Span: Journal of the South Pacific Assoc for Cwlth Lit and Language Studies
Number 36, 1992
Postcolonial Fictions:
Proceedings of the SPACLALS Triennial Conference 1992
Edited by Michèle Drouart

Reading Towards the Indigenous Pacific: Patricia Grace's Potiki, A Case Study

Miriam Fuchs

The term "cultural holism" has been used to characterize recent modes of crosscultural inquiry. According to Betty Jean Craige, holistic scholars are like ecologists, investigating the diverse parts of ecosystems for patterns of interactivity and reciprocal change. No single organism (or population group) within the environment (or global community) is superior, and each supports the workings of the larger system. Writing in the guest column of the May 1991 PMLA, Craige explains holism as an approach that "privileges study of a system over analysis of the system's discrete parts," and she urges literary scholars to view holism as a useful "model of connection" that can draw its constituent parts into a slowly evolving, universal community.1 Catharine R. Stimpson, in her 1990 MLA Presidential Address, counts herself among the holists, who "cannot think of culture unless we think of many cultures at the same time - whether we define culture broadly as a shared set of values . . . or more narrowly as the most valued aesthetic objects."2

As useful a model as holism may seem to many Western academics, it often strikes scholars who come from and write about the indigenous cultures of the Pacific as a critical form of ecocide. Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia are comparatively small in population, separated by vast distances, and geographically remote from metropolitan centers of academic discourse. Among the least visible of holism's "discrete" units, they are also the most likely to be elided by holism's intercultural paradigms. Haunani-Kay Trask, a Native Hawaiian activist and scholar, for example, has criticized the academic community for ignoring indigenous and nationalist sources while establishing a tradition of Pacific scholarship based primarily on the findings of non-Polynesian researchers. Writing in The Contemporary Pacific: A Journal of Island Affairs, Trask calls the majority of historians and anthropologists "maha'oi haole," the Hawaiian term for intrusive outsiders who casually place themselves where they do not belong. Trask also argues implicitly against holism for allowing its practitioners to be complacent towards historical and specific errors while they design broad networks of relationships and common values.3 Her strongest objections concern haole researchers, who use intellectual paradigms in order to criticize the nonholistic politics and land claims of Native nationalists "from Australia and New Zealand through the Solomons and New Caledonia to Hawai'i" (159).

Applying Trask's argument to studies of Polynesian literature, we can see that critics who use holistic methodologies often articulate crosscultural judgments and subordinate the work's ethnic differences to Western forms and tropes, even as they attempt to do otherwise.4 Maori literature, for instance, is often called too candid, not sufficiently complex, or overly sentimental. Early in an essay on Witi Ihimaera and Patricia Grace, Bill Pearson disapprovingly mentions two critics who express embarrassment at the unrestrained emotions in Ihimaera's early fiction, specifically his 1973 novel Tangi, which is about a son grieving over his father's death.5 Yet a few pages later, Pearson describes his own embarrassment at the pervasive, simple good will of characters in Ihimaera's "The Other Side of the Fence," and then his own preference for the unsentimental story, "One Summer Morning." In other words, literary discussion begins to take shape as comparative statements about acceptable types and intensities of expressed emotion. Keri Hulme has been similarly questioned for grafting onto her mythic, feminist, labyrinthine The Bone People an ending that some readers consider conventional and sentimental.6 Critics have also cited problems of believability in Patricia Grace's first novel, Mutuwhenua (1978), although within Maori tradition such phenomena as physical illnesses linked to ancestral spirits or natural stones with vital, spiritual presences would not need extended analysis.7

The breach between holistic and Nativist positions would then seem absolute and insurmountable. What one offers as nonhegemonic inclusion in a universal world order, the other censures as a philosophy that, according to Trask, will "take away the power for us to define who and what we are" (162) and stifle cultural expression. Critics who advocate holism because they believe it exposes colonial and postcolonial oppression and empowers disenfranchized communities must realize that they themselves, holistically studied, are a late 20th-century version of other Western scholars and observers who also did not see themselves as an incursive presence; most outsiders historically have considered their causes to be just and their behavior more ethical and justifiable than that of their predecessors. But if outsiders have always been problematic for the indigenous Pacific, which has both welcomed and cannibalized them, to follow Trask's argument to its logical conclusion would require that scholars limit their investigations to the most narrow perameters of their own affiliated group. Consequently, the Oceanic literatures written in English as Territories, Trusts, former colonies, and indigenous groups across the Pacific Basin attain political representation and develop strong ethnic and nationalist movements would be purposefully ignored. If Maori and other indigenous literatures are not drawn into a transcultural network, Pacific nomenclature will eventually exclude them.8 The "Rim" and the "Basin" will signify countries that most profitably engage in Western exchange networks of goods and services and whose emigrants are well dispersed throughout Europe and America. In other words, the terms "Pacific Rim" and "Pacific Basin" will become synonymous (and already have, to some extent) and designate the major commercial trading partners Japan, Korea, Malaysia, China and Singapore.

Some critics, implicitly recognizing this polarity and attempting to breach it, maneuver between holistic and Nativist extremes. Cautious of the West's ability to sweep across the globe, but skeptical of declarations of forbidden areas of study, they merely introduce the literature to the Western public and thereby reduce literary interpretation to discussions of what appears in the plot.9 For instance, despite the promise of his title, "Pakeha and Maori Behind the Tattooed Face: The Emergence of a Polynesian Voice in New Zealand Fiction," Shaun F. D. Hughes offers very little about the Polynesian dimensions of Polynesian literature. His essay, in Modern Fiction Studies, primarily summarizes works by Heretaunga Pat Baker, Albert Wendt, Witi Ihimaera, and Patricia Grace, and then makes broad judgments regarding degree of accomplishment. Using the problematic qualifying phrase, "to the extent that New Zealand culture is more complex than Samoan" (23), Hughes says that Ihimaera's collection, Pounamu, Pounamu, is more complex than Wendt's stories although Grace's writing "lacks conceptual originality"(28). The assumption here seems to be that any rigorous examination, any use of Western critical theory, for example, will subsume a work's Polynesian elements and drive whatever remains into inappropriate categories. Critics like Hughes, who operate from this assumption, may find that their mediating strategy turns in on itself. Left to repeating the plot and asserting its historical relevance, they tend to repeat one another's summarial remarks and violate the work's integrity on two fronts - cursory treatment (or neglect) and unsupported judgments.

Patricia Grace's writing, I have found, is particularly susceptible to this type of analysis.10 Her apparently straightforward plots, clear diction, and nearly transparent prose make her fiction seem relatively uncomplicated. Because nothing blatant provokes the smooth surface of Grace's plots, critics do not feel compelled to marshal theoretical apparatus but rather assume that attention to the storyline is an adequate approach. In the pages that follow, I will use Grace's 1985 novel, Potiki, to illustrate, first, that by assuming it to be no more than its plot, critics reduce this complex novel to the familiar, representative Pacific tale of indigenous people vs. pakeha.11 Although this surface story does have historical validity, Potiki supersedes the past two centuries of New Zealand's geopolitics. Second, by applying principles of narrative theory, as they have been refined by Gerard Genette, I will illustrate ways in which Western theory, unlike either description or holistic paradigms, is indeed capable of revealing the indigenous dimensions of a work, with important qualifications and limitations.12 Through this perspective, Grace's novel emerges as a text about the Maori themselves, their means of orally recording their own histories, genealogies, mythologies, and myth-histories, centuries before the pakeha and presumably after the pakeha. It is about the Maori, separate, distinct, and, to some extent, sealed off from the country's settler Anglo-population and, even more, from academic crosscultural scholars. Suffused with pre-Christian spirituality, Potiki is deeply engaged in nearly unrecoverable, exclusive differences, and, paradoxically, this becomes apparent by applying Western narrative methodologies.

If we insist on concentrating solely on plot, as does John Beston, for example, Potiki is a fairly simple story that a maha'oi reader, as well as a Maori, can readily understand. The novel traces the struggle of a coastal Maori community against pakeha insensitivity and capitalist scheming. According to Beston's version, Potiki "tells of a misused people who, having through hard work succeeded in making a living from their land, find that the land is coveted. Again and again they withstand pressure upon them to yield." The Maori reject increasingly large sums of money that the developers, intent on purchasing the ancestral land for an ocean resort, offer them. In time, the cemetery (urupa) and gardens are suspiciously flooded, their meeting house (wharenui) burnt down, and the youngest child (the potiki) is killed. Beston continues to summarize the story, but he has difficulty maintaining the line between description and judgment:

Under the cover of darkness . . . the Maori . . . dynamite the road, bulldoze the construction work, and then drive the bulldozers into the sea, thereby accomplishing what endurance or legal recourse never would. The moral of this parable is that one should fight back, with appropriate retaliation. Grace has joined the ranks of the Maori who believe that justice can only be obtained by direct action. (502)

Fashioning the novel into a parable and designing a moral for it, Beston evinces a contradictory stance that infects his objective account. He writes sentimentally about the Maori as hardworking and misused when they are the constituents of a fictional text. Shifting his view to New Zealand's politicized and sometimes violent ethnic tensions, he becomes sarcastic and accusatory towards Grace for joining "the ranks" of Maori who believe "only" in direct action. In the midst of summarizing the plot, Beston projects a holistic ideology that allows him to reproach the "discrete," nonholistic activities of New Zealand's political and cultural minority as it tries to protect its ownership of ancestral lands.

Perhaps the most glaring problem with the descriptive approach, and one which Beston acknowledges, is that by concentrating on the narrative line and the events spun out from it, he cannot account for important, basic elements - the title, the title character, and the title character relative to the apparent story. This leaves him insisting that the youngest child of the Tamihana family, the handicapped potiki named Toko, is not the focus of the novel. Nor is he vital to its narrative development. Confined to a wheelchair and unable to participate directly in the actions and reactions that fuel the confrontational plot, he must therefore be a peripheral figure. (Beston does not say that a toko is an elaborately decorated wooden figure that served as a material symbol of a Maori god.)13 Even if the potiki's prescience and oracular and recollective abilities mark him as a spiritual presence with symbolic import, Beston's approach obliges the critic to conclude that the potiki is but "loosely linked to the main plot." What the maha'oi reader cannot designate as integral to the plot becomes a problem of the text.

It is this specific focus on plot, with its concomitant categories of main and subordinate and its emphasis on deliberate, concrete action that creates a hegemonic structure within Potiki, despite Beston's intent to treat the novel carefully. In addition, the focus on plot skews Grace's work and conceals its deeper layers of significance. The potiki is surely not a subordinate character, and his "story," by which I mean his rhetorical, dynamic, linguistic production of events and plot, is far from ancillary to Potiki's development. It is, instead, part of its very core, and it spans out across the novel, reaching far into genealogical history and generations of prophetic vision. In fact, the process of dramatic storytelling, and not plot, is nearly all there is to Potiki.

If we reject Trask's isolationist stance, we need to recognize that neither the descriptive mode employed by critics like Beston and Hughes, nor the increasingly popular practice of holism when used in the service of holistic ideologies, is an adequate tool of study. I suggest, instead, that the methods upon which holists rely, including narrative and structuralist analyses, be utilized, but without the holistic ideology that promotes ecosystems, commonalities, and hybridity. In other words, we can use holistic methodologies not to universalize Pacific literatures, but to discover their deeply-embedded elements, which an ideology of good will and globalized, reciprocal interdependencies can easily obscure. Willing to look to Western narrative theory, for instance, we find that its emphasis on voice and time is fundamental to indigenous Polynesian literature as well. The gap between the critical system and the indigenous subject remains formidable, but at least the indigenous elements are not ignored. Thus, an additional step in the holistic approach involves our drawing back from our systems and accepting the limits of multicultural theorizing and the inadequacy of our interpretations.

Using modern narratology to examine Grace's Potiki may seem to be a form of cultural impositioning, since it is a Western holistic system that adheres to common structures and categories of rhetoric and voice. If, however, the method is used within an ideological context of singularity rather than globality, it has a number of advantages. First, it provides a link to what is traditional to Polynesian culture - formal modes of oral production like song-poems, proverbs, stories, and action-songs.14 These and other genres existed long before the missionaries transcribed verbal communication into the Western alphabet and gave Polynesia a form of written discourse. Second, a willingness to examine verbalizing patterns, at the very least, acknowledges the existence of complex rhetorical issues within indigenous works and opens up discussion of orality within these texts.15 Western narratology can only partially account for the positioning and dynamics of Grace's speakers, but the collision of critical system and subject text presents a single, overwhelming advantage. Ironically and dramatically, it pushes to the surface the spiritual and cosmological qualities of Potiki and Maori culture. These elements are more than "discrete parts." They are traces of over half a millennium of pre-Contact Polynesia, which are unassimilable without some degree of violation.

Reading Potiki, then, not for its confrontational plot but as a series of predominantly spoken chapters, we find that almost nothing takes place, for almost everything has already occurred. With their dramatic voices enframing nearly all of the events, the potiki and his adoptive mother Roimata themselves narrate twenty-two of twenty-eight chapters and make frequent references to their present time and place. Of the remaining eight chapters, most contain events that these speakers allude to or recount within their own narrated sections, and two of the chapters are essentially the free indirect discourse of the potiki's father (his thoughts and diction rendered through the third-person). Thus, all of these narratorial positions acquire a degree of autonomy that draws attention to the generating instances of the spoken or privately-uttered text rather than to the events being recalled, anticipated, or lived through. In other words, plot in Potiki is controlled and directed by voice.

The correspondence between the enunciating voices and the events they relate, technically called narrative anachronies, indicates the complexity of Grace's discourse levels and traces of "Maoritanga" that nudge at the surface story. When the potiki speaks for the first time, his diction, focus, and tense indicate that he is a young boy living with the Tamihana family that adopted him at birth. He explains that his "birthing mother" left him in the sea, that he was saved from drowning by the Tamihana daughter, Tangimoana, and named Toko by the grandmother. Using the present tense and childlike diction, he also accounts for his extrasensory abilities: "Perhaps it is the magic from Granny's ear that gives me my special knowing, and which makes up for my crookedness and my almost drowning. But I have been given other gifts from before I was born. I know all of my stories" (43). His mother's speech confirms the specifics of Toko's narrative site and time: "My name is Roimata Kararaina and I'm married to Hemi Tamihana. We have four children . . . We live by the sea, which hems and stitches the scalloped edges of the land" (15). Roimata's formal introduction, which she follows with descriptions of each child, establishes the enunciating times for both her and her son as prior to when the developers threaten the Maori community. Accordingly, Roimata, also in the dramatic present tense, says of her potiki: "He is a gift that we have been given, and he has gifts. He has a special knowing" (46).

Because the speakers draw attention to their own enunciating time and place, and because these intermittently change, the temporal and spatial dimensions of their articulated chapters slip between the various stages of what critics usually consider to be Potiki's "primary" plot - the antagonism between the developers and the Maori. This means that the dynamics of Roimata's and Toko's speech create all sorts of intercalary figurations. For instance, Roimata's narrating frame moves chronologically forward from her position in Chapter I, in which she is a mother of four young children. In Chapter 15, she states that her daughter is fully grown, and with her recent degree in law is defending the rights of the Maori in disputed land claims. Thus, the primary plot activity - between the developers and the Tamihana family - which chronologically followed Roimata's and Toko's initial speeches, is suddenly earlier than Roimata's new enunciating time, thus exemplifying what Genette would call an analepsis. Then in Chapter 25, Roimata speaks out from the immediate drama in which the developers have just bulldozed the hillside in order to trigger landslides and pollute the water. She surveys the landscape and, in the present tense, remarks: "The hills are quiet and the machines have been taken away. After a while the trees will begin to grow again and soon the water will be clear. There is comfort in knowing these things, but is there enough comfort?" (159). Her enunciating time has again shifted, and in this instance it has actually converged with plot time, creating a homodiegetic correspondence that does not seem consistent with a simple, linear storyline. No sooner does this character's plot time and narrating time converge than they again split apart. She continues to speak and, without apparent logic, shifts from the present perfect into the past perfect and goes from being a narrator and a protagonist to just narrator:

We have known what it is like to have had a gift, and have not ever questioned from where the gift came, only sometimes wondered. The gift has not been taken away because gifts are legacies, that once given cannot be taken away . . . The gift we were given is with us still.

His death had been with us a long time but not the manner of it. The manner of his death, that is where the pain is, the manner of his death, and the brokenness and suffering (159, emphasis added).

Unfettered to her previous enunciating sites and now in a posterior narrating position, Roimata here laments her son's violent death even though Toko has not yet been murdered within the linear plot and thus expresses herself by what narratologists call prolepsis. Moreover, this second position is so much later than the previous one, she is able to say that the potiki's death "had been" with them for an extended period of time. Other shifts nearly as disjunctive occur elsewhere and can be charted by narrative analysis, but yet the ideology of holism cannot adequately account for the reasons behind this activity. Each of a work's "analysable features," according to Genette in Narrative Discourse, leads to "some connection, comparison, or putting into perspective," and the direction is not "from the general to the particular, but indeed from the particular to the general" to reach "universal, or at least transuniversal" elements (23). Potiki's analysable features do not, however, approach universals. Nor do they disclose anything precise regarding how the Maori traditionally view time, tense and death.

If we continue to apply narrative principles to Grace's work, it becomes clear that the most dramatic maneuvering of voice, time, and place occurs with Toko himself, whose collocations of these elements suggest different ways of viewing and experiencing them. Like Roimata's, Toko's narrating times move about so that his narrated sections are sometimes simultaneous to plot time and other times retrospective or analeptic. In the middle of the novel, for instance, his narrative stance is sufficiently distant from events to enable him, as a storyteller, to transform the climax of the pakeha-Maori conflict into oral myth. In so doing, he absorbs its catastrophic events into his own, more encompassing version that interprets the tragedy by mythifying its details; the destruction of the wharenui by fire becomes an account of dancing colors, and the screams of the children are rhetorically transmuted into a story of sounds (134). Even the incontestability of the ruined building and the shattered ancestral statues is merely one curve of a story that reaches out to another curve of another story, which absorbs the rebuilding of the wharenui into oral text. This version affirms that ancient skills like wood carving and using such natural materials as pingao and kiekie have not been lost. From this perspective, as long as human beings know and then articulate their histories, physical destruction can be reformed into a continuous spiral of crossgenerational, ongoing narratives. The past is both unfixed and revokable, capable of being altered into the present, which gradually slips into the future and thus becomes present time. Toko's narrating position toward the end of the novel shifts back into present-tense plot time and creates a startling dramatization of time becoming unhinged. The meeting house has been rebuilt, and the ancestors have been recarved by Toko's brother, James. The potiki comments on the structural changes that allow him to enter the building in his wheelchair:

There is a special door that was made for me and my chair. It is a door at the side of the new wharenui specially hinged so that it opens either out or in. There is a ramp and a wide pathway from the road to enable me to come and go easily. It was not easy by then, for me to be without my chair (italics added, 153).

No sooner does Toko embed himself, in this passage, within plot time ("There is a special door. . .") and render his narrative simultaneous to it, than he reverses himself to be outside of it ("It was not easy by then. . ."). Once he is posterior to plot time, he then looks backwards at what he has just narrated. Then, on the very same page, he makes a second shift, this one catapulting him back into plot time. He peers at the front of the rebuilt structure and remarks, "It is a beautiful door that opens without noise" (153). Still again, Toko vaults forward only to narrate backwards: "Once inside the house someone would help me . . . I was given a time to speak even though speaking is mostly done by those who are old . . ." (154). Narrative analysis can follow Toko relocating himself at various enunciating times and spaces as it did for Roimata. Still, it does not bring us closer to understanding why, when Toko's purpose is simply to describe the wharenui's new door, his narratorial positions are so complex. And summoning an ideology of connections and universals only pulls the work further out of its Oceanic context, which is the only context that could offer an adequate response to these narrative convolutions.

Taken together, these examples of narrative discordances indicate that in contrast to the story that critics prefer to summarize, Potiki's other "story" has no single climax or denouement. Something else is occurring in this work, some other scheme of events. Partially told and partially sensed, it presses at the linear sequence, and it circumscribes simple plot time within its more dynamic structure. This other scheme is located within the work's oral dimensions, which are necessarily textualized into a written genre. It embodies, but is not strictly determined by the historical collisions of European and Maori. The collisions may be described (fires, floods, murder, the village's counter-acts of dynamiting the resort's foundation and plunging the bulldozers into the ocean), but Potiki's performative dimensions draw these conflicts into harmonizing voices which penetrate and incorporate any single story.

The potiki's final, spoken chapter, which projects the most inconceivable slippage between narrating and narrated times, also offers the most powerful suggestion that Grace's text supersedes its linear dimensions and literally performs Maori ideas of life and death and the passing of time. Spinning his own myth-narrative, Toko makes it utterly clear, first, that he is dead, second, that he is an ancestor and, third, that he is enunciating the details of his own death, from a post-death time frame and a post-death location. He speaks directly "from the wall," "from the tree" (181). Toko is the wooden figure that was carved in the rebuilt wharenui and described previously:

. . . the tamaiti, the mokopuna, the potiki, with all his stories entwined about him . . . the head of the tamaiti, alive with fire, had been widened and drawn down on one side. On that side of it was a small, shelled ear that listened to the soft whisperings, the lullabies, the quiet lamentations . . . the wide mouth . . . had at its corners the magic swirls, and that had the talking, storytelling tongue whirling out and down to where the heart began. The chest was full of life and breath, and the heart was patterned over the chest in a spiral that covered it completely. (171-72)

What seemed, in this earlier passage, to be a wooden representation is, at the end of the novel, animate and articulate. The stories represented here in whirling patterns are the stories that Toko has been producing and that readers have been reading. The representation of his breath is vitalized and made immediate in Toko's narrated chapters; and the carved "storytelling tongue" has come alive as the force that enunciates Potiki's final chapter. In effect, the speaker suddenly is, has gradually become, or always was the wooden representation of himself. If this ambiguous shift were described by the other characters, we could contest it as their own misperceptions. However, because we have been receiving parts of Grace's text directly through this voice all along, we have to acknowledge that at some point the child in the wheelchair, who was producing text, died; continued to produce text, and was buried; and now continues to produce text, from his material incarnation. This singular shift, which is unaccountable in realistic Western terms, has the effect of setting all the preceding chapters spinning into ontological and epistemological uncertainties. When, in basic plot time, was the potiki murdered? When, in enunciating time? For how many chapters has he been narrating from an afterlife that is both spiritual and material? Why has his death been recomposed into and obscured by levels of spoken discourse? How do these shifts affect the full span of narrating positions, as well as the prologue and epilogue? How do we rationalize Grace's strategy for compelling us to conclude that much of Potiki has been narrated from the dead and by a wooden statue? Without adequate answers, it is not possible to address with any degree of authority such issues as the speaker's source of knowledge, its accessibility, and private modes of transmission in anything other than generalizations and rudimentary inferences.

Other narrative discordances additionally point to the overriding problem of holistic inquiry, which is the way that it moves in the direction of broad statements based upon a limited amount of information. This process makes it extremely difficult to analyse a text in all of its "discrete" details. In the case of Grace's work, the performative dimensions seem to offer a link to Maori oral literature, but actually they reveal little of the specific ways, if any, the speakers invoke or adapt Polynesian song (waiata), proverbs (whakatallki), and other indigenous genres for their own purposes. Judith Binney explains in "Maori Oral Narratives, Pakeha Written Texts" that Maori narratives tend to be restrictive and project boundaries that exclude the Western world.16 Because they are primarily concerned with their own leaders, their own people and customs, Maori narratives most often consist of family myth-narratives of filiality and social relatedness, not the single ethno-economic story that seems to be Potiki. This exclusivity makes the process of incorporating indigenous narrative into contemporary, written texts quite difficult. Presumably, it is even more difficult for holistic readers to disentangle the traditional rhetoric from the writer's own stylistics and imaginative vision. A typical response to this difficulty is to turn away and draw general connections to other Oceanic cultures and then to other bicultural communities. But these intercultural diagrams lead head-on to the objections of scholars who characterize non-Nativist study as inaccurate, partial, but an effective means of robbing individual communities of their authentic history. And the problem for readers who choose the other alternative, that of descriptive case study, is that they produce what Rob Wilson has termed "illusions of de-politicized empiricism." These self-conscious, ostensibly objective observations reveal more about the problematics of Western theorizing than about the subject they purport to examine.17

A further obstacle for holistic critics is that Grace and other indigenous writers hold out for apparent display selected aspects of their culture, but then they withhold as much as they offer. Grace's work may seem transparent, but as a cultural production it is opaque. How can readers begin to recompose her novel's alignments - or disalignments - of past, present, and future when Grace does not explicitly say that the Maori conceptualize time differently from Westerners? If readers knew, for instance, that the past in Maori (nga ra o mua') translates into English as "the days in front," while the future (kei muri) means the time "behind," they would sense, to a greater degree than Western schematizing can suggest, the complexity of Potiki's voicing and rhetorics.18 Keri Hulme, also, who seems to work towards accessibility by including a lengthy glossary in The Bone People, actually uses it as a linguistic decoy. The glossary does not translate all of the Maori passages, but instead gives partial explanations to only some of them. Using a glossary that blatantly conceals and incompletely exposes, a reader can only guess what Hulme decided to withhold or her motivation for doing so. In fact, many readers will experience the glossary as a metatextual device with secret codes of its own.

Potiki's indigenous story, then, is almost "unanalysable." It consists of phenomena rather than personages and of sounds rather than formalized speech. It is a percipient existence, not a series of events, and the speaker who most profoundly knows this, the potiki, distinctly hears and senses its manifestations. As traces of a nearly untranslatable Maori communality, they emanate through the walls of the building and take shape as a "stirring within," a "murmuring," an overriding sensibility. The potiki listens carefully to the whispering and the lamentations that are discernible, and although he knows what is there, he does not reproduce, explicate, or translate the contents, which conceivably are even being produced in his indigenous language. The term "there" loses a clear locus and the notion of "here" lose immediacy as Toko declares his final enunciating site to be "a place of now, behind, and in, and beyond the tree, from where I have eversight" (183). If readers are uncertain of the epistemological principles that underlie the powers of "eversight" then surely they further recognize the distantiation between the "story" that Toko himself is hearing and the surface story that they are reading.

Like Toko himself, the ancestors - who must also be wooden carvings - inhabit the wharenui, and they have been "stirring," "assembling" and vocalizing as long as Toko and Roimata have been narrating their sections of Potiki. He has heard them and occasionally cited their movements within the walls. When the pakeha came to speak to the family about plans for "top-level facilities" and "trained whales and seals" on the ancestral land (which the pakeha refer to as Block J136 and J480), "there was in the house a drawing in of breath, and a sighing" (96); most readers, though, naturally assume that this response belongs to the immediate Tamihana family members. The movements and vocalizing intensify as Toko articulates his final chapter. He comments that his family members are asleep and "do not clearly hear the footfalls . . . " Nor do they see the "shadowless forms, forms of which they themselves may be the shadows," nor the "tekoteko as they come, taking up the bones, moving in silently beside them" (184). Only Toko, himself an ancestor, intuits this activity, and together, the activity and his rhetoric set Potiki resonating with a breathless spirituality that surpasses any specific references to Maori life and custom.

The problem is that while Grace amplifies the profundity of her Polynesian "story," she draws it further away from the multicultural reader. Reed Way Dasenbrock calls such barriers to full comprehension strategies of "culturally coded defamiliarization."19 In Potiki, the defamiliarization occurs between the reader and Polynesia as it persists behind the folds of its more obvious confrontational structure. The gap becomes most pronounced in the text's final two pages, where Grace guardedly seals off her deeper, cognitive subject by concluding with a passage written entirely in Maori. Like the comments Toko makes regarding what he hears (from his carved, shelled ear angled toward the ground), the passage reaffirms the private, nearly inviolate, singularity and spirituality of a people. The passage also creates numerous uncertainties, but it does not give enough information for these to be resolved. First, it projects a nonspecific enunciating site and time. Although the site and time initially seem identical to Toko's "now, behind, and in" position (with its own uncertainties), the passage is typographically set off from Toko's narration. Thus, it could emanate from the walls, the statues, the ancestral voices and, in fact, from any time and place, including presumably pre-Contact Aotearoa. Second, part of the passage consists of questions and answers and therefore suggests two speakers. But since the indigenous elements of this novel have perfused Western concepts of individual, cultural, mortal, and immortal identity, individualized speakers are not necessary. Third, the passage is both strange and familiar. Most of the Maori will be unintelligible to non-Maori readers, but some of it - words like tamaiti, mokopuna, and potiki - require no translation, for by the end of the novel, most readers will understand their definitions. Grace has worked to situate non-Maori readers at the edge of her Polynesian narrative, where they can sense its components, but are unable to engage fully or even penetrate beyond its borders.

The closing off of the powerful signifiers of Potiki's indigenous elements suggests a deliberate statement of forbidden territory. Geographically, most of the Pacific has been colonized, nationalized, declared Trusts or Territories, or brought into statehood. Only a few countries like Tonga, Nauru, Fiji, Western Samoa, and Papua New Guinea are today independent, and each of these has economic or political affiliations with first-world nations. But elements of preContact culture that exist in genealogies, non-Christian mythologies, reverence for and intimacy with the natural environment are all part of the psychology of the Pacific. According to Albert Wendt, the earlier generations co-exist for Oceanic populations, because "Our dead are woven into our souls like the hypnotic music of bone flutes."20 If the soul of the Pacific has had little political exigency in the region's colonialist history, its spiritual power has, in some way, been operative and omnipresent.

In view of the enormous ground that lies between Trask's warning against, and Craige's advocacy of multicultural inquiry (Trask for what it excludes and Craige for what it includes), there ought to be room for cultural study that neither triggers attack nor absorbs cultural differences into totalizing paradigms. Descriptive approaches obscure the contradictions that underpin the ostensible objectivity of their findings. Many anthropologists, for instance, used to describe cultural identity among Pacific Islanders as fixed according to ancestry and biological descent. In the past few decades, based on increased "field work," some of them have reversed this position. Now they have begun to view cultural identity, especially among groups like the Hawaiians and the Maori, as more fluid, based upon changing social networks and shifting relationships.21 Undoubtedly, notions of cultural identity and ethnicity will continue to be theorized, re-theorized, and reversed. Descriptive modes, in the case of literature, can relegate a subject to its most superficial lineaments. As I have illustrated with Patricia Grace, description is capable of denuding a work of crucial levels of signification. Although the pakeha lose the land battle in Potiki, historically the pakeha, the haole, and the papalagi have most often won, and thus a so-called summary not only misses unique parts of the novel, it also fits right into Western colonialist paradigms of political dominance.

The crucial operative paradox is that in the detachment of more sophisticated Western modes of study from Western ideologies of connections and globality, there exists an aperture through which indigenous writing becomes visible. Western critical systems may be unable to focus sharply upon it. The subject may elude Western schemes of composition and perspective. The writers themselves may conceal their subject from an outsider's extended gaze. Yet the opportunity to sense its power, to recognize our utter exclusion from ever knowing the subject, and the provisional nature of our interpretations, is perhaps a viable beginning.

University of Hawaii at Manoa


1 In examining the controversy over Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, Betty Jeon Craige, in "Literature in a Global Society," PMLA (May 1991): 395-401, illustrates the fierce disagreements between holists and those who resist holistic ideologies and methods.

2 In her 1990 Presidential Address, "On Differences," PMLA (May 1991, 402-11), Stimpson makes a statement that she means to be all-inclusive. However, her word choices would suggest omission and exclusion to many Pacific Islanders. Referring to literatures written in English, she states that "literary English will differ if the writer is from the Pacific Rim, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, the British Isles, the Republic of Ireland, the Caribbean, the United States, and Canada" (406). Because Stimpson cites the "Rim" but omits the ''Pacific Basin," her sentence excludes such areas as French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Western Samoa, American Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, and Guam. In other words, not all of the "discrete" units within a multicultural paradigm are equal or equally visible.

3 Trask, in "Natives and Anthropologists: The Colonial Struggle," The Contemporary Pacific (Spring 1991):159-67, takes issue with Roger Keesing and Jocelyn Linnekin on a number of Nativist subjects. Among these are assertions of the frequent inaccuracy of Nativist genealogical claims, the politicized nature of contract archeology in Hawaii today and of conditions that existed in the preContact Pacific. Keesing and Linnekin respond to Trask in the same issue of The Contemporary Pacific, 168-71 and 172-77 respectively. See also Jocelyn Linnekin and Lin Poyer, eds. Cultural Identity and Ethnicity in the Pacific (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990.

4 Although he focuses on Maori writers in New Zealand, Norman Simms in Silence and Invisibility (Washington: Three Continents Press, 1986), draws connecting links to Singapore and Malaysia while he ignores Hawaii and Micronesia in the Northern Pacific. Paul Sharrad objects to this broad scheme in which Southeast Asia and one Polynesian culture are side by side. According to Sharrad, "the social dynamics of language and literary expression in English in Singapore are not really very similar to those affecting the Maori. Inclusion of such a comparison requires more justification and takes the focus of debate away from a specifically Pacific arena" (153). Sharrad further notes that Simms assesses Albert Wendt as "the major Pacific writer," essentially because he thinks that Wendt is "the most European of Pacific writers, pakeha New Zealanders and Australian gubbas . . . included" (155). See Sharrad, "Breaking the Silence: The Problems of Studying New Literatures," World Literature Written in English, 2 (1989): 152-161.

5 Bill Pearson, "Witi Ihimaera and Patricia Grace," Critical Essays on the New Zealand Short Story, ed. Cherry Hankin (Auckland: Heinemann, 1982),16684. Pearson cites H. Winston Rhodes for "finding himself embarrassed by the suffocating intensity of the bereft son's feeling for his father in Tangi" (167). A few paragraphs later, Pearson describes his own embarrassment over a short story by Ihimaera for its depiction of both the pakeha and their Maori neighbors. Sharrad and Dasenbrock refer to the tendency of critics to wish that Maori writing were less emotionally expressive. Simms illustrates this tendency in "A Maori Literature in English, Part I Prose Fiction - Patricia Grace," printed in Pacific Moana Quarterly (April 1978):186-99. He classifies Grace's stories in Waiariki into three groups, "Maori," those written in English, but containing some Maori syntax and thought; "Macaronic," those with "a high frequency" of Maori words and thought; and "English," those with "no sense of disturbing English syntax beyond its normal bounds" (189). Despite his schematizing, he still makes Western-based judgments concerning appropriate degrees of emotion. One story is sentimental ("Valley"), while another ("Holiday") that is full of "sentimental details" has "just enough of something more profound to sustain the story" (194). In Silence and Invisibilty, Simms cites Grace's Mutuwhenua as an overly sentimentalized novel, which examplifies "so many similar weaknesses in Maori writing in English" (74). See Miriama Evans, "Politics and Maori Literature," Landfall 153 (March 1985): 40-45, for her response to Simms, who, she emphasizes, finds Grace's experiments " 'of limited esthetic value' " (41).

6 Aorewa McLeod, "Private Lives and Public Fictions," Public and Private Worlds: Women in Contemporary New Zealand, ed. Shelagh Cox (Wellington: Allen and Unwin, Port Nicholson P, 1987): 67-81. McLeod calls Hulme's The Bone People a "radical" and "utopian" text that interrogates traditional black-white and male-female polarities. Nevertheless, she finds the conclusion "unconvincing and unsatisfactory," particularly because of the "happy-ever-after of the whanau--the final vision of the extended family and the communal vision" (81). Susie O'Brien also faults Hulme's conclusion because the protagonist, Kerewin, appropriates the otherness of the child, Simon, and offers him her name, as well as her protection. O'Brien wonders if the end "signifies anything more than the fulfillment of Kerewin's desire to 'tie up loose ends"' (91). See "Raising Silent Voices: The Role of the Silent Child in An Imaginary Life and The Bone People," SPAN: Journal of the South Pacific Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (April 1990): 79-91.

7 Lauri Anderson, "Maoriness and the Clash of Cultures in Patricia Grace's Mutuwhenua," World Literature Written in English 1(1986):188-90.

8 Paul Sharrad effectively assesses the problems of nomenclature in "Imagining the Pacific," Meanjin 3 (Spring 1990): 697-606.

9 Examples of "literary description" include John Beston, "Potiki," Landfall 160 (1986): 501-502; John B. Beston, The Fiction of Patricia Grace," Ariel: A Review of International English Literature (April 1984): 41-53; and Shaun F. D. Hughes, "Pakeha and Maori Behind the Tattooed Face: The Emergence of a Polynesian Voice in New Zealand Fiction," Modern Fiction Studies (Spring 1981): 13-29.

10 My discussion centers on Potiki (Auckland: Penguin, 1986), but Grace's major publications, excluding her children's books, are Waiariki (Auckland: Longman, 1975); Mutuwhenua (Auckland, Longman, 1978); The Dream Sleepers and Other Stories (Auckland: Longman, 1980); and Electric City and Other Stories (Auckland: Penguin, 1987).

11 The emphasis on what appears to be Potiki's plot, in John Beston's review in Landfall, usefully foregrounds the problems caused by an over reliance on plot description. Sharrad comments on the same problem in Simms's full-length study, Silence and Invisibility, noting that it may be "commendable" to try "to understand Pacific writing in the context of its shifting 'mentalities' (descriptive criticism)," but the effort is problematic. Description "slides too readily into evaluative distinctions" (5). Simms goes so far as to counterpoise the strategies of the "good authors" with the "second-rate or naive authors" (34).

12 Gerard Genette, in Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method, trans. Jane E. Lewin (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980) and Narrative Discourse Revisited, trans. Jane E. Lewin (Ithaca: Cornell Unversity Press, 1988), outlines a systematic theory of narrative. Based upon structuralist principles, Genette's narratological classifications foreground alignments and discordances of such elements as voice (point of view, levels of narrative), content (order, duration, frequency) and mood (perspective, distance, focalization). His following comment, from the introduction to Narrative Discourse, reads like a gloss of Potiki: "Analysis of narrative discourse . . . [is] a study of the relationships between narrative and story, between narrative and narrating, and (to the extent that they are inscribed in the narrative discourse) between story and narrating" (29).

13 David Lewis and Werner Forman, The Maori: Heirs of Tane (London: Orbis, 1982), 35.

14 Helen Metge, The Maoris of New Zealand: Rautahi, rev. ed. (London: Routledge, 1976). The term "traditional" does not necessarily designate oral literary forms that have gone unchanged through the years. As Metge explains, "traditional" applies to literary forms that may be preContact, but that have been "handed down through the generations from Maori ancestors" and, thus, have undergone changes (265). Metge describes the six categories of Maori literature (266): whai-korero (speeches), korero (stories), whakatauki (proverbs), mo-teatea (song-poems), haka (shouted exhortations with actions) and waiata-a-ringa (action-songs). Of the six, the whai-korero and korero are unique each time they are performed.

15 Metge describes Maori oral literature in Maori for its "strong rhythmical patterning" and the use of concrete imagery to convey abstract meaning" (267). These traits, interestingly, are characteristic of Grace's prose as well, but any adaptation or echoing in written English (to say nothing of actual translation) from oral Maori is extremely complex.

16 Binney, Judith. "Maori Oral Narratives, Pakeha Written Texts: Two Forms of Telling History," New Zealand Journal of History (April 1987): 16-28.

17 Rob Wilson, "Theory's Imaginal Other: American Encounters with South Korea and Japan," Boundary 2 (1991): 220-41. Wilson observes that American ethnography in the 1980s began to turn away from modes of "scientific closure and ideal totalization of other cultures" towards a postmodernist tendency to search for a culture's "unnameable" elements (225).

18 See Metge 768-70 on time and tense in Maori language and culture. For a contemporary example of the Hawaiian perspective of time, see Trask, who writes: "In our language, the past (ka wa mamua) is the time in front or before; the future (ka wa mahope) is the time that comes after. In the words of one of our best living Native historians, Li]ikala Kame'eleihiwa . . . 'The Hawaiian stands firmly in the past, seeking historical answers for present-day dilemmas. Such an orientation is to the Hawaiian an eminently practical one, for the future is always unknown whereas the past is rich in glory and knowledge' " (164, quoted from Land and the Promise of Capitalism, Ph.D. Diss., University of Hawaii, 1986).

19 Dasenbrock, Reed Way. "Intelligibility and Meaningfulness in Multicultural Literature in English," PMLA 102 (1987):10-19.

20 Wendt, Albert. "Towards a New Oceania," A Pacific Islands Collections: Seaweeds and Constructions 7 (Honolulu: Elepaio Press, 1984), 71-85. Rpt. from Mana: A South Pacific Journal of Language and Literature 1 (January 1976).

21 Linnekin and Poyer's Introduction (1-16) to Cultural Identity and Ethnicity in the Pacific (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990) reviews historical and contemporary models for conceptualizing cultural identity, from Western ethno-theories to what anthropologists believe to be (my own emphasis) strikingly different Oceanic schemes. Linnekin's "The Politics of Culture in the Pacific" (149-73), Michele D. Dominy's "Maori Sovereignty: A Feminist Invention of Tradition" (237-67), and Alan Howard's "Cultural Paradigms, History, and the Search for Identity in Oceania" (269-79) offer a useful variety of viewpoints. Other contributors to the volume write on such islands as Truk, Pohnpei, Vanuatu, and communities in Papua New Guinea.

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