In the Shade of the Banyan Tree

Najita, Susan Y.
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University of Hawai‘i Press
Center for Pacific Islands Studies
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This essay explores the ways that Wendt’s early novel Leaves of the Banyan Tree and his most recent novel, The Mango’s Kiss, engage with the history of the Mau in Sāmoa, in the period leading up to Samoan independence and in that leading to the emergence of the Mau as an overt political movement for independence, respectively. I examine how the novels’ commentaries on indigenous practices of orality critique the ongoing adoption and appropriation of the discursive legacy of the Mau. In Leaves, the character Galupo’s Borgesian practices within the genre of the f␣gogo mimic the adoption of the Mau’s discursive legacy by the postcolonial nation-state through a narrative of genealogical grafting. In Mango’s Kiss, a reversal of these dynamics occurs, wherein the oral tradition itself—and the genealogy of the Mau that emerges through it—is energized and motivated by the colonial archive. It is through the English trader Ralph Barker and a British novelist named Stenson, modeled after Robert Louis Stevenson, that the colonial archive is installed in village life, serving as a “fabulous” world, literally constructed out of colonial discourse—fictional and otherwise. As in Leaves, storytelling alters genealogy and history, determining what realities might be contained and conveyed through these forms. In Mango’s Kiss, the decolonizing process involves a dance between oral and written forms; the oral can accommodate imperial knowledge, but also undoes the claims to civilization of the indigenized Church. Oral practices are also challenged by written forms, even as the oral itself has profoundly accommodated the archive.
resistance to colonialism, Sāmoa, Albert Wendt, history, postcolonial nation, oral tradition
Najita, S. Y. 2010. In the Shade of the Banyan Tree. The Contemporary Pacific 22 (2): 349-361.
13 pages
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