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The Bitter Sweet Lives Of Women In The Pacific



The Pacific has often been seen by outsiders as a place of passive, consumable beauty. Hence, perhaps, the intensity of the confusion and dismay over the recent upheavals in Fiji and the Solomons. But for the indigenous people of the region, contrast and politics are an ongoing feature of everyday life.

A new book, Bitter Sweet: Indigenous Women in the Pacific, brings together the writings of several women from the South Pacific. Contributors to the book are Maori, Samoan, Samoan/Tuvaluan, Palagi, and Tongan. Women in the Pacific have always struggled with the contradictory effects of colonisation, and the ways they have been understood as part of the Pacific landscape. The issues they address in this book are wide-ranging, and include work, sexuality, sovereignty politics, the portrayal of Pacific women in film, poetry and tourism, and the ongoing, problematic questions of representation and identity.

The mixed experiences of women's lives are reflected in the book's title. Tongan poet Konai Helu Thaman writes of 'bitter sweet messages', woven from a potent and complex mix of the bitterness and sweetness of the family, colonisation, and the land. For women, the sweetness of indigenous gains in struggles for sovereignty and land rights has often been tinged with the sourness of male privilege.

Issues of identity and representation are strong themes in Bitter Sweet. Tamasailau Suaalii focuses on the portrayal of Pacific women as exotic beauties, while in another chapter Jacqui Sutton Beets discusses the images of Maori women in early twentieth-century postcards. Judith van Trigt analyses the representation of Pacific women in five films. Selina Tusitala Marsh catalogues the contribution of women to contemporary Pacific Island literature, then focuses on the work of four influential poets: July Makini (Solomon Islands), Grace Mera Molisa (Vanuatu), Momoe Malietoa Von Reiche (Western Samoa) and Konai Helu Thaman (Tonga).

Two chapters concentrate on the importance of cultural identity for Maori women. Te Kawehau Clea Hoskins asks some hard questions about their feminism, using the ever controversial example of Maori women's speaking rights on the marae. The power of reclaiming cultural identity is discussed by Helene Connor, with reference to women suffering from metaphorical and literal 'prisonisation'.

The personal experiences and the voices of Pacific women come through strongly in three chapters. Lonise Tanielu's reflection on her experiences of education provides an insight into the process of growing up female in Western Samoa, maintaining a balance between tradition and change. Jacqueline Leckie discusses the economic plight of women in Fiji after the coups of 1987, through the working experiences of three women. Anne-Marie Tupuola allows young Samoan women to speak in her chapter on the vexed subject of their sexual behaviour and identity.

Due to a significant demand for literature about peoples of the contemporary Pacific, this volume brings together recent work from the Women's Studies Journal. As there are few books available on the subject, Bitter Sweet is a valuable text in tertiary education, and appeals to a wider audience interested in Pacific issues. It provides an excellent illustration of the breadth and depth of research interests in the Pacific.

The editors, Alison Jones, Phyllis Herda and Tamasailau Suaalii, and several of the contributors are from the University of Auckland, in the world's largest Polynesian city. Bitter Sweet includes glossaries of Maori and Samoan words, illustrations and notes, and features a handsome cover image by Dagmar Vaikalafi Dyck.

Contents Introduction 1 Images of Maori Women in New Zealand Postcards after 1900 Jacqui Sutton Beets 2 In the Interests of Maori Women? Discourses of Reclamation Te Kawehau Clea Hoskins 3 Education in Western Samoa: Reflections on my Experiences Lonise Tanielu 4 Learning Sexuality: Young Samoan Women Anne-Marie Tupuola 5 Gender and Work in Fiji: Constraints and Re-negotiation Jacqueline Leckie 6 Deconstructing the 'Exotic' Female Beauty of the Pacific Islands Tamasailau Suaalii 7 Reflecting on the Pacific: Representations of the Pacific and Pacific Island Women in Five Dominant Cinematic Texts Judith van Trigt 8 Poems Konai Helu Thaman 9 Reclamation of Cultural Identity for Maori Women: A Response to 'Prisonisation' D. Helene Connor 10 Ancient Banyans, Flying Foxes and White Ginger: The Poetry of Pacific Island Women Selina Tusitala Marsh

About the Editors Alison Jones is a Senior Lecturer in Education and Director of the Institute for Research on Gender at the University of Auckland. She has published research on Pacific education issues in New Zealand, including 'At School I've got a Chance' Culture/Privilege: Pacific Islands and Pakeha Girls at School (Dunmore Press, 1991). Phyllis Herda is a Senior Lecturer in Women's Studies at the University of Auckland. Her research and teaching interests include gender, power and colonisation, oral tradition as history and the production and presentation of textiles in the Pacific. Tamasailau M. Suaalii is currently undertaking full-time doctoral studies in sociology at the University of Auckland. She is also a research fellow at the Pacific Health Research Centre, University of Auckland, and has a wide socio-legal interest in ethnic minority issues.

Bitter Sweet Indigenous Women in the Pacific edited by Alison Jones, Phyllis Herda, Tamasailau Suaalii University of Otago Press paperback, 160 pages, ISBN 1 877133 87 6, $39.95, published June 2000

CONTACT For more information, or to arrange an interview, contact Philippa Jamieson, University of Otago Press, tel. (03) 479 9094, fax (03) 479 8385, email: OR contact the editors and contributors via Alison Jones,, University of Auckland, tel (09) 373 7599 x 8117, fax (09) 373 7455.

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