Thursday, August 16, 2018

identity: pondering the interplay between indigenous and hybridity

What I think is at stake is how identity is constructed. In modern colonial worlds, we construct either-or (for more see Robert Young, Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race). At the heart of The Mountain, by Drusilla Modjeska, is an exploration of hybridity. It is done through the use of a word from Tok Pidgin, that of hapkas. Here is a great piece of dialogue from the book:

“Hapkas. It’s a great word. My kids use it all the time. They call themselves hapkas. I’m from the Sepik, their mother’s from Milne Bay. It’s a point of pride. Makes them interesting … Haven’t you heard of hybridity.” (The Mountain, 278).

So in contemporary PNG, rather than either-or constructs, hybridity is nurtured. The interplay between identity, being indigenous and hybridity is also the heart of author Modjeska’s struggle. Can she, from another place, write about PNG? Or can only indigenous people write about PNG? But then what is indigenous? Is one indigenous by blood, birth, or social construct? If social construct, who has defined it? Most likely the coloniser; as a term to construct people who are ‘other.’ And in so doing the term indigenous homogenises. Perhaps not in countries with one indigenous culture (although even in those countries there seems to be tribal identities that suggest distinctives). But applied to countries with diverse cultures, it becomes a piece of linguistic trickery that is difficult to sustain. How can a person from Milne Bay, one of the 800 plus languages, write a PNG perspective that speaks for all those 800 languages? They can’t, yet the category of “indigenous” as applied to a nation, of PNG, suggests this is possible. We need ways to escape binary worlds and to name the fluid patterns of migration and cultural exchange which have always categorised human identity. This is what make notions of hybridity so generative.

Posted by steve at 12:44 PM

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