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Isles of Voices: Scotland in the Indigenous Pacific Literary Imaginary

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    Rights statement: © Keown, M. (2013). Isles of Voices: Scotland in the Indigenous Pacific Literary Imaginary. International Journal of Scottish Literature, 9, 51-67.

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-67
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Scottish Literature
Publication statusPublished - 2013


Isle of Voices:
Scotland in the Indigenous Pacific Literary Imaginary
Michelle Keown
This article explores literary encounters between Scotland and the Indigenous Pacific, begin
ning with an overview of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Pacific writings, and responses to his work by
Indigenous Samoan writers Albert Wendt and Sia Figiel, before going on to investigate imagina
tive engagements with Scotland in the work of Indigenous Pacific writers with Scottish descent
(including Keri Hulme, Witi Ihimaera and Trixie Te Arama Menzies). The article concludes with
an analysis of Cathie Koa Dunsford’s Orkney trilogy, one of the most extended literary dialogues
with Scotland evident in the corpus of contemporary Indigenous Pacific writing. As I will argue,
Indigenous Pacific literary engagement with Scotland has intensified in the last few decades:
where earlier generations of mixed race writers tended to identify themselves primarily with
reference to their non-European ancestry (in keeping with the counterdiscursive aims of much
Indigenous and postcolonial writing that emerged from the 1960s onwards), landmark Indige
nous literary anthologies and single-authored works published during and beyond the 1980s bear
witness to a more explicit acknowledgement of the Scottish strands in Pacific genealogies and
historical trajectories. There are long-established literary links between Scotland and the Indig
enous Pacific (witnessed for example in comparisons between Scottish and Maori histories of
colonial oppression in the work of Stevenson and other nineteenth-century writers such as Rolf
Boldrewood, discussed further below), but within New Zealand in particular – in which all Indig
enous writers discussed here have lived and worked at some point in their careers – the renewed
engagement with these links also resonates with recent historical scholarship that has countered
a previous bias towards English and Irish settler constituencies by exploring the distinctive and
significant contributions Scottish migrants have made to the composition of New Zealand socie
t y.
A related development within recent New Zealand film and popular culture (as well as histo
riography) is a strategy of projecting Pakeha ‘settler guilt’ onto the English pioneers, with New
Zealand’s Celtic communities identified more closely with Indigenous Maori due to their own
histories of colonial oppression and displacement.
Such trends have arguably had a bearing on
the renewed interest in links between Scotland and the Indigenous Pacific in the work of writers
discussed in this essay, adding new dimensions to discursive homologies established within the
nineteenth-century context with which this essay begins.

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