies flew off (how fascinated we watched), wandering the long empty beach being given small fish by fishermen, encountering sea urchins with my feet, smelling oleanders and wild cyclamen and thyme in the hot sun. Five to six back in a Cornish village, this time a slate miner's cottage with its own abandoned quarry, no electricity or indoor toilet, dense green valley, stream, beech woods, the certainty of fairies, the holy well of St. Keyne, walking a mile and a half through narrow high-hedge ancient lanes to the one-room schoolroom at Trewidland and drinking in the sound of Cornish from farmers' children. Six to seven to live above our Turkish landlord and his extended family in Adana, hot plain with orange farms, one owned by a friend we went to stay with, learn to make kites from an old man, go to a wedding and want to come home early, ride in an arrabah through Adana behind the sad, thin sore rump of a trotting horse, begin to learn Turkish from the landlord's daughter, my friend Limon, who nearly died of diphtheria, walk and walk alone finding tortoises to bring home, taught to read and write more by my mother as long as she could keep us from running off exploring. Seven to eight in an apartment in Ankara, listening to the prayers from the minaret, going to the market, meeting the first American friends who told us we would go to hell if we didn't believe in God and showed us horror movies about aliens from outer space making me scared of the dark for the first time, wandering early in the morning with my sister through the mud-floored huts of refugees from Bulgaria and Romania in the valley behind our apartment building, between us and Ataturk's wall, starting half a day at the British Embassy school to be taught French and Sumerian history by Joan Lorraine who had driven across Europe and North Africa with her mother in an old car to get there. Eight to nine back in St. Keyne to the friendship of Jenny Clemens and Margaret Ball, to nettle whippings by Ronald Welshman, the long flower-laden walk to school with my sister Jane. Nine and a half to ten at a girls grammar school in St. Petersport, Guernsey, wandering the beaches again, feeling isolated and alone for the first time in a self-styled upwardly mobile middle class all-girls school. Ten to twelve back in Cornwall, falling in love and not daring to say anything, not daring to say anything about being so obviously a stranger, an outsider in another private school, being top of the class for two years and hated for it by some, being best at sports in the whole school, beating all the boys and not allowing myself to be caught by them when we played boys chase the girls even though I wanted to. Being alone. Twelve to fourteen in a new school in Devon, making new friends, to leave them all behind again when we emigrated to New York. And then Long Island and three years of close-to-death inability to assimilate, how do I learn this moneyed, superficial, cliquey, cruel, cool, out-of-touch way of being? All those years surrounded by many languages, many colors, many ways of dressing, many warm arms around a child, voices teaching us to speak, arms taking us to weddings and home again when we got bored, putting us up on donkeys, riding us on the backs of bicycles, showing us how to help make hay, teaching us to dip bread and butter in weak tea and to drink red wine, to smoke a Turkish cigarette behind the barn, constantly leaving friends behind and never seeing them again, learning learning all the time to watch and listen and become a part of the landscape. Beginning to feel alone and strange only when formal education became important to my father and the nail hammered home in U.S. culture I could not and finally would not learn to absorb.

The process of this dissertation has as much (and perhaps more importantly) been based in my life experiences as it has been one of scholarly investigation. Experiences that brought me to a place where I have committed to listening, to under/standing by standing under, keeping my mouth shut, watching, acknowledging when I don't know enough to say anything, or, as my friend Lynette Cruz says, "bowing my head when I enter someone else's hale (home)," are just as (if not more) important as the reading and in-class work I have done. It is a good part of my intention in writing this dissertation to call for respect for personal experiential bases for scholarly work, and part of what I wish to accomplish within it is to reproduce my process of arrival, construction and reconstruction.

This work has arisen from a gradual process of coming to see that it is not always appropriate to speak, to be the one who knows. It comes from a realization that we need to slow down to consider who can speak and when, what it means to look and to see, what one sees when one looks and what one can and may say about it. The process hasn't been easy. It has been painful. I have moved from being someone whose survival depended on learning to belong, to a place where I am ready to acknowledge when I do not belong, which may be always. I want to impart that knowledge, which I think is rare, to you. I am hoping that you may be able to begin what it's taken me so long and such a painful path to learn in a less drawn out, uncomfortable way, but then again, it is probable that there is unavoidable pain for westerners in not being able to acquire knowledge and speak without limits.


1 In using the words "western" and "western-trained," I refer to the countries of Europe and North America and to western-trained academics in those countries, their colonies and former colonies. Western culture comprises many different nations, uses many different languages, and includes a great variety of world views. However, this variety is cloaked, especially at the level of upper education, by a similarity in the foundations of thought parallel and connected to the Standard written version of each country's language. It is to these similarities--more obvious to those outside these cultures than to those within them--I refer when I use the terms "western" and "western-trained." In their Introduction to The Politics of Culture in the Shadow of Capital, David Lloyd and Lisa Lowe point out that the tendency to make a distinction between western and non-western is "virtually ubiquitous." It is used to mark "a certain incommensurability between the cultural forms of non-Western societies and the political forms they have sought or been obliged to adopt in the course of decolonization....the political correlative of capitalist economic development as imposed by Western-dominated international organizations" (9). I will use "western" to mean both western and western-trained scholars. I insert the term "western-trained" to acknowledge that western academic training can also affect the way a non-western person describes her own culture. Examples of this appear in Paula Gunn Allen's recognition of her own struggle with teaching American Indian literature (see Chapter 2 below), and with Rutoman scholar Vilsoni Hereniko's description of the shift in ways of knowing and supporting his knowledge that came with western education and his struggle to break free of it (Chapter 6). Pakistani scholar Aijaz Ahmad (see Chapter 7) also points out historically cemented similarities between western cultures.

2 See philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions for an in-depth examination of similar situations in the sciences.

3 It is worth noting here that sharp distinctions tactically being made in this dissertation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples have not normally originated with indigenous cultures. As Kanaka Maoli film maker and writer Keala Kelly pointed out to me, the us-them paradigm of Euroamerican quests for knowledge and questions asked from the time of Cook's journeys and following in sociology, anthropology

4 , postcolonial and cultural studies, is a serious difference in world view to start with, a problem that needs to be queried (Conversations). Kanaka Maoli playwright Alani Apio says in a January 19, 2003 article in the Honolulu Advertiser, "Let us realize that the "us" and "them" was taught to us by them out of fear and greed. Our kupuna taught us that it's a "kakou (we, inclusive) thing." There is no "them" in kakou" (Focus 5).

5 For an analysis of haole as a position of power see Judy Rohrer, "Haole Girl: Identity and White Privilege in Hawai'i."

6 For a full discussion of the possibilities surrounding working as an ally in colonial and other oppressive situations, see haole Political Science scholar Kelly Kraemer's dissertation, "Shall We Overcome? Politics of Allies in the Hawaiian Sovereignty, Civil Rights, and Women's Movements."

7 See the writing of Kanaka Maoli psychologist Nalani Minton for work in this area. Ngugi wa Thiongo in Decolonizing the Mind and Moving the Centre also addresses the damage to cultures forced to change by relationship with dominant colonizers.

8 I use the term "colonial" to describe a cultural system that imposes (by physical, emotional, and psychological force and manipulation) its own values on members of another culture. As Ngugi wa Thiongo says in his Preface to Moving the Centre,
The assumed location of the centre of the universe in the West is what goes by the term Eurocentrism, an assumption which developed with the domination of the world by a handful of Western nations....[S]ince many of the male bourgeois minorities in the world are still dominated by the West, we are talking about the domination of the world, including the West, by a Eurocentric bourgeois, male and racial minority. (xvi-xvii)

9 In her inspiring article, "Re:Thinking:Literary:Feminism," poet Joan Retallack uses the term "unintelligability" to refer to a possibly perilous openness to the unknowable (354-6). She is writing about avant-garde poetry, but the term is useful to suggest an attitude we may take to unknown and so-far-unknowable cultural territory. Also see Linda Krumholz, who calls on western academics to enter what she calls a liminal space, to open ourselves to learning from the literature (especially indigenous literature) we read rather than feeling bound to say we know enough always to make useful analyses (something we are likely not be culturally capable of doing) (95-96, 109-110).

10 See Kawika Tengan, "Reclaiming Space for an Indigenous Anthropology" for a discussion of Kanaka Maoli graduate student efforts to challenge western academic paradigms in the Anthropology Department at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa.

11 A term under International Law.

12 "Literature," especially within the purview of cultural studies, has come to mean many things which are not literary in a traditional sense, largely because of the work of scholars like Edward Said and others, who make it clear how central imaginative portrayals are to colonization and the institution of nationhood. Imaginative works are never non-political, and political and other works are seen to be imaginative. The boundaries between "literature," "sociology," "history," "politics," "religion," and so on, have become permeable. While Enda Duffy treats James Joyce's Ulysses as political writing, S. Elizabeth Bird's For Enquiring Minds: A Cultural Study of Supermarket Tabloids discusses tabloids as literature. This weakening of boundaries may or may not be coincidental with increasing interest in indigenous cultural productions, since categories like literature, religion, sociology, and history do not pertain in many indigenous cultures. (See Mary Churchill, Oklahoma Cherokee Professor of Law and Religious Studies, Jace Weaver, Linda Tuhiwai Smith and others for elaboration of this difference between indigenous and western epistemologies.) References to "literature" in this dissertation will include these multiple meanings.

13 See, for instance, Paolo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed, pages 27-31, where Freire points out that the oppressed, at one end of the axis of power, at first aspire "not to liberation, but to identification with its opposite pole" because they have "internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines" (28, 29).

14 I am using "local" here to include both settlers and the indigenous population of Hawai'i. However, "local" is a term normally used to distinguish Asian settlers whose families have been in Hawai'i for generations from recent arrivals.

15 See Elise Peeples' The Emperor Has a Body for an interesting discussion of this problem.

     
   

From:
Too Many Deaths: Decolonizing Western Academic Research on Indigenous Cultures
By Gabrielle Welford
A dissertation submitted to the Graduate Division of the University of Hawaii in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in English, May 2003
© 2003 Gabrielle Welford (welford@hawaii.edu)