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 5 - Externalization of Viewpoint, Unwillingness to Be Affected

 
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 5
EXTERNALIZATION OF VIEWPOINT
UNWILLINGNESS TO BE AFFECTED

Externalization of viewpoint and unwillingness to be affected are the next two points I will cover.

Externalization of Viewpoint

The fourth point also proceeds from academic reliance on the concept of objectivity since, to be objective, we must "go beyond" a personal point of view, as the MLA Handbook advises. We take a stance that has a much reduced "I" in it--at the very least, enough to produce something less personal than an opinion piece or autobiography. We require a more or less formal presentation with citations, backed by the scholarship of reputable western scholars, presented in academic English (or another European language) because even though there is an "I," it is not the full me--it is an academic representative that does not fear, hate, lie, be unscrupulous, weep, or love within the scholarly work. That we can leave our personal points of view, characters, and beliefs behind in scholarship has been amply shown to be false (see e.g., Said, Smith, Kuhn, Meyer, Hereniko), but we continue to rely on the assumption, just as we continue to operate under pre-Copernican laws when we see the sun rising and setting rather than the earth rotating. What we produce is an "I" hidden by supposedly objective observations but which continues to load what we present as objective scholarship with viewpoint.

After he found that his 11-year-old son was being taught to write science reports in the passive voice, biologist Rupert Sheldrake wrote, "'The test was carefully smelt.' I was astonished to read this sentence in my 11-year-old son's science notebook. At primary school his science reports had been lively and vivid. But when he moved to secondary school they became stilted and passive. This was no accident. His teachers told him to write this way" (New Scientist 1). Sheldrake continues, "The passive style is not only misleading, it is also alienating. A young medical student told me 'it felt strange at first' when a lecturer asked her to write her reports in the active. 'But then it felt liberating,' she said. 'Suddenly I could be myself again, after years pretending I wasn't there" (3). After conducting a fairly extensive survey of school teachers, scientists, and examination boards, he asked, "What would happen if the Royal Society officially endorsed the use of the active voice? Perhaps the QCA and the examination boards would follow suit. Then hundreds of thousands of science students could stop pretending that they were not really there during their experiments" (1). We may think only science teachers insist on the passive voice in reports, but 20 years experience editing all kinds of papers for students, from freshmen to doctoral candidates, has shown me that many disciplines still require third person and passive voice. Sociologist Su Yeong Kim at the Center for the Family at U.H. Manoa was assured by an influential member of her dissertation committee that she would not be published if she wrote in the first person and active voice. I have encountered faculty members in U.H. Manoa and other English departments who forbid their undergraduate and graduate students to use "I" in research papers because, they claim, there is a truth to be discovered and they know what it is. "I" has nothing to do with the truth, according to these professors, and it is Truth with a capital "T" that we are after in scholarship.

What will the product be if I am taught to remove myself from my scholarship in order not to bias my conclusions? What consequences, both personal and at large, result from objectifying not only the world we study but ourselves in the process? What are the links between objectivity and objectification? Possibilities can be illuminated by a couple of extreme examples from outside the academy. As I pointed out above in my discussion of means, the military requires non-intimacy between officers and foot soldiers because the officers must be objective when they are to give orders for battle, i.e., they are forced to remove themselves from the men and women under their control to make sure they (the officers) will be unaligned or objective in their issuance of orders that might result in the death of the subordinate. In objectifying their subordinates, they objectify themselves. They cannot engage.

Another situation is reported by Lorenz and Watkins, in "Silenced Knowings." The grandfather of a German boy, when he takes his children on a tour of Auschwitz, talks to them about the camp in "monotonous litanies, almost as though he were reading from a script." The grandson discovers, through a school project, that the house they live in had belonged to a Jewish family who were removed to Auschwitz, where his grandfather had been a guard. The boy's family had moved in the day after the Jewish family was arrested. The boy's mother comments, "'In retrospect, the terrifying thing...was his objectivity. His reports and descriptions, his careful recapitulations of events. I never saw him shed a tear, never heard him break off in the middle, halt, unable to continue talking.'...Only with this re-membering could the affect dissociated from the grandfather's narratives be found and worked with" (2, 3). Knowledge of the grandfather's involvement in the holocaust (which is what is needed for the family to be healed) is stripped off and buried by his self-removal from the narrative. If we similarly attempt to remove ourselves (certainly with admirable intentions--to make sure our human biases do not distort our reports, for instance) from our scholarship, what becomes buried? Who are we in relation to what/who we are studying? What is our place in the hierarchy of knowledge created by colonialism?

To acknowledge such a holocaust here to Hawai'i, we do not remember as we go about our daily affairs that we make our homes and go to work in a land full of mass graves. When James Cook arrived in the late 1700s, there was a thriving population here of a million or more. Within 50 years, half that population had died. Within 100 years, less than 10% were left. It is hard even to imagine such devastation. Once the people were so reduced and demoralized, not only by illness but by cruelty and legal shenanigans that stole land and forced assimilation, haole sugar planters conspired to take over the constitutional government run on European lines as an independent sovereign nation by Kanaka Maoli and to hand it over to the U.S. We silence the knowing that we too are living in the house of people literally removed and killed to make room for us. The whole of the Americas is that way, as David Stannard shows in The American Holocaust.

We also silence our knowing--in order to go about our lives "in paradise"--that Kanaka Maoli remain in a position of extreme hardship in their own land, not because of laziness or stupidity or any other colonial excuse, not even because a history of such devastation is incredibly difficult to overcome, but because to this day, the distortions we tell ourselves and others continue. On February 26, 2003, a delegation from Hawai'i, including the governor, visited Washington, D.C., to lobby for the Akaka Bill, a bill to recognize Native Hawaiians as a Native American tribe. Enormous pressure from various circles in Hawai'i to push this bill through completely covers up the internationally recognized fact that the kingdom of Hawai'i, a member of the family of nations with over 90 treaties with other nations in the 19th century, was never extinguished. Instead, it was illegally, under international law, occupied and remains illegally occupied by the United States. Its continued existence has been recognized by the International Peace Court at the Hague and the U.N. Security Council. The Akaka Bill, if passed, makes a tribe, completely under the control of the U.S. Department of the Interior, of a still-sovereign nation. The Akaka Bill is the culmination of 100 years and more of moves to use force, the cultural destruction Ngugi wa Thiongo documents in Decolonizing the Mind, mis-education, sleight of hand, and deletion of knowledge to make sure U.S. haoles and settlers and a very few Kanaka Maoli have power in Hawai'i. The information is readily available at hawaiiankingdom.org, hawaiination.org, kupa'a.org, and in many other places.

Self-removal from one's narrative is not an innocent activity. Houston Wood goes into detail to describe Captain James Cook's process as he prepared his journals for publication. In a section called "Fashioning Rationality," Wood writes,

The surviving drafts reveal Cook scrupulously shaped his compositions by omitting or, in later drafts, removing most references to his personal thoughts and feelings....Cook's drafts...show that he fashioned himself to be a creature without desires, pains, hungers and prejudices, as a kind of objective recording machine, as the kind of man that the new Anglo-European science was starting to claim produced universal knowledge. (26)

Cook excised himself as a full human being from his publications in order to produce himself as an objective observer for the audience he knew he had in England. Wood gives as just one example an episode in Tonga which Cook's sailors recorded but he glossed over. Wood quotes Midshipman George Gilbert writing,

Capt. Cook punished in a manner rather unbecoming of a European viz: by cutting off their ears; fireing at them with small shot, or ball, as they were swimming or paddling to the shore and suffering the people [ship's crew]...to beat them with the oars, and stick the boat hook into them where ever they could hit them; one in particular he punished by ordering one of our people to make two cuts upon his arm to the bone once across [sic] the other close below his shoulder.

Cook himself records the event thus: "'As the crowd was always so great I would not allow the sentries to fire lest the innocent suffer for the guilty'" (29). The sailors' accounts have been overshadowed by the power of Cook's "objective" one, much more digestible to the English and other "civilized" audiences. It is easier to believe the rationalized account of the captain over the emotional, disturbing, and embarrassing accounts of his crew. We now obscure similar realities in Hawai'i because it is painful to face silenced knowings and because we have license and power to continue to produce neat, rational, externalized points of view from material that is often irrational, messy, contradictory, and frightening.

In graduate school, I began to learn to withdraw emotionally from my statements--a large change for me since I had committed myself years before to an openly emotional life. As a beginning M.A. student, a professor asked that I write a critical essay using the perspective of another critic on Ezra Pound's "Envoi" from "Hugh Selwyn Mauberly." I could make nothing of the poem at all. I understood individual words, but did not get the feeling comprehension I was used to from poetry. Looking among papers on "Mauberly" and Pound didn't help. I finally found an ally in Virginia Woolf. In Chapter 6 of A Room of One's Own, she describes the writing of a male critic: "Very...acute and full of learning; but the trouble was, that his feelings no longer communicated; his mind seemed separated into different chambers; not a sound carried from one to the other. Thus, when one takes a sentence of Mr. B. into the mind it falls plump to the ground--dead" (618). Woolf was describing writing from only the male or the female side of the brain. The experience she described was so similar to my own with "Envoi," that I wrote the critique using her point of view. The professor was not happy. I got a lower grade on the paper because,

Now maybe I read 'Envoi' with the male part of my brain, or maybe it's because I like 17th century poetry but I cannot agree with your assessment of Pound's poem. But the main problem with your essay is not that it takes a position on the poem with which I disagree but lies in the fact that you do not try to show by discussing the specifics of the poem the reasons for your negative judgment.

Since I could not actually read "Envoi," it would have been difficult to have made my critique via specific textual attention--a particular critical mode and not the one I had chosen. Since the teacher had asked only for a critique using the critical method of another writer, his complaint, I believe, was empty. But more than that, his response let me know it would be difficult to come from a position of supporting my personal response to writing and writers in my work. I would have to learn specific tools of the trade in order to go beyond the immediacy of my reactions. My reaction was not what he wanted.

Kelly Kraemer in her dissertation "Shall We Overcome? Politics of Allies in the Hawaiian Sovereignty, Civil Rights, and Women's Movements," points out that the problem with disengaging from personal relationship as we try to understand (in her case oppression) is

its level of abstraction and generalization. As soon as we 'theorize' oppression as a concept we remove ourselves a degree from its reality as a lived experience.... Related and comparable in the abstract, oppressions are still experienced differently, and cannot be reduced to a mere set of common denominators.

Hence we cannot fully comprehend oppression if we examine it only as a theoretical abstract. Our understanding needs to be grounded in the historical, material, political, cultural and social experience of the oppressed....Oppression is a lived experience that cannot be escaped. West describes this reality in material terms: not having food, shelter, or health care. This is the reality of the poor. (23)

Lila Abu-Lughod supports this observation as she calls for a particularized ethnography in anthropology. She asks for a discourse of familiarity to replace an objectivity that produces artificial distance between the one who professionally observes and the one who is the passive subject matter for scholarship. The argument in her paper is against the use of the concept of "cultural difference," which she says, "has been both the ground and product of anthropological discourse" to validate the self/other distinction embedded in scholarship. Both scholar and subject are people with lives, but the requirements for objectivity and externalization of self manufacture a difference. Abu-Lughod suggests the strategy of engaging in ethnography of the particular because it

brings out similarities in all our lives. To say that we all live in the particular is not to say that for any of us the particulars are the same....But the dailiness, in breaking coherence and introducing time, keeps us fixed on flux and contradiction. And the particulars suggest that others live as we perceive ourselves living, not as robots programmed with "cultural" rules, but as people going through life agonizing over decisions, making mistakes, trying to make ourselves look good, enduring tragedies and personal losses, enjoying others, and finding moments of happiness.

The language of generalization cannot convey these sorts of experiences and activities. In our own lives, we balance the accounts of ourselves that social science purveys with the ordinary language we use in personal conversations to discuss and understand our lives, our friends and family, and our world. For those who live "outside" our world, however, we have no discourse of familiarity to counteract the distancing discourses of anthropology and other social sciences, discourses that also serve development experts, governments, journalists, and others who deal with the Third World. (157-158)

Abu-Lughod, however, who lived on and off for several years with a family in Egypt, goes on to give examples of difficulties encountered by the families whose personal lives she went on to make public. Although she engaged on a personal level with the family and thus her ethnography was particular, the gap between the scholar who publishes and comments and the family who goes on living and dealing with the neighbors still caused pain to the family whose lives she documented. She does not offer a solution to this problem, which will surely continue to exist as long as scholars publish and teach, especially about those from indigenous cultures, without being asked and guided by the communities in question.

If one puts such serious problems aside and continues to argue for a more engaged scholarship, it might be argued that academic criticism must not show emotional involvement because if it is obvious that it does, the regard in which it is held will be accordingly less. We will be reduced to writing personal essays and telling stories, whereas what western scholarship has pursued to its success is recording observations and theorizing on them. However, I believe criticisms from indigenous scholars and commentators show that the price we pay for this removal from what poet and critic Joan Retallack calls "in medias mess" is too heavy to keep paying (361).

Donna Cashell relates that she had, during her dissertation process, to defend her commitment to a subject to which she was clearly emotionally attached and whose outcome meant a great deal to her. She has told me that one night she wrote what she knew summed up the total of what she was trying to do in a flowing and graceful way. She was not allowed to include it in the work. She says that her emotional tie to her subject was "contrary to the many messages which tell us not to get interested in an area of research in which we might be "biased"; it could have clouded her objectivity (137).

The inexplicit but practice-carried rule against bias (we are steered away from it by praise as much as by censor) is also insistence on objectivity. But it is rules against obvious engagement that still, in the new millenium, often guide us in approach if not in choice of topic. We cannot assume, though, that just because the tone is decorous and monotone and the study supported by citations from reputable sources, that it is uninvolved with the writer's emotions, with her passion, even with prejudice. The formulas of mathematics are, as far as I know, devoid of subjective investment, but literary criticism is not.

Academic language, sometimes dry, boring, or close to impossible to understand, often obscures a passionate intent. Take David Lloyd's "Nationalisms against the State," for instance. I have talked with David Lloyd and know he is particularly passionate about the subjects he writes about. To read his writing, however, one would think him dry and removed. Nowhere in this article does the word "I" appear. The language has the sound of a formal scientific document:

The mutually conditioning relation between nationalism and modernity is generally located in the exigencies of political economy in the fullest understanding of that term. It is not only that nationalisms generally seek to control the deterritorializing flows of capitalist economies, whether externally imposed or internally emergent, but that they seek to do so in large part through the politicization of a population in quite specific ways. ("Nationalisms against the State" 174)

Passion does not appear in this piece of writing because the author has been removed--following the MLA rules for writing in literary theory. A colleague calls this jargon and attributes it to membership in a specific community/elitism, but this is to miss that the particular jargon--the style--is designed to come across as scientific. It puts an aura of formality, objectivity, distance, unemotionality around itself, which says to the reader that the writer is not "just" going on personal say-so, that his point of view is external to his particular biases and passions. As western and western-trained academics, most of us assume a tone of voice that may be ponderous, in the third person, and non-human to show that we are laying out "the facts" in front of our audience, not preaching or lauding or damning or trying to persuade.

The strong version of this stance has, for the most part, been debunked by those who point out that the demand for true objectivity has been used as a cover for colonial moves by western scholars. But a weak version remains. As proof that we have let go of a strong "I" requirement, we can point out that most (by no means all) no longer require papers to be written without use of the personal pronoun, but most do still require a "standard" of formal language, citation-peppered research, and visibly dispassionate attitude (with markers such as use of the last name, even when the person is our mother, in citing research), for scholarship to be taken seriously and cited in turn. As Epi Enari said when I was hoping to change my dissertation to a semi-creative piece--recording a conversation between herself and me over these issues--she wanted to make sure I would be taken seriously. She wanted me listened to, and, to be listened to, I would have to make this a formal academic piece of writing (Conversations). However convinced and passionate I feel about the subject of this dissertation, I would not be taken seriously without following the guidelines accepted by the majority of the academic community, guidelines which include externalization of the whole person from one's work.

I conclude that (at least the appearance of) externalization of viewpoint is still a requirement for scholarship to be accepted by the western and western-trained academic community. We cannot appear to be embroiled emotionally with our subject. It is harmful to our reputations to speak emotionally, to appear to be rooting for something or someone we are studying, because we are to be recording facts, not indulging in polemic or hero worship, and we may be swayed from strict adherence to "the facts" by emotional involvement. I have experienced the down side of this myself, having been told that a paper I wrote was more in praise of the writer I was researching than an investigative piece of research and that this was a failing bad enough to earn me a lower grade in the class. Interestingly, another paper in a similar vein about my Athabascan friend Mary TallMountain received a standing ovation at the MLA and was later published in S.A.I.L.. Because a good part of the audience knew Mary and were Indian, they appreciated the friendship shown in the paper and my using her first rather than her last name throughout.

***

Unwillingness to be Affected

The fifth point, unwillingness to be affected by what we are studying, is logically connected to our expectations of objectivity and externalization of point of view. Perhaps it is best not to characterize this as unwillingness since it is not necessarily a chosen or defended stance but rather a position that provides a ground for academic research. The western and western-trained academic acts from a position of regarding the scholar as the one who changes the world or who at the very least is the observer, the one who performs intellectual operations on the material with disinterested rationality, not one who is himself affected. African American rhetorician Molefi Kete Asante, after publishing books on the role of rhetoric in the African-American community for years, began to recognize the power of language and position to shape the way people experience themselves in the world: "'It began to strike me...that most of the time the European communicated as teacher; and the African responded as a student." As a result, he became a leading theorist of Afrocentricity, which emphasizes--as many indigenous activists do within their cultures--a continuum of culture "from Africa to the New World" and the centrality of African values and outlook to African-American identity in order to reverse the dominant hierarchy. Asante sees Afrocentricity "as a way of liberation through 'seeing ourselves located in the center of our own historical context and not on the fringe of something else'" (Spayde 1). As Lila Abu-Lughod puts it, scholarly language is "part of a professional discourse of 'objectivity' and expertise [and] inevitably a language of power....[I]t is the language of those who seem to stand apart from and outside of what they are describing" (150). It puts the scholar at the center and in a position of power over the material--material which, in the humanities, is human, cultural, affected.

Within the current system, the researcher is the still point of objective observation. The point has to be still, unmovable, in order to be accepted as objective: being unaffected is part of our definition of "objective." If the point of observation is impressionable and fluctuates, if it is affected by the material, then the observer's objectivity and consistency become questionable. Once we pass through and are accepted into the academy, the professor professes. She is not professed to by objects of her study.

At a graduate student-run public forum on "Issues that Matter" in the Anthropology Department at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa (9/29/2000), a liberal and well-intentioned anthropology professor expressed hurt and puzzlement that he is currently expected to bow to the desires and limitations set by the communities he saw himself as helping. I know from talking to his students that this professor is someone who goes out of his way to help indigenous students get through the often hostile (to them) requirements for graduate degrees and who does his best to understand and respect the cultures he studies. Despite his clearer vision of the drawbacks of academic colonialism, he described how he and his family had traveled to a Pacific island to do research and how, in spite of his good will and intent to help the people there as much as possible, he had been hampered and restricted at every turn by the requirements and limits put on his work. His underlying assumption, despite his obvious distress and seemingly honest confusion about the hindrances he experienced, continues to be that it is his right to be there to study cultures, especially since he sees himself as doing good for the world in his profession. He sees himself as there to help the people but apparently cannot get past seeing himself as the source of the criteria for what is help and what is not.

The professor is not professed to by those s/he is studying/teaching because if the material under scrutiny or the student is seen as capable of changing the researcher/ teacher, the top-down model of research begins to topple. The superior/inferior relationship of teacher to taught, researcher to researched, discoverer to discovered, explainer to explained is threatened. We are in danger of going native! This may sound like humor but it is deadly serious when the top of the hierarchy is a colonizing culture (and what Euroamerican culture is not colonizing?). What "going native" means is that a colonist (be she missionary, doctor, teacher, scholar, writer, bureaucrat) begins to adopt too many ways of the colonized and loses credibility in her own culture. The researcher who accepts the influence of what she studies may endanger the colonial project by "changing sides" as to who is influencing whom, who is learning from and who teaching whom, who is changing whom. Colonizers effect change--to the colonizers' benefit--upon the colonized, whether this change is via bullet and whip or via (mis)representation and appropriation of culture.

This is amply documented, as in Wood's Displacing Natives. He begins in the second paragraph of Chapter One:

From the outset, foreigners have clothed their acts of conquest in a rhetoric that aims both to justify and to disguise the consequences of their acts. Succeeding chapters examine how journalism, novels, diaries, advertisements, visual arts, museums, films, television shows, and various other types of cultural productions assist the more naked coercion associated with armies, revolutions, and the criminal justice system. When, for example, missionaries transcribe the volcano for geologists, self-proclaimed kama'ainas dance the hula, or Betty Grable.., Gidget, and Elvis "go Hawaiian" in the movies, they encourage the destruction of Hawaiians and Hawaiian culture as effectively as the fatal diseases Cook, Vancouver, and other explorers earlier introduced. (9)

Wood recognizes that part of the destructive change colonizers effect is through studies that pose as expert understanding, distorting by imposing western academic models on cultures radically different from those in Europe and North America, which explains his own legitimate concern that he may be perpetuating what he is writing against (5, 12, 23, 83, for instance). (endnote 1) Wood begins and concludes with a disclaimer and warning concerning his own and other western academics' scholarship: that he "began this study hoping I could find a way to keep from seeming to present myself as yet another haole (non-Native) expert" and "It is my hope that Euro-american writers and teachers will encourage the reproduction and distribution of Kanaka Maoli texts as well as other historical and contemporary Native productions without simultaneously posing as authorities and constructing seemingly 'expert' monorhetorical analyses" (5, 169). As I have shown at the beginning of Chapter 4, even Wood's good will does not stop him from doing some of what he warns against.

What the concept of objectivity implies in the western humanities comes clearer in this light: the one who insists on objectivity in research is the one who is calling the shots, since objectivity in the western academy is an ethnocentric construct. At the talk she gave at Windward Community College in February, 2002, Manu Meyer told a story from her student days at Harvard: she was in a philosophy class where the teacher was extolling the virtues of Descartes as one who had helped birth scientific method. Meyer expressed her distaste for the consequences of a Cartesian world view, whereupon the teacher asked her how she would teach marine biology. Meyer, who had spent her life close to or in the water, replied by talking about her experiences, how she would help students feel the currents, look at fish, and so on. The teacher called her an "anti-intellectual," dismissing her knowledge as too personal to count in the academy. (On returning to Hawai'i, Meyer's nieces and nephews responded, "But you are Auntie Intellectual!") The one who controls the terms of description in the western academy will not be affected (as Meyer is by the ocean) by the material since the scholar is not changed except by peers within the western academy. Since literature (a playing out and expression of human issues), like the sea for Meyer, does not have the immovability of mathematics, there is a danger to the colonial system that the scholar can be pulled from the position of seeming dispassionate analyzer, the authority, into being affected and changed by the material, in which case, her observations on behalf of the dominating culture can no longer be trusted to be objective and factual. They will no longer control the object of study but rather may be controlled by feelings for it, identification with it.

Colonial cultures build walls and make rules for settlers against assimilation into the cultures they colonize. For instance, even though it is locally celebrated in Southern Ireland that invaders were long absorbed into Irish culture, that everyone who tried to occupy Ireland ended up "going native," this only lasted until Cromwell and those in power in England after him waged a total war of search, destroy, and replace-with-settlers. (endnote 2) The Norman Barons who were given land by William the Conqueror have by now become another kind of Irish who eventually fought the English alongside their indigenous Irish neighbors (de Paor 103-104 and Paulin 4). But once colonialism became an efficient machine, the English under Edward III sought to prevent assimilation by instituting laws whereby

the English should speak English among themselves, should use English forms of their names, should dress in English fashion, should give up patronizing Irish bards, storytellers and musicians--should in general no longer 'live and comport themselves according to the customs, fashion and language of the Irish enemies...' (de Paor 110).

After Cromwell, going native became anathema, which meant that, for English and Scottish settlers in Ireland, to be Irish became all that is derogatory. The ones who impose colonial hierarchy were then as they are now to remain unaffected by local culture. The split remains in place, revealed by continued violence in the North and disgust on the part of Southern Irish at being sold out by what many see as a neocolonial government--most recently in allowing U.S. war planes carrying weapons and soldiers to refuel at Shannon on the way to the Middle East even though Ireland is a neutral country.

In discussion after a paper she gave at the 1993 MLA Conference in San Francisco, "Fiction with the Texture of History," Julia McElhattan Williams commented on the effects of the prohibition against being affected by the colonized culture on Anglo-Irish women in the works of Elizabeth Bowen. She noted that generations of colonial women learned to maintain a code of English behavior much more rigid than the code at home, because they were a bulwark against the threat of assimilation--absorption into the invaded culture. I have experienced this in my own family. My mother, the daughter of a colonially-raised (in Japan) American woman and an English man who met and married in China, was raised in Vladivostok until 1923 and then in the free trade zone of Shanghai, where her father was working for Imperial Chemicals Incorporated, until 1933, when she was 15. My mother's conduct, for a woman raised in the 20th century, has been tightly upper middle class late Victorian. Even though she is not religious and in fact is an artist and something of a bohemian, she finds sexuality distasteful, abhors swearing, maintains a polite formality even with friends, and this continues though she has lived in the U.S. now for more than 40 years. She represents a class of people who maintained a high society Euroamerican lifestyle (including visits to the opera and ballet, English or American schooling, servants) they could not have afforded at home. As a child, I met elderly friends of my mother's parents who had lived in China most of their lives, who were imprisoned in China by the Japanese during World War II because they did not want to leave, and who still dressed formally for "tiffin" or high tea around 5 o'clock in the evening every day when we visited them in Cornwall. This was in the 1950s, when formal dressing for high tea was only something experienced in literature, on the stage or in movies in England. It was necessary for the maintenance of the English colonial presence in China (as elsewhere) that its representatives keep up a lifestyle that was not only English but stiffly super-English and from an era long past.

Forbidding of cultural commingling works both ways, and always to the advantage of the colonizer. As Homi Bhabha points out in "Of Mimicry and Man," the colonizer accepts mimicry of the mother culture but will not allow full membership to a colonized subject (86). Another example from my own experience: currently, on the cruise ship ms Staatendam, which plies between Hawai'i and San Diego during the winter months, most officers are white and Dutch. The crew are mostly Indonesian, and those who have "made it," for instance the purser and the restaurant manager, still cannot enter a whites-only bar below decks, which is, however, open to the white masseuse who told me about it (Conversations). The colonized can become British, American, and Dutch mimics, but will not be accepted as "one of us," and if people we colonize begin to take advantage of education, medical advances, diplomatic know-how, and so on, we up the ante on how mother-country we are, on what it takes to "pass," to make the barriers more impossible. The colonized will be changed by our culture, while we will not be infiltrated by theirs.

And nowadays, to rub salt in the wounds, there is a burgeoning of mimicry in the opposite direction, also to the disadvantage of indigenous peoples, as some Euroamericans fake native identities or just proffer themselves as shaman apprentices to make money from workshops, books, sweat lodges, healing, various kinds of "understanding" indigenous cultures, including academic understanding, where some of us claim not just equality in comprehension but superiority. The number of non-Kanaka Maoli purporting to teach Kanaka Maoli spiritual practices both in Hawai'i and on the continent far outnumbers Kanaka Maoli who are teaching and healing.

The 5th Annual Meeting of the American Indian Tradition Elders Circle passed a Resolution stating:

The past twenty years have seen the birth of a new growth industry in the United States. Known as "American Indian Spiritualism," this profitable enterprise apparently began with a number of literary hoaxes undertaken by non-Indians such as Carlos Castaneda..., Jay Marks..., Lynn Andrews....A few Indians such as Alonzo Blacksmith..., "Chief Red Fox"...and Hyemeyohsts Storm...also cashed in, writing bad distortions and outright lies about indigenous spirituality for consumption in the mass market. The authors grew rich peddling their trash, while real Indians starved to death, out of sight and out of mind of America.

These individuals are gathering non-Indian people as followers who believe they are receiving instructions of the original people. We the Elders and our representatives sitting in council give warning to these non-Indian followers that it is our understanding that this is not a proper process and the authority to carry these sacred objects is given by the people and the purpose and procedure is specific to time and the needs of the people. (1)

Ward Churchill, in "Indians Are Us? Culture and Genocide in Native North America," points to "an apparently unending stream of 'New Age' manuals purporting to expose the 'inner workings' of indigenous spirituality in everything from pseudo-philosophical to do-it-yourself-kind styles" and adds,

Think about what it means when non-Indian academics profess--as they often do--to know more about Indians than Indians do themselves....It is likely that the indigenous people of the United States will never demand that those guilty of such criminal activity be punished for their deeds. But the least we have the right to expect--indeed, to demand--that such practices finally be brought to a halt" (1-2).

Making a career of publishing and teaching about a colonized culture does not mean that one can let oneself be affected by that culture. What being affected might mean, for instance, is taking a step back and becoming vulnerable--to recognize that our words are being regarded as further colonization by people in that culture. It might mean that when a friend from that culture says something we're not sure we understand, we ask questions or that we keep watching till we get a better idea of what is going on. It might mean we don't go numb or get righteously angry at the sometime pain of being shut out, not asked, told to be quiet. It is not particularly pleasant in meetings, for instance, to be aware both that one comes from a culture that has been causing harm to indigenous people and that one doesn't know enough to take a vocal and/or controlling role, but if we let them in these can be beginnings of letting ourselves be affected and changed.

When non-indigenous academics maintain a stance as possessor and arbiter of knowledge about the cultures of indigenous peoples, making sure that being affected only goes one way, the problem is often seen as one of theft. As Linda Tuhiwai Smith says, "The term 'trade' assumes at the very least a two-way transaction....From indigenous perspectives territories, peoples and their possessions [including knowledge] were stolen, not traded" (89). Houston Wood points out that non-indigenous scholars continue to struggle over whether indigenous peoples can claim continuity with their pre-contact predecessors, remaining "committed to presenting themselves as experts who can speak on behalf of indigenous people more authoritatively than these people can speak for themselves" (5). Perhaps using the word "theft" might seem too harsh, but that is how non-indigenous appropriations, including those of academics who refuse to engage in the life of the people they are talking about or to be humble enough to acknowledge those peoples' superior knowledge of their own cultures, are often experienced by indigenous peoples, including the friends who are supporting me in writing this dissertation. Listen again, for instance, to Linda Smith, who declares on the first page of her book:

It galls us that Western researchers and intellectuals can assume to know all that it is possible to know of us, on the basis of their brief encounters with some of us. It appals us that the West can desire, extract and claim ownership of our ways of knowing, our imagery, the things we create and produce, and then simultaneously reject the people who created and developed those ideas and seek to deny them further opportunities to be creators of their own culture and own nations. It angers us when practices linked to the last century, and the centuries before that, are still employed to deny the validity of indigenous peoples' claim to existence, to land and territories, to the right of self-determination, to the survival of our languages and forms of cultural knowledge, to our natural resources and systems for living within our environments. (1)

Smith goes on to document the form and structure of those practices.

Examples from Hawai'i include the first voyage of the Hokule'a, which was envisioned, pushed through, and accompanied by a haole anthropologist. His proprietary attitude toward the undertaking and insistence on academic envisioning of the voyage was violently disturbing to Kanaka Maoli crewmembers, whose experiences derived from a completely different value system that was being trivialized by the anthropologist's views and practice. As I mentioned above, such attitudes among anthropologists (whose investigations among indigenous peoples worldwide have been causing disturbances for some time now) are still ongoing and bringing about indigenous reactions such as the series of discussions begun by indigenous graduate students in the U.H. Manoa Anthropology department and a class on Indigenous Anthropology initiated by them in Fall 2001. In the Anthropology Department, because of current controversies, there is awareness among the students of these problems. Indigenous graduate students in the department spearheaded several colloquia and seminars challenging colonialism in anthropology and a 300-level class in indigenous anthropology taught by two graduate students. They were given space to produce public fora and funds to bring controversial figures to Hawai'i to discuss the problem (Tengan).

The feelings of Kanaka Maoli and other indigenous peoples continue to run high as even academics in more enlightened departments see no reason to stop commentaries on aspects of Kanaka Maoli and other cultures. These commentaries (whether that is their stated purpose or not) affect how people in all walks of life experience works coming from indigenous cultures. They do not, with exceptions such as Houston Wood, talk about the ways the authors have been affected and changed by the culture they are seeking to elucidate. Wood, however, at the beginning of Displacing Natives, mentions hearing of a translation of Moses K. Nakuina's The Wind Gourd of La'amaomao at a lecture by one of the translators. He says he was affected by hearing that this was "the first novel ever written in Hawaiian" and went looking for it first in the bookstore, where he found none and then in the library where he found one copy. After excerpting from a chant for the winds of O'ahu, he says, "These were the names for winds that inhabited the places where I lived and studied, where I shopped and visited friends. Here were many names, yet I recognized none of them" (2). By letting himself feel the pain of the erasure, Wood began the process of realizing how haole literary studies, history, sociology, geography, science, etc., efface the Kanaka Maoli literature, history, sociology, geography, science, etc., buried under them.

Being affected has been my experience as I came to know, respect, and care about friends here, in Ireland, and on the U.S. continent. One cannot any longer assume the right to dig up information and speak without limit when responsibilities that come with friendship intervene. I let myself be affected by Epi Enari's comments, by Keala Kelly and Noenoe Silva's feedback, by realizing the implications of being the great great grand-daughter of a man who thought it was a good thing the Sandwich Islands had been taken over "without bloodshed." There are responsibilities that go along with being in a position to receive the feedback and to hope to give back something to people disregarded and dismissed by an ancestor of mine. These responsibilities have changed how I see scholarship and how I live my life.


1 See, as an example of the scope of this misalignment, "Storied Dialogues: Exchanges of Meaning Between Storyteller and Anthropologist" by Blanca Chester, an account of a ten-year relationship between a storyteller and an ethnographer, a relationship that, close as it is, does not prevent the ethnographer from failing to understand the storyteller's language. Chester says,

The taped sessions recorded here are creatively edited, or storied, accounts of the experience of trying to understand an other wor(l)d view through (its) stories. In creating such a dialogic understanding, one is nevertheless limited by the parameters of one's own cultural knowledge. Such understanding, if it is to make any headway at all, thus needs always to remain open-ended and recursive." (14)

2 See Liam de Paor, The Peoples of Ireland From Prehistory to Modern Times for textual confirmation of this (18-19).

     
   

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)