We Are the Oceans
"We didn't privilege the land over the sea, our ocean is as important as our land" Fuifuilupe Niumeitolu, Tongan writer, artist and teacher who is working on her doctoral degree, was quoting Epeli Hau'ofa, from his beautiful article on Oceania, entitled: Our Sea of Islands, at a talk of Pacific Island Scholars on the campus of of UC Berkeley.
I and the POOR Magazine/FAMILY project youth, family and poverty scholars, Kimo, Tiburcio and Ruyata were invited to listen to a talk by Pacific Island Scholars Fuifui and her sister Loa Niumeitolu, a Tongan American poet, writer and community organizer on the ways of Pacific Island peoples in resistance to the maps and charts and systems created by settlers and colonizers and empires throughout the centuries.
"We didn't have the opportunity to name ourselves," Loa went on as Fuifui paused. There presentation was, like their scholarship, a flow of words and thoughts and ideas and indigenous revolution that moved through the small institutional classroom like a spirit, a wave, a flow.
"The word epistemology means what you believe," FuiFui explained," Pacific Islander epistemology is where we stand, how we acknowledge our ancestors, where we came from."
As they both spoke, sung, and read about the indigenous liberation that is Oceania, my mind was carried away on a dream sequence. I was with my mama. Not my tortured, always scared and destroyed by too many tools of colonization and racism mama, but my dancing with the ritmo (rythem) y (wind) viento mama, the wind of the Caribbean ocean where her Arican/Taino people were from, or the soft water of Hawa'ii were she was "adopted" as an adult by a loving Hawaiian/Filipino family and for first time in her life felt love and safety and belonging.
"We are the Oceans," they both said and then began a prayer song. The song didnt belong in that little dry room. ANd yet it did. It busted open the sterile grey doors, the solid windows, the florescent light bulbs with every note. and with it came a healing.
As someone who had to drop out of formal institutions of learning in the 6th grade ( due to my mama's and mine poverty and houselessness) only to enroll full-time in the school of hard knocks where i graduated with a Ph.D in poverty, I constantly question the arrogant absoluteness of the institutions of akkkademia, the raping, stealing and fetishizing of anthropology, the dissecting and studying of ethnography and the researching, pathologizing, violence and demonizing of Western psychology, psychiatry, and medicine the mapping and charting of geography. I thought of the ways that all of these disciplines privilege themselves as the only valid forms of learning, teaching and knowledge creation, often demeaning or otherizing the teaching and learning and sharing of our ancestors, our communities and our land.
The ways that these disciplines, led by western/euro-centric belief-taught academics, un-checked and un-restrained, decide and determine what literacy and valid languages and legitimate forms of research and knowledge are. But today with Fuifui and Loa, something shifted in me, up to today, I had completely rejected the idea that we as indigenous peoples in resistance should even step inside these institutions filled with so much herstory of colonization and theft and destruction. "It is important for us to be here, in these institutions, bringing ourselves and knowledge and our epistemologies," Yes, i thought, it is important because with your spirits and cultures and souls, you are re-making the institution around you and making it, of you.
I thought of my fellow sistah n brotha poverty scholars, Jewnbug, Muteado, Philip, Myron, Ruyata, Vivien, Bruce, Charles, Joe, Queenandi, Leroy, Laure and Dharma, I thought of how we have created our own bodies of knowledge with our teachings at PeopleSkool and our creation of the notion of Poverty Scholarship, and i dreamed of our upcoming PeoplesText-book- Poverty Scholarship #101. We aren't working inside the institutions- but we are outside them, challenging them to see, listen, hear and acknowledge that there are in fact, other forms of valid knowledge creation, production and sharing are, led by youth, adults, elders, ancestors, land, water and air spirits.
"We are the oceans, they both said. And i closed my eyes and i felt a small but determined tradewind of resistance blow through a whisper. "We are the Oceans..."