By Rob F
How we perceive the Pacific, teach about it and provide resource for it matters. For students with Pacific heritage or origins, self-identity is at stake. Attitudes of non-Pasifika classmates are influenced by what they learn in school.
Library staff are in a position to influence learning as they provide resources for learning. New Zealand, as a South Pacific nation with strong ties to colonial history, trade and development with Pacific neighbours and a significant population of Pasifika New Zealanders, recognises that understanding the Pacific is important.
Tanya Wendt Samu, along with Alexis Siteine, both at the Faculty of Education at the University of Auckland have written many articles about Pasifika and Social Studies education. These articles present a case for studying the Pacific Islands in the Social Sciences and advise on best approaches.
Samu and Siteine describe three perspectives on the Pacific used in Social Studies units:
- Oceanic perspective
- Small islands perspective
- Tourist perspective
The most powerful and affirming is the “Oceanic” perspective. An Oceanic approach recognises common experience and traditional views. Today, the world of the Pacific "encompasses the great cities of Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Canada" with Auckland as its capital. (Hau'ofa 1993)
Most Pacific cultures have long been in contact each other. Dr. Damon Salesa, the first New Zealand Samoan Rhodes Scholar now at University of Auckland's Centre for Pacific Studies speaks of the Central Pacific island groups round Samoa, Tonga and Fiji as a “Sea of Stories”. These islands shared histories and influence well before European ships traversed Pacific waters. This shared contact helped spread knowledge of Palagi (Europeans) across the region 200-odd years ago.
A few print resources reflect this approach. Samu, with Mona Papali’i and Alison Carter, produced the Tagata Tangata books: Families and work, Our people, our lands, and Contact and change (Pearson). Though organised as text books, the thematic information makes them valuable for libraries as well. Another resource that supports this approach is Marcia Stenson’s Illustrated history of the South Pacific (Random House , 2006).
A “small islands” perspective focuses on individual island nations, in their “smallness and islandness’’, which needs to be connected to an “Oceanic” focus as above, to give context and to support the significance and relevance of the study of the islands. Many resources support a small island view.
There is also the “tourist” approach, focussing on “food, dress and music” with the effect of putting “the natives… on show, vulnerable to the gaze of the dominant culture. This perspective can perpetuate stereotypes, misrepresent cultural realities, and undermine a sense of belonging and identity”. (Samu 2009)
School libraries also have access to a range of digital resources, much of which will support Oceanic or small islands approaches.
For more information and suggested resources for supporting Pasifika students, read more here.
To support positive learning about the Pacific, staff need to be well-informed about the Pacific and personally connected with their Pasifika students. Pasifika voices need to be validated. This can happen when the school library becomes a focus for engagement with Pacific worlds.
What do you do in your library to support learning about the Pacific? We'd love to read about your successes here.
Samu, Tanya Wendt, The location and dislocation of Pacific knowledge and experience in New Zealand social studies (1997-2007). NZCER, Curriculum matters 5: 2009
E. Wadell, V. Naidoo, & E. Hau‘ofa (Eds.) A new Oceania: Rediscovering our sea of islands (pp. 2-16). Suva, Fiji: University of the South Pacific.