Emma Powell: “Ka ‘apai mai au i tōku ngaru ki konei”, I will carry my wave here: (Re)scaling Cook Islands Migrations Through Discursive Genealogies

Pacific migration and diaspora discourse has often been couched with a baseline of binary locales and unidirectional, migratory and economic flows – people move to the diaspora, remittances flow back to the remote home island. In recent scholarship, academics of the Pacific have proposed that these flows are better contextualised by a metaphorical network wherein flows are multidirectional, locations are various and distance is measured for spatial as well as temporal proximities. In my doctoral project, I focus on exploring the potential of discursive genealogies in enhancing critical conversations about historiography, geographies and mobilities in the Cook Islands context. A nation in East Polynesia, the Cook Islands has a population of some 17,500. The large majority of its global Cook Islands Maori (Maori) population now live in New Zealand. While framed as a worrying phenomenon of depopulation and displacement, I propose that ‘akapapa’anga – the Maori practice of genealogy making – is able to re-scale diaspora and the network in culturally-specific and critically generative ways. In this paper, I suggest that ‘akapapa’anga is able to offer theoretical language that actor-network theory cannot provide in the context. I also suggest that it is able to scale Maori sociocultural proximities in ways that the transnational network cannot show. Finally, I explore the ability of ‘akapapa’anga to hold genealogical legacies (roots) and mobilities (routes) in sustained tension. Thus, in the Cook Islands case, migration to diaspora might be better understood as Maori geographies of ‘home’ enlarged, rather than a disruption of familial networks.

Emma Powell is a Pacific Studies doctoral student at Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) in New Zealand. She holds Bachelors degrees in Public Policy (BCA) and English Literature (BA Hons 1st) from VUW and completed a Master of Arts degree in English Literature (MA 1st) from the University of Auckland. Her MA thesis focused on Cook Islands Māori (Māori) anglophone literature and the contributions Māori writers had made to the intellectual and literary tradition of the Pacific region. Emma’s doctoral thesis focuses on the utility of ‘akapapa’anga – the Māori practice of genealogy making – in critical conversations about Māori historiography, culture and geography. It’s efficacy will be explored through ethnographic observations of the annual Cook Islands constitution celebrations (Te Maeva Nui) and oral history interviews to be undertaken with organisers, participants and spectators of the festival.


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