READ THE WORLD – Palau: “Language with an Attitude: Palauan Identity with an English Accent” by Isebong M. Asang

This is where working at a university whose library boasts it has a copy of every book ever published in English, whether digitally or physically, comes in handy. This is where I found some texts for the smaller countries, especially those in the Pacific. A book called Indigenous Literatures from Micronesia edited by Evelyn Flores, Emelihter Kihleng and Craig Santos Perez proved to be invaluable. It’s a collection of poetry, short stories, critical and creative essays, chants, and excerpts of plays by Indigenous Micronesian authors and it tells you which country in Micronesia each of the authors are from including Marshall Islands, Guam, Nauru, Kiribati, Palau, and the four states of the Federated States of Micronesia – Kosrae, Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Yap.

Out of the various works from writers by Palauan writers in this book, I’ll be focussing on “Language with an Attitude: Palauan Identity with an English Accent” by Isebong M. Asang for this post.

This essay was all about Isebong M. Asang’s experience with language. She grew up speaking and writing Palauan at home with her parents (who both also knew Japanese from when they were in school but never taught her) but at school in Hawaii had to always speak, read and write “Standard English”. Likewise, with her own children, the older ones who grew up around their grandparents are fluent in Palauan but the younger ones who wasn’t exposed to the language as much only know a few words. It’s sad but also not really surprising that the children who understand Palauan will respond to her in English when she talks to them in Palauan.

I am British, born and raised in the UK, so my first (and only) language is English. I learnt French and Spanish at school and I’ve pretty much forgotten all French and I can get by on conversational Spanish thanks to the fact my dad lived in Spain for about 18 years. I am forever impressed by people who can speak more than one language and the following stat from this essay blew my mind – “about 1.6 billion people speak English in one form or another on a daily basis”. English, much like our colonial ancestors, is an infectious language which is seen as the norm by those in any form of power.

This essay shows how it was drilled into Asang’s head from a young age that she wouldn’t succeed if she didn’t have good English. As an adult she has a bit of an identity crisis as she speaks Palauan with an English accent, making her sometimes unsure of how truly Palauan she is. Isebong M. Asang talks about code switching and how the text books in Palau are slowly changing and that Palauan is still taught though English still becomes the most predominant language.

This essay was really interesting as while it focuses on Isebong M. Asang’s identity and the Palauan language, the ideas it brings up can be applied to so many people from different countries and who know different languages. Especially those who are second generation immigrants and may not be as fluent in their parents’ language as they feel they should be and therefore might not feel as close to that culture or identity.

This essay also doesn’t give any real solutions to this almost universal problem – school’s might be changing slightly but it’s slow going and as we live in a world where English is seen as the default – instead it’s just how Isebong M. Asang feels about her language and identity, which perhaps makes it more impactful.

READ THE WORLD – Solomon Islands: “The duress of movement: Reflections on the time of the ethnic tension, Solomon Islands” by Jully Makini

This is where working at a university whose library boasts it has a copy of every book ever published in English, whether digitally or physically, comes in handy. This is where I found some texts for the smaller countries, especially those in the Pacific. A book called Oceanian Journeys and Sojourns: Home Thoughts Abroad edited by Judith A. Bennett came in very handy. It’s a collection of essays looking at how Pacific Island peoples – Oceanians – think about a range of journeys near and far; their meanings, motives, and implications. In addition to addressing human mobility in various island locales, these essays deal with the interconnections of culture, identity, and academic research among indigenous Pacific peoples that have emerged from the contributors’ personal observations and fieldwork encounters.

There’s a couple of essays from different people from the Solomon Islands but for this post I’m going to focus on the essay from Jully Makini; “The duress of movement: Reflections on the time of the ethnic tension, Solomon Islands”.

This essay is about the preceding tension and then the fallout from the coup d’état on 5 June 2000 in the capital city of the Solomon Islands, Honiara. Once again, this is a bit of world history I had never even heard of so it worked as a good introduction and then I went to Google to learn more.

Some of the essay is a personal reaction to the consequences of the coup, with Makini explaining how scared they were in certain situations but equally how some events seemed to happen without her notice. It was relatable in a way as some of the events and tension were so much that it was overwhelming so she just didn’t want to hear about it. For her that was not reading newspapers or listening to the radio, and I know for me when there’s a lot of bad things happening in the world, abroad or closer to home, it can get too much especially now with social media making everything on demand.

The “journeys” talked about in this essay were about the people fleeing Honiara to other towns or even islands. It was kind of fascinating to think about the Solomon Islands as Makini does well to show how it is a collection of islands that each have their own towns and cultures and some people have never moved from an island for generations. On the other hand, others may have moved and had a family on one island but with the ethnic tensions boiling and the threat of violence feel they should leave to go back to an island they haven’t called home for decades.

Makini ponders on this movement between the islands, how it used to be and the different ethnic groups tend to belong to different islands. It’s sad to think about how some people fled their homes and if they did return found their belongings stolen or even their home burnt to the ground. Geographically speaking, they did not go far from home but still everything changed for them.

READ THE WORLD Timor-Leste: From Timor-Leste to Australia: Seven Families, Three Generations Tell Their Stories edited by Jan Tresize

A collection of stories and poems from seven families who recount their lives in Timor-Leste and how events like the Japanese invasion during WWII, being a Portuguese colony for almost 500 years, civil war between different political parties once Timor-Leste is decolonised, Indonesia invading, and finally the country gaining its independence after the people vote for it in a referendum in 1999.

Like many countries I’ve read about in my Read the World Project, Timor-Leste is one that I didn’t know anything about so From Timor-Leste to Australia was a real eye-opening and informative read. For each of the seven families there’s at least two people telling their story; sometimes their siblings, or more commonly it’s a parent and then a child. That way the reader can see how these huge events affected different generations as sometime the children were ten years old or younger when they were forced to flee their homes and move to countries far from home so for some it seemed like an adventure and the realities on their situation was lost on them.

Having members of seven different families share their experience is a good way to get a broad idea of what happened to the Timorese people. Some families were wealthier or had connections to the government while others were poor and had little support, but often they all ended up in similar situations, running from their homes and uncertain of what the future held. Those who stayed in Timor-Leste throughout the Indonesian invasion naturally had different experiences to those who managed to get to other countries. So many people still wanted to get back to their home country though, and how some of these people described what they feel is their nationality was interesting. Some now are Australian residents but feel more Portuguese because they spent their formative years there, others feel Timorese first and foremost but still feel at home in Australia or Portugal.

It was interesting to see how these families got displaced with some being separated by loved ones for years and how they adapted to their new countries. One family was in Mozambique for a time as that was also a former Portuguese colony before the revolution there forced them to flee to Portugal. A lot of the families ended up in Portugal for years, sometimes over a decade or more. This was because Timor-Leste was a form Portuguese colony and some of the families had Portuguese parents or grandparents so had connections in the country that could vouch for them. Others ended up there as it was where was deemed to be safest, living in refugee camps for years.

By the end of each of the families’ stories, most of them had ended up settled in Australia, where communities of Timorese people had begun to thrive. This was due to the Australians fighting against the Japanese in WWII and Timorese people would often hide and protect Australian soldiers when the country was occupied by the Japanese.

From Timor-Leste to Australia was quite a sad read at times as so many people in these families were imprisoned, killed, or separated from loved ones for years. People wen through such hardships and nearly every time it seemed like things would get better for the Timorese, something else would happen. The relief and joy when the people of Timor-Leste successfully voted for their country’s independence was palpable in every family member’s recollection. But the resilience of these people and how families managed to stay connected even across oceans was impressive – especially as lot of this happened from around 1942-1999, a time where phones and technology to keep in touch were not how it is today.

READ THE WORLD – Tonga: We Are the Ocean by Epeli Hau’ofa

We Are the Ocean is a collection of essays, fiction, and poetry by Epeli Hau’ofa, whose writing over the past three decades has consistently challenged prevailing notions about Oceania and prescriptions for its development.

I found We Are the Ocean fascinating. It’s been a long time (since my uni days) since I’ve read academic essays, so I was a little apprehensive how I’d find these but quickly I realised my fears were unfounded. These essays were very readable and Hau’ofa’s voice came through clearly. As a lot of the essays were originally speeches at conferences, or adapted from a speech, that easy, conversational voice came through a lot.

I found these essays really interesting. I’ll readily admit I know little to nothing about the Oceanic region and the various island nations in that part of the world, so I learnt a lot from these essays. A lot of them were about the anthropology, history and financial structure of the countries in the Oceania/Pacific region. The relationship between the smaller island nations and Australia and New Zealand were a big part of it. How the trade worked, and how culture had been shared between the various countries and how people’s identities in some of the island countries were shaped by the influence of Australia and New Zealand rather than major western countries like America.

It was all super interesting and understandable because there was also talk of self-fulfilling prophesies as young people are told things like you’ll never amount to much in your home country unless you get an education abroad – so then is it of little surprise why the people in charge of banks, government etc aren’t fully educated in their home country. In fact, there’s often people of European, Australian, and New Zealander decent in positions of power due to colonial history.

The talk of anthropological studies and how historically anthropologists have been white and European and when they came to these countries, they made their own observations and didn’t think to make the effort to consult the native people who were experts in their own traditions. Hau’ofa being one of the only anthropologists from that region means he feels a great weight of responsibility of expanding the textbooks and the whole area of study.

The couple of short stories in this collection are kind of satirical and because they come after the majority of the essays it means you can pick up more of the references to the things and attitudes Hau’ofa is highlighting.

We Are the Ocean was incredibly interesting and easy to read. If you’re interested in history, social and cultural studies and how that all can interact to a person’s or country’s identity then this collection of work is for you. I learnt a lot from it and I’m please I read it. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Antigua and Barbuda: A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid

Narrated by Robin Miles.

An essay drawing on Kincaid’s experiences of growing up in Antigua and how the Antigua tourists may see is vastly different to the one Antiguan’s live in.

A Small Place is a piece of creative non-fiction. Jamaica Kincaid refers to the reader as if they were a tourist visiting the island, describing what they may see, what they think of the beautiful beaches, the food, and the people. But soon after describing how wonderful everything can look to a tourist, a little bit of paradise, she goes onto talk about the parts of Antigua that a tourist wouldn’t notice or understand. The corruption, the dilapidated schools and hospitals, the places that the Black Antiguans are not allowed. The club houses, the government buildings, certain beaches. She delves into the history of Antigua and how the British shaped the island and the long-lasting impact of colonisation.

I think having an essay that’s full of dark humour as well as hard-hitting truth’s that are full of anger, is a really effective way to describe what a country and its people are like, and how slavery, segregation, and now tourism can affect them. It makes this place, this ten-by-twelve-mile island, and its history easy to understand and it also makes you think. Especially as it goes into the effects of tourism on the country, how there are certain things tourists are blind to like political corruption and how people’s homes and communities are not at all like the fancy hotels a tourist may stay in.

A Small Place also has autobiographical elements of Jamaica Kincaid’s childhood. She recounts the experience of having an Irish schoolteacher, the casual racism she and her classmates experienced without being able to put the word “racism” towards it as European rule or influence had been so prevalent on the island.

A Small Place was written in 1988 so things may have changed a bit for Antiguans over the past thirty years but then again, it may have not with the prevalence of racism and corruption in the world. A Small Place is a great insight into how colonialism can affect such a small nation and how tourism can be just as harmful when the best land and the most money goes towards tourism-related endeavours rather than the communities. 4/5.

REVIEW: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

FullSizeRender (68)Bad Feminist is a collection of essays that not only cover intersectional feminism but race, gender, politics, sexuality and representation of women and people of colour in the media.

I loved this book, like, a ridiculous amount. I loved that it covered a range of topics related to women and feminism. I liked that there were sections where Roxane Gay talked about her life and how that has shaped her ideas on feminism and influenced her. I really liked the section on Race and Entertainment as representation of women and people of colour in the media is something I’m really passionate about – even if it’s something that can often make me angry.

My favourite essays were the ones that hit me like a punch in the gut, that could have been because it was so relatable or so frustrating or just so well thought out that Gay had put my scattered thoughts into a cohesive essay that explained how I feel about the world and women’s place in it.

Here’s some of essays that I really loved are:
– How to Be Friends with Another Woman
– The Careless Language of Sexual Violence
– Blurred Lines, Indeed
– The Last Day of a Young Black Man
– When Twitter Does What Journalism Cannot
– The Racism We All Carry

There were some essays that I didn’t like as much or couldn’t really relate to for whatever reason but they were still very interesting to see someone else’s point of view regarding feminism.

I can’t recommend Bad Feminist enough – whether you consider yourself a feminist or not, it’s a fascinating read and can open your eyes to the way the world works. 5/5.