115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Voices Chanting/Mirrors Breaking: Indigenous Writers of Micronesia Carving Out Space

Evelyn Flores, University of Guam

The groundbreaking Anthology of Indigenous Literatures from Micronesia will be released by University of Hawaii Press September 2018. This paper, presented by one of the editors, discusses the challenges of bringing together over sixty writers and one hundred pieces from across a vast ocean region that includes five island nations and a host of languages and cultures. 

Proposal: 

For indigenous peoples struggling to have their stories heard and to make their experiences visible, storytelling is a battlefield between sound and silence, between visible and invisible. The dominant voices inevitably become the official ones; the official view becomes the history written.  How then does an indigenous discourse insert itself into the conversation?

Noenoe K. Silva, a Native Hawaiian scholar, locates the answer in storytelling. “When the stories told at home,” she says, “do not match up with the texts at school, students are taught to doubt the oral versions.” She pursues her point, “When the stories (the oral versions) can be validated, as happens when [indigenous] scholars read the archive and make the findings available to the community, people begin to recover from the wounds caused by that disjuncture in their consciousness.” It is in this space of interruption that this paper locates itself, a space Foucault likens to fingerpointing, where writing becomes exposure.

The geographic area of Micronesia has in the past been known as the Pacific region where indigenous writers have been happily asleep. Compared to the robust literary production of Polynesia and Melanesia in the 60s and 70s, Micronesia has been eerily silent, this silence viewed as invisibility. The very words invisible and silent hold ironic potential however. The invisible implies the presence of something there, the silent, the potential of sound.  

The something there has been oral literature, unperceived by the dominant and official because of the lenses through which Western literary traditions peer, lenses adjusted to define literature as literacy and literacy as writing. Not so in indigenous oral cultures.  Literature is located in oral storytelling and dramatic reenactments but also in chant, dance, ritual, and visual art. This has been the divide that has troubled Micronesia’s writers, how to re-present the oral in writing, how to trust the written page to carry the weight of their oral literature compellingly, accurately, how to avoid the dismemberment, even further the disembodiment of the oral word, thus rendering the oral in writing as only ghosts.

In 2009, a fellow writer and I, both indigenous scholars from the region, decided it was far past high time to break the silences in classrooms and thus bring the invisible into sight. We essayed to bring together writers from across the vast region known as Micronesia, an ambitious project, considering that there are five independent nations in the region, a commonwealth, and Guam/Guahan, one of the last colonies of the world, ironically belonging to the United States, all with different languages and distinct cultures and political histories.

Our seven-year effort and our search for a suitable publisher culminated in the University of Hawai’i Press accepting the Anthology of Indigenous Literatures from Micronesia for publication with launch date being September 2018 in time for the text to be used in Fall 2018 classes. The paper discusses the challenges and achievements of this groundbreaking text, which features over 60 writers from each of the island cultures within Micronesia and over 100 pieces.