21 June 2021 19:50

Does Pacific have right to decolonize its History?

‘Indians’ who came to the Pacific islands are studied in Diaspora studies but do these indentured labourers narratives in general and Pacific History in specific have any voice in the imperial history writings.
How were Pacific people presented in the narratives of colonial history writings? This is a question of debate as many are still unaware of the truth.

Imperial history writing considers ‘Pacific History’ worthless during their era. The Pacific history was presented in the footnotes of the Imperial history intellectuals before the 1950s. This article enlightens the discourse of the emergence of Pacific Historiography for mass readers.

What is History or Historian Craft

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E.H. Carr in his famous book “What is History” said, “it is a continuous process of interaction between the historian and his facts, an unending dialogue between the present and the past”.

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The historian craft means how the historian analyzes the past based on selecting present surviving records and then finally giving his authentication.
So, Carr has compared historian to a cook, as “the historian collects them (facts), takes them home, and cooks and serves them in whatever style appeals to him”.

Hereafter, I explain the meaning of objectivity and subjectivity as basic traits of history writing, where objectivity means existing independently of perception or an individual’s conception, Subjectivity is related to a person’s emotions and prejudices.

The next question that comes to mind is, Can History be Objective? 
A historian cannot be objective as facts do not speak for themselves and no two historians will have a completely identical imaginative response to any hypothesis.
Carr recommended that before reading history the reader should first study the historian and find out the author’s mind of expressing history. 

Imperial History Writing: “Historyless” Pacific

Colonial agenda was aligned to imperial processes to explain their dominance over most parts of the world, including the Pacific Islands from mid- 1800.
Imperial Historians’ writings raised the world view and ambitions of the policymakers and politicians of the white west. Imperial history writers tried to use history as a tool to validate their colonial projects.
They considered Pacific Islanders and their history as completely irrelevant through an imperial Euro-centric position. The claim was history writing only began with the coming of Europeans as Pacific Islanders were ‘Historyless.’ They considered the Pacific as primitive that does not have any history of its own and only referred to it in footnotes or marginal references.

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Islander Festival; Picture Source: Supplied
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J.W. Davidson founder of Pacific History (Australia National University): Island Oriented History

After the end second World War, many colonised nations began to demand independence in Asia and Africa, which also included Pacific nations.
This decolonization movement was also noticed in the Pacific History writing in the academic world.

James Wightman Davidson in 1955’s inaugural lecture highlighted serious limitations of using imperial-oriented history when attempting to understand events on Pacific islands.
He gave the proposition of ‘Island Oriented History’ which stresses the need to shift the focus of interest from metropolitan capital to the Island themselves. Concentration should be made on evaluation local native history and societies where practitioners had to engage in the participant of history. Davidson also suggested concentrating on a source other than archives to write Pacific History.

The foundation journal of Pacific History under the joint editorship of J.W. Davidson and H.E. Maude (a historian who supported Davidson views) became the vehicle of Pacific history research. Some claimed this is a new vision to write a history of the Pacific but some disagree.

H.E. Maude highlights the early problem faced by Pacific historians regarding historical “sources were almost entirely written by Europeans and often have both ethnocentric bias and inaccuracies”.
He suggested, “Oral sources and oral traditions were encouraged rather than written and archival sources”. Mr Munde wanted Pacific Island historians to write local historical material, leading to local histories for school and popular use. This could help them to play an important part in assisting genuine cultural development and later economic development. Studying in a regional laboratory of historical variables in miniature and will help to contribute to the discipline as a whole.

A critic of Island Oriented History

Kerry. R. Howe posits that Pacific islands’ history is a breeding ground for more and more highly specialised articles, monographs, and symposia.
Howe said, today, historians of the Pacific islands seem to be heading rapidly towards a state of monograph myopia.

“We are finding out more and more about less and less. Relatively little consideration seems to be given to any overall purpose or direction” (Howe, 1979).

Pacific historians adopting a pinpoint focus study due to the small size of Pacific History. Pacific History is seldom tested and modify generalizations.

He suggested six new ways to approach Pacific History writing.
1- More effort needs to be placed on writing the histories of specific islands and groups from an overall perspective. Micro-level findings should be implied in a broader perspective.
2- Concise histories of the Pacific islands should be written. An overview provides a new frame of reference or a new yardstick against which all sorts of information can be measured and tested.
3- Return to those topics which can be approached in terms of thematic and/or regional systems.
4- Need to see the Pacific islands within the much broader geographic, economic and political framework of the Pacific Ocean involving, as it must, its adjacent shores.
5- There should be a comparative study of the islands on elements/themes of commonality.
6- Demand for Inter-disciplinary investigation. 

David Routledge has challenged the foundation of ‘Island-Oriented History’ school as it did not show any new vision. 
He demanded not for ‘Island-oriented’ but also ‘Islander-oriented’ Pacific history. His focus was on comprehensive history writing without overstressing a particular theme. He stated, “all resources should be used in an integrated fashion and that the special insights of islander and non-islander alike should be combined together rather than opposed to one another”.

Conclusion

Indians coming to the Pacific and across the world have decolonized the academia of imperial hegemony in the post-colonial period. Pacific history can never be worthless and ‘historyless’, but it is the imperial mind having colonial motives presented Pacific history in their own narrative.

Author: Dr Sakul Kundra, A.HOD Department of Social Science at Fiji National University.

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Dr Sakul Kundra

Disclaimer: The views expressed are his own and not of The Australia Today or his employer. For comments or suggestions, email. [email protected]

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