Twisted Tongues, Races and Spirits: Figures of Ambivalence in Ma'ohi Literature and Poetry

Date of Completion

January 2012


Literature, Australia, New Zealand and Oceania




Conflicted by the repercussions of French colonialism, contemporary Ma'ohi set out to address a number of issues brought on by the colonial experience and its enduring consequences. Beginning in the 1960s and reaching a critical mass in the 1990s, a small number of writers and poets attempted to inaugurate new notions of self-hood and dialogue with colonial history through literature and poetry to explore the possibility of negotiating literally, affectively, and metaphorically the colonial heritage. The diverse expressions of ambivalence in evidence in these texts are varied: racial, linguistic, spiritual, and result from the tensions inherent in the attempt to establish an identity in the modernity that French rule produced. What I've referred to as the constant ambivalence in Ma'ohi literature and poetry reflects a concept apparent in Hegel's dialectic whereby knowledge and, in our case, decolonization, cannot come to be without a self consciousness first recognizing and accepting another self-consciousness. The end result of this Hegelian struggle is the power of "sublation," the resolution of two contradictory moments or peoples into an elevated synthesis. In essence, the gathering of Ma'ohi ambivalence in literary and poetic endeavors elaborates the possibility of a "corrective" template for colonization. This type of Hegelian struggle is reflected in a series of thematic consistencies and figures used in the Ma'ohi works being considered. ^