Beyond “the English Method of Tattooing”: Decentering the Practice of History in Oceania

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ISSN: 1043-898X

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Hanlon, David
colonialism, decolonization, discourse, historiography, indigenous scholarship, Oceania, Pacific history
article description
Questions abound as to the very nature and meaning of history in contemporary Oceania. Much conventional scholarship in the Euro-American world continues to focus on the search for a single, knowable, verifiable past. The recent disturbance of conventional academic practices by ethnographic and theoretical investigations into the practice of history has helped make space for the reemergence of more local histories. However, acute tension arises as more local expressions of the past struggle against the still alien, potentially neocolonizing dimensions of these more hospitable academic perspectives. Multiple, varied, and contentious indigenous expressions regarding the past suggest that what has come to be understood as history in the West may not be history to, for, or even about the peoples of Oceania. Vernacular as well as appropriated forms of history in the region must be appreciated. The decentering of the practice of history in Oceania requires a recognition that writing—“the English method of tattooing”—is but one form of historical expression.

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