Burdened with tradition: the uses and abuses of outrigger canoes and seafaring knowledge in the contemporary Pacific

A Master Class with Vicente M. Diaz
4 December 2012, 9am–‐5pm, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.
Please register your interest in attending this master class by 4 Nov 2012 (see below).

“The ubiquity of the outrigger and double hulled voyaging canoes in multiple registers across Oceania raises the question of to what uses–beyond actual sailing–have such indigenous craft and traditions been put? Whether to account for the origins of Polynesians (and all Pacific Islanders), wax poetic, win an elected seat, push a larger political or intellectual agenda, sell a commercial (or academic) product, and, most certainly, to engender deep cultural authenticity and authority, canoes of and across Oceania (albeit unevenly and differentially) have become iconic of the region itself, its islands, and of their indigenous inhabitants (certainly of its men and their polities). There are sound reasons for these celebrated uses and abuses, beginning with the canoe’s antiquity and staying power, its privileged role in the settlement of the region and beyond, its seeming exoticism or radical alterity, and its status as a technology of human ingenuity and achievement, one with genealogical and cosmological links to non‐human beings and larger supernatural forces. The canoe, for some, continues to hold economic power, while for others, analytical or explanatory value—as when anthropologists and psychologists turn to seafaring practices to theorize differences in human cognition, or when historians seek salient cultural or indigenous factors to account for historical transformation in such a watery world. In analogous ways, indigenous ethno‐ and cultural nationalists across the region often turn to canoes to differentiate and shore up their respective political and social claims in and to their respective homes, particularly those that are heavily settler‐colonized. If they have tremendous load capacities, canoes are also quite burdened with these old and new traditions. This class combines lectures, mixed media, reading and mini‐writing exercises, and individual and small‐group discussion to critically centre and reflect upon the uses and abuses of canoe cultures, narratives, concepts, technologies, images and discourses. Its broader objective is to facilitate substantive understanding in some aspect or dimension of what is arguably Oceania’s most ubiquitous, overworked, but also misused metaphor of Islander subjectivity.”

Vicente M. Diaz is Associate Professor of American Indian Studies and Anthropology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UI-UC). He is actively involved in traditional Micronesian seafaring practices and in indigenous Pacific video production as modes of cultural and historical critique and expression. In 1997 he directed the documentary “Sacred Vessels: Navigating Tradition and Identity in Micronesia”, which was screened on PBS in the USA. He has initiated collaborations between American Indian and Micronesian canoe communities, and recently acquired an outrigger for teaching and research purposes at UI‐UC. The author of several seminal works in Micronesian and Pacific Studies, Diaz is the recipient of a Fulbright Specialist Award for 2012 and will be a keynote speaker at the Pacific History Association conference at Victoria University of Wellington 6‐8 December.

This master class is FREE, but space is limited. The ideal participant will already have done some reading on the subject or have experience in aspects of traditional voyaging, or is thinking substantively about canoes or voyaging for some intellectual, political, or artistic purpose or project. To apply, please send the following details to emalani.case@vuw.ac.nz by 5pm on 4 November 2012: your name, address, age, ethnicity, current occupation, and a 250 word (max) description of how you have engaged with canoe culture in the past and/or how you intend to work with canoes or canoe imagery in future work.

This master class is hosted by the programme in Pacific Studies in Va’aomanū Pasifika at Victoria University of Wellington in association with Fulbright New Zealand.

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