why micro?

the tag line for this blog at the moment is ‘quick feminist takes on politics and culture in the pacific and beyond’, but so far, i’ve been focusing on micronesian women activists and achievers. i’ve called the blog ‘microwoman’ partly because i’m technically someone whose primary ethnic identifications in the pacific (banaban and i-kiribati) would be classified as micronesian by anthropologists. i also titled the blog as i did because i wanted to give myself permission to tackle the inevitably big questions that face our pacific people in small/manageable/ less daunting ways. as it’s turned out, the blog has been much more about featuring what i’ve been calling ‘microwomen’s’ achievements. to date, all of these women obviously have ‘micronesian’ heritage…but i have not foreclosed the possibility of broadening my definition of ‘microwomen’ to individuals who might otherwise identify as ‘polynesian’ or ‘melanesian’. indeed, while i have referred to a ‘microbruddah’ in a previous blog, i’m very much aware that my first few blogs have had a certain cis-gendered and heteronormative bias, and so i look forward to being able to highlight stories about individuals with more fluid sex-gender identifications in future blogs. instead of providing short, sharp, analytical commentary as i’d initially envisioned, ‘microwoman’ has been figuring out what she’s “about” and gathering “inspiration” for her “activism”–which also happen to be the three most used ‘categories’ of entries on this blog at the time of writing. and i’m okay with that for now, as i’ve never been one to fetishize product at the expense of process. so as we draw to the close of 2014, and i end my first quarter as a blogger, i feel i must continue to highlight stories of micronesian women’s achievements. and then i will end with a reflection on why the category of ‘micronesia’ has salience for me, in response to questions raised by a blogger on another blog. *** achievement award for microwomen #1: kabrina terubea with her fiji chess championship trophy. source: fiji sun on-line 16 year-old kabrina terubea was crowned women’s chess champion of fiji just before christmas. what’s so amazing about that? well, for one thing, kabrina’s story follows hot on the heels of aotearoa new zealand’s 2014 hit film release, “the dark horse”, which starred award-winning actor cliff curtis in the role of genesis potini, a māori speed-chess champion, trying to inspire younger māori to take up the sport. but kabrina is not māori or polynesian: she is banaban, a member of a micronesian ethnic minority community of fiji. the banabans were first relocated to the island of rabi in fiji 69 years ago, after world war ii left their homeland, then the capital of the british colony of the gilbert and ellice islands (present day kiribati and tuvalu) conveniently deserted so that colonial interests could continue to mine it for phosphate as they had been doing since the turn of the century. (if you’re interesed in learning more about this history, you can read my sister’s newly released book, which we’ll hear more about in the new year.) banabans in fiji have high mortality rates, high teenage pregnancy rates and other poor health and socio-economic indicators. the incidence of tuberculosis on rabi, for example, is 22 times higher than the national rate. so good news stories about banabans coming out on top compared to other fijians are rare. i should note, however, that another terubea–ronald–was also a national junior champion in 2012, and another member of the family, joanne, was crowned with fiji’s premier beauty title, miss hibiscus, in 1999. so the terubeas are a microfamily of macro achievers! but what’s also significant about kabrina’s accomplishments at the fiji national chess championship this year is that she beat eight times national champ and chess veteran manoj kumar as well as a chess master from papua new guinea. that’s pretty amazing for a microwoman! read the full story here: http://fijisun.com.fj/2014/12/20/big-win-for-terubea/ achievement award for microwomen #2: 

naotia atiana, co-winner of the new zealand prime minister’s pacific youth award for business achievement 2014. source: radio new zealand.

the prime minister of new zealand presents a series of awards for young pacific achievers every year. in december 2014 an i-kiribati young woman was among the recipients of the prime minister’s pacific youth awards. naotia atiana is a 17 year-old model, actress, spoken word poet, and the financial director of ‘black bulb co’, a small business that produces black garlic aioli. naotia co-founded the company with three schoolmates as part of a young enterprise initiative. you can listen to a radio nz interview with naotia discussing how they came up with the idea for the product and how they got their business started. there are so many reasons to marvel at naotia’s range of accomplishments. and although she and i have already connected on our shared love of poetry, i am particularly interested in the way her business savvy connects to a prior history of i-kiribati striving for economic self-determination, exemplified by the tangitang mronmron which operated from 1938-1940 as a cooperative society that sought to “make profits for its members and reduce the prices paid for by members for imports” (hempenstall and rutherford 1984:45-46). the tangitang mronmron’s success was interrupted by world war ii and then ended up being coopted and diluted by the british colonial administration after the end of the war. but its vision of sharing profits and resisting dependence on foreign traders could be rekindled, perhaps in the kiribati diaspora? certainly, naotia and her schoolmates and fellow company directors are actively challenging the negative socio-economic indicators that continue to persist in pacific communities in new zealand. and that’s really exciting.

so why micro? what’s the point of highlighting micronesia, micronesians, and those i’ve been calling microwomen? indeed, as a blogger i’ve recently discovered has asked, why use the melanesian/micronesian/polynesian designations at all? ella quimby describes herself as a “teacher, student, photographer, pacific islander, hibernophile. MFA @ university of alaska”. what i’ve seen of her photography is captivating, too. undoubtedly, ella raises some valid concerns about the arbitrariness and the frequent ill-fittingness of some of the labels that have been imposed on us. as a pacific studies scholar i am very familiar with the arguments for why we might want to abandon imperialist classifications and imagine ourselves differently: as larger, more unified; or smaller, more specific and distinct, etc. (for anyone who isn’t as familiar with these arguments, i’d recommend you read the now classic and out of print a new oceania: rediscovering our sea of islands edited by eric waddell, vijay naidu and epeli hau’ofa (1993).) but my reasons for persisting with, exploring, and possibly expanding the ‘micro’ are quite simple: 1. as i outlined in the introduction to this blog, my use of ‘micro’ is not going to be limited to micronesia, either, and is as much about affording micro-perspectives and micro-resistances as anything else. 2. but let’s face it–micronesians just don’t get enough exposure when the representations of the pacific from both within and without are either overcrowded with polynesian images or overwhelmed by melanesian issues. the micronesian seminar‘s 2006 documentary ‘micronesians abroad’ demonstrated the relevance of the the term into the 21st century, especially for the diasporic communities it featured. at about 1 minute 9 seconds in the video, a song is played that doesn’t appear in the credits, but sounds like it could be an anthem of sorts for this simultaneously loose and tense grouping of pacific islands. the song performs a roll-call from palau, to guam and the northern marianas, pohnpei, chuuk, kosrae, yap, marshall islands, kiribati and nauru. it’s not often that ‘american’ micronesians remember their ‘non-american’ cousins (and in fact, the documentary does not otherwise include kiribati or nauruan participants in its frame). but for me, that’s just another reason to persist with the ‘micro’–to resist the kind of amnesia that our different experiences of colonialism have engendered.

big ups to my micros! te katekeraoi n te ririki ae bou nakoimi au koraki ni kabane! best wishes for the new year, to you, all my relations.

why micro?

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