Geographies of Gender and Politics: The Place of Difference in Polynesian Nationalism

Peer Reviewed

Essay Excerpt

Here I suggest that if [Gaugin's] painting is one of the more insightful representations of Polynesian social life in the late 19th century, it is not for the reasons Gauguin and some of his commentators have offered. Rather, the painting is better interpreted as one of the more poignant examples of French colonial appropriation and subversion - that is, as a kind of masterpiece of cross-cultural misunderstanding. The brush strokes in the painting's upper left-hand corner that so carefully painted French existentialism onto the canvas of Polynesian social life subverted questions that continue to color how Polynesians think about their social worlds and themselves. In this article, and following Pito's lead, I take the three questions "out of" Gauguin's painting and put them back "into" their Polynesian forms: where are you from, who are you, where are you going? My goal in doing this is to analyze the continuing relevance and changing meanings of these questions for Polynesians today and, through that, to chart the paths these meanings tread into the gendered dynamics of the Polynesian nationalist struggle for independence from France (172).

Elliston, Deborah. "Geographies of Gender and Politics: The Place of Difference in Polynesian Nationalism." Cultural Anthropology 15.2(2000): 171-216.

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