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

What’s Pasifika Love Got to Do with It: (Re)Envisioning Love in Witi Ihimaera’s The Uncle’s Story and Sia Figiel’s Freelove

Jordan Wesley Luz, University of Hawaii, Manoa

This paper examines the concept of ‘love’ as a political and cultural force through a Pasifika lens by interrogating Sia Figiel’s Freelove and Witi Ihimaera’s The Uncle’s Story, in which both texts produce a nuanced definition of love as opposed to westernized constructs of love. This paper then suggests how the terms of Pasifika love must be given parameters outside of the western construction, primarily through these texts.


This papers analyzes how Witi Ihimaera’s The Uncle’s Story and Sia Figiel’s Freelove attempt to decolonize western notions of romantic love in hopes of providing a more politically and cultural sourced version of aroha/alofa through a Pasifika lens. When considering the meaning and constructions of love through the lens of the west versus that of a Pasifika context, it is important to note the influence the west has had in indoctrinating their ideologies into Pacific communities. Ihimaera’s The Uncle’s Story provides a framework for viewing how interpersonal and familial love operates in Maori culture, in particular around ideas of masculinity and warrior culture. Through the lens of a homosexual male, Ihimaera shows the ongoing impact of colonialism and western religious notions of love; with the disruption of Michael’s relationship to his father as he comes out results in disarray within his family. The Uncle’s Story recounts the parallel stories of Michael (the narrator)  and his uncle Sam, as they struggle to navigate and negotiate between relationships, seeking to love and be loved. Arapeta, Michael’s father and Sam’s brother impose his Christian beliefs and taboos upon Michael, cutting the chord of their love. Michael ultimately finds love—with his community of friends and his renewed sense of love for his culture. Similarly, in Figiel’s Freelove, Inosia and Ioage struggle to come to terms with their “free love” for each other as they commit “sin” for being together under the guise of their religious community. Figiel is also operating in and against the stereotype of Samoa as a place of “free love,” trying to show that “love isn’t free,” and that how it’s actually regulated suggests much about the nature of the society. What may be considered taboo—tapu/kapu—through the eyes of their community, Inosia and Ioage fight back against these colonial western taboos of love and relationships. In doing so, they come to terms with their feelings for one another and also gain an understanding of what “free love” consists of—a love that is unspoken and knows no limits. Thus, it is evident that both Ihimaera and Figiel are tackling western religious notions of love in their own way by presenting ways in which to re-create the meaning for one’s self and community disrupt those notions altogether.

The second half of this paper centers ways in which Pasifika love (aroha/alofa) can be (re)constructed. It is important to note however, that this construction of love must avoid the traps that Stephanie Nohelani Teves identifies in “Aloha State Apparatuses” where the performance of “aloha” re-enforces colonial ideologies. Rather, Pasifika love can be re-envisioned in a more communal sense, as not requiring a performance, and as binding the relationship that people have to their culture. Turning to Michael Hardt, Katerina Martina Teaiwa and others to provide a critical framework, my paper will also attempt to identify the intersections of the functions of love within Ihimaera’s and Figiel’s texts in order to illustrate the nuances between the two. Hardt is coming from a western perspective and people like him and those who work within queer theory have made a critique that in some ways resembles that in Pacific literatures, but in a more universalizing sense. My paper concludes with drawing upon the play “Puzzy” and how its playwright, Kiki, presents a modern version of how love functions within the Pacific. This play demonstrates how current forms of resistance are being utilized through the LGBTQ community in order for them to define their own meaning of “free love”. In the end, I hope to present a re-envisioned meaning of Pasifika love—one that breaks free of the taboos and restrictions that have been brought forth by colonialism and western ideology. Thus, when one asks what does Pasifika love have to do with it, the answer is that it has everything to do with it.