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Nonfiction

The Flip Side of the Postcard: Francophone Pacific Writing

In this introduction to our collection of writing from the Francophone Pacific, Jean Anderson advocates for a view of the region that encompasses both its linguistic diversity and its interconnectedness.
A picture of Moorea's mountains and sea.
Photo from Pickpic

How did French come to the Pacific? The answer to this question is, of course, colonization. From the early voyages undertaken in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries by Spanish, Dutch, English, and French ships in search of the mythical southern landmass needed to “balance” that of the north, to the influx of eager missionaries from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, this vast ocean has attracted the interest of Europeans, who, through colonization, divided the region into differing religious and linguistic zones. And yet for many people, “The Pacific” is still a deeply misunderstood term. The much-used expression “Pacific Rim” seems to be losing popularity in favor of the geopolitically important “Indo-Pacific”: both these terms elide the reality that there are in fact multitudes of islands and cultures that are neither on the Rim nor in most ways connected with the Indian Ocean or Subcontinent. “The Pacific” or “Oceania,” as Tongan writer and scholar Epeli Hau’ofa has pointed out in his groundbreaking essay “Our Sea of Islands” (1994), has always been a space of connection between local populations, not disconnection and distance (a very Eurocentric view). The random separations imposed by colonialism (through the creation of “countries,” the imposition of European languages, especially English and French, the invention of regions “Melanesia,” “Polynesia,” “Micronesia,” “the Pacific,” and the renaming of islands) have to some extent reformulated these connections. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that connectedness, either modern or ancient, equates with homogeneity, and one of the aims of this collection of texts translated from French is to illustrate the rich diversity that exists within Oceania and is expressed through its literatures, both oral and (here) written.

To illustrate this diversity within the framework of the Pacific “francosphere,” it is perhaps sufficient to point out that “French Polynesia” / Mā’ohi nui alone consists of some 120 islands scattered over 1,359 square miles, stretching over 1,200 miles from north to south, and that while Mā’ohi languages (such as Tahitian, the main local language taught in schools; Mangarevan; Northern and Southern Marquesan; Tubuai; etc.) are more or less mutually intelligible, they are nevertheless distinctively different. The linguistic situation in New Caledonia / Kanaky is more complex. Although the estimated number of Indigenous languages varies from source to source, depending perhaps on whether dialects are included in the count, the most frequent number given is twenty-eight. Of these, Drehu (the language of the island of Drehu, also known as Lifou), Nengone (island of Maré), Xârâcùù (southwest region), Paicî (northeast), Pwapwâ (northwest) and Ajië (central east coast) are the most thriving. Unlike the situation in Mā’ohi nui, these languages differ considerably from one another. French has thus served and continues to serve here as a unifying vehicular language.

The eighty or so islands that make up the Republic of Vanuatu (formerly known as the New Hebrides), inhabited by around 320,000 people, extend over some 4,700 square miles. There are over a hundred Indigenous languages, but only three official ones, none of them Indigenous: English, French, and Bislama, an English-based creole. Following on from its status as an English-French condominium from 1906 until independence in 1960, Vanuatu provides education in both languages. French is estimated to be the first language of only 1% of the population.

The islands of Wallis (‘Uvea in Wallisian) and Futuna are a French Overseas Collectivity (formerly Territory), having voted in a 1959 referendum to become a part of France under an arrangement that made room for existing Indigenous structures of chieftainship. The language of instruction in schools is French, the official language, but there is a daily news program in Faka’uvea (Wallisian), Te Tagalogo.

The term “French Pacific” or “Francophone Pacific” is thus a shorthand reference to a range of populated islands in Oceania that have very different backgrounds and cultural traditions.   

 

Writing (in) the Pacific

What publication opportunities exist for these authors? That depends on which French-speaking Pacific country they live in. To sum up briefly, the Association des Éditeurs de Tahiti et ses Îles (AETI) lists eight members; the New Caledonian publishing scene is in a state of flux, with a number of dormant enterprises, and just five literary publishers currently in production. (We should note, however, that Gilbert Bladinières of Madrépores Press in New Caledonia estimates a total of fifty to seventy books produced annually across a full range of genres). In Vanuatu, two French-language writers, Marcel Melthérorong and Paul Tavo, had their first books published under the auspices of the local Alliance française. To the best of my knowledge, there are no French-language publishers in Wallis and Futuna.

There are a couple of literary magazines appearing annually that cover French-speaking and wider Oceania: Littérama’ohi. Ramées de littérature polynésienne was founded in 2002 by a group of writers and is still going strong, with its 28th issue underway. There is the anthology Sillages d’Océanie, published since 2007 by the Association des Écrivains de la Nouvelle-Calédonie and containing around thirty texts of various genres by authors from French-speaking Oceanian countries, many of whom have participated in SILO, the Salon International du Livre Océanien. This New Caledonian book fair was founded in 2003 by the then Minister of Culture, writer Déwé Gorodé, running at first biennially, then annually, under the auspices of the Bibliothèque Bernheim until 2017; more recently, it has been organized by the Maison du Livre de Nouvelle-Calédonie. The literary festival in Tahiti (Lire en Polynésie) was founded in 2001 and is run annually by AETI. A “follow-up” smaller festival was launched recently on the nearby islands of Huahine and Rai’atea, and an immensely popular performance combining dance, music, theater, and poetry called Pina’ina’i is a sell-out as part of the Tahiti book fair every year (some brief clips can be found on YouTube). It has evolved over time out of literary readings given by writers at local markets in Tahiti and the islands.

But what of the “other” francophone countries of the Pacific, namely Vanuatu and ‘Uvea mo Futuna (Wallis and Futuna)? While writers from these countries may be invited to the book fairs in Tahiti and New Caledonia, it is publication that takes them that first step to wider recognition. Despite the impressive number of books for children and adolescents (albums, first readers, illustrated stories and chapter books) that are produced and feature strongly at these fairs, literary authors and poets in particular have only limited access to print outlets, other than Littérama’ohi and Sillages. Some have featured on the list of poetry specialist publisher Bruno Doucey (Paris). A small number of novelists have had their work published, exceptionally, in France (eg. Frédéric Ohlen, Quintet, Gallimard), and an equally small number of Oceanian novels have been translated into English and published in the US (Titaua Peu, Pina, tr. Jeffrey Zuckerman, Restless Books) or New Zealand (Chantal Spitz, Island of Shattered Dreams, tr. Jean Anderson, Huia Books; Déwé Gorodé, The Wreck, tr. Raylene Ramsay and Deborah Walker-Morrison, and Moetai Brotherson, The Missing King, tr. Jean Anderson, both Little Island Press). Some writers are turning to self-publication through online specialist platforms, and this may well prove to be a developing avenue for quality work to appear, although these works may sometimes be published with limited editorial oversight or guidance.

AETI has recently (2022) launched a Pacific Writers’ Residence, open to Oceanian authors who have published in English or French, which will allow them to spend two to three months working on a project and visiting schools with the aim of inspiring future generations of readers. This is also an important objective of the book fairs, with large numbers of schoolchildren attending over the weekdays. If literature and literary reading are to survive in francophone Oceania, they must overcome huge challenges, including attracting new readers. There are obvious difficulties relating to book distribution—distances between islands, small populations, tight margins for production for the French-language originals, and a lack of translations for the global market. In addition, the impact of Covid on economies reliant to a large extent on tourism has been considerable: Alice Pierre of the Maison du livre in New Caledonia remarked in March 2024 that the number of writers’ associations there had more than halved, and that book sales had drastically decreased. As I write, I can only assume that the current political unrest and social violence on the main island will only exacerbate an already precarious situation.

 

Introducing Seven Writers of the Francophone Pacific

The selection featured here could not hope to showcase the vast range of writing that is happening in the Francophone Pacific. An initial call for contributions met with almost 300 responses. Of these, fewer than five were in Indigenous languages, although these were explicitly invited. In making a final selection of texts to be translated, I have attempted to choose a range of subjects and genres, and to include both established and younger writers, as well as a diversity of countries: Wallis (‘Uvea) and Futuna; Vanuatu; Kanaky-New Caledonia; and Mā’ohi nui-French Polynesia. Readers will note, however, a common theme in several pieces: countering the blue-sky-and-ocean-tropical-paradise stereotype, while not an inevitable preoccupation, is often a focus of local writing that seeks to explore social issues such as violence, addiction, and oppression.

The first piece is by Flora Aurima Devatine (b. 1942), a well-established Tahitian poet who writes in both French and reo Tahiti. One of the founders of the review Littérama’ohi, she has been instrumental in the development of a literary culture in French Polynesia, and her contribution is widely recognized. She was awarded the Prix Heredia of the Académie française in 2017. Her transgeneric text featured here, “The Lagoon of Languages,” which mingles poetry and critical theory, celebrates linguistic creativity, collapsing the debate over language choice in colonized contexts into a celebration of the writer’s ability to find pleasure in molding words to his or her expressive needs. Strong rhythms mark much of her work, in an echo of the drumbeats and flourishes of traditional cultural and rhetorical forms.

A contemporary of Devatine, New Caledonian political leader Déwé Gorodey or Gorodé (1949–2022) was the first Kanak woman writer to publish poems, short stories, and novels, at the same time as she devoted her life to political activism. An early member of the “foulards rouges” (red scarves), she also helped found PALIKA (Party for Kanak Liberation) and served several prison terms for her political activism. From 2001 to 2009, she served almost continuously as vice president of the government of New Caledonia. She was also active in women’s causes, and many of her works, like the one featured here, “Behind Closed Doors,” highlight the oppression of Kanak women, as the young heroine tries to choose between furthering her education and giving in to lustful temptation.

Paul Tavo (b. 1983) is one of only two ni-Vanuatu writers to have published works in French. His 2015 novel, Quand le cannibale ricane, is in part a homage to William Shakespeare; the short story included here, “Clodo” (Deadbeat), is distinguished by the multiple references to French poetry that accompany realistic social elements. He is currently living in Kanaky-New Caledonia, where his story is set. Nouméa’s central square, the Place des cocotiers, and its surrounding streets are hangouts for apparently homeless and predominantly Kanak men.

Olivia Duchesne was born in New Caledonia in 1979 and is an actress and playwright. After studying theater and performing for some years in France, she founded the company “Cris pour habiter exils” with Laurent Rossini before returning to New Caledonia in 2008. After Sauve-toi Pinocchio! in 2010, J’habiterai la nuit, from which the translated extract is drawn, followed in 2011. This play also highlights domestic violence and social issues that contrast with the postcard images of exotic Pacific island life. Duchesne continues to create works that cross generic boundaries, performing and running theater workshops around the country.

Chantal Spitz (b. 1954) is a leading Mā’ohi writer and activist who lives on an atoll near the island of Huahine. Her L’Île des rêves écrasés (1991; Island of Shattered Dreams, 2006) was the first novel by a Mā’ohi author to be published. One of the founders of Littéramā’ohi in 2002, she has published Hombo. Transcription d’une biographie (2002), numerous essays, including Pensées insolentes et inutiles (2006), a novel and two volumes of short stories, Cartes postales (2015) and et la mer pour demeure (2022), from which “j’eus un pays” is taken. Her often poetic prose style reinvents French syntax and punctuation to give expression to a distinctively individual voice. Her story here is especially poignant given the current violence in Kanaky-New Caledonia.

Paul Wamo was born on the island of Drehu (Lifou, Loyalty Islands) in 1981. Initially establishing himself as a slam poet, he currently performs texts that combine poetry, music, and social observation. Some of his work is available on his 2008 CD, J’aime les mots, or on YouTube. He has also authored short stories (eg. in Nouvelles de Nouvelle-Calédonie, Magellan, 2017). The short poems translated here were published in Littéramā’ohi 25 (2021), and are largely a reflection of the years when he lived in France.

Virginie Hoifua Te Matagi Tafilagi (b. 1965) is a teacher, essayist, and poet from Ouvea (‘Uvea, Wallis) who is passionate in her promotion of the Indigenous language faka’uvea. She has published work in that language and in French. Her long poem “Regeneration: The Seeds of Life” is a celebration of Pacific peoples and their age-old history of transoceanic voyaging. Hōkūle’a, the dedicatee of the poem, is the name given to a traditionally constructed and navigated canoe that traveled from Hawai’i to Tahiti under the auspices of the Polynesian Voyaging Society in 1976, thereby demonstrating the feasibility of ancient connections across Oceania.  

As Chantal Spitz has recognized in a number of her essays and interviews, citing the advice of Tahitian poet, playwright, and filmmaker Henri Hiro (1944–1990), the language in which you write, how you write, is not important. What matters is that you write: or as Spitz puts it, “J’écris, point.” (I write, period). Writing, even in what she refers to as the language of the Conqueror (“la langue du Vainqueur”), is both a means of expressing and de-exoticizing local and personal specificities, and a source of absolute creative delight, as Aurima Devatine’s piece underlines. Despite limited publication opportunities, and thanks to the impetus provided particularly by local book fairs, these talented authors, and many others who could not be included here, continue to produce literary works that clearly merit a wider readership, both in the original and in translation.       

 

Where to Find Books (in French) from Francophone Oceania

Many books are available through Amazon, if you know the author or title. To support local suppliers, try contacting the publishers directly, or source through Book’in (a bookstore in New Caledonia that supplies titles from French Oceania generally). Note that postage costs can be very high and that some publishers do not mail books. There are some ebooks available, but check the location restrictions as copyright reasons can block availability.

 Bookstores:

  • New Caledonia: Book’in
    Due to the unrest in New Caledonia at present, Calédolivres is unable to receive or send any books. Please try again later.
  • Tahiti: Odyssey
     

Selected publishers in New Caledonia:

Selected publishers in Tahiti (all have Facebook pages as well):

Copyright ©  2024 by Jean Anderson. All rights reserved.

English

How did French come to the Pacific? The answer to this question is, of course, colonization. From the early voyages undertaken in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries by Spanish, Dutch, English, and French ships in search of the mythical southern landmass needed to “balance” that of the north, to the influx of eager missionaries from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, this vast ocean has attracted the interest of Europeans, who, through colonization, divided the region into differing religious and linguistic zones. And yet for many people, “The Pacific” is still a deeply misunderstood term. The much-used expression “Pacific Rim” seems to be losing popularity in favor of the geopolitically important “Indo-Pacific”: both these terms elide the reality that there are in fact multitudes of islands and cultures that are neither on the Rim nor in most ways connected with the Indian Ocean or Subcontinent. “The Pacific” or “Oceania,” as Tongan writer and scholar Epeli Hau’ofa has pointed out in his groundbreaking essay “Our Sea of Islands” (1994), has always been a space of connection between local populations, not disconnection and distance (a very Eurocentric view). The random separations imposed by colonialism (through the creation of “countries,” the imposition of European languages, especially English and French, the invention of regions “Melanesia,” “Polynesia,” “Micronesia,” “the Pacific,” and the renaming of islands) have to some extent reformulated these connections. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that connectedness, either modern or ancient, equates with homogeneity, and one of the aims of this collection of texts translated from French is to illustrate the rich diversity that exists within Oceania and is expressed through its literatures, both oral and (here) written.

To illustrate this diversity within the framework of the Pacific “francosphere,” it is perhaps sufficient to point out that “French Polynesia” / Mā’ohi nui alone consists of some 120 islands scattered over 1,359 square miles, stretching over 1,200 miles from north to south, and that while Mā’ohi languages (such as Tahitian, the main local language taught in schools; Mangarevan; Northern and Southern Marquesan; Tubuai; etc.) are more or less mutually intelligible, they are nevertheless distinctively different. The linguistic situation in New Caledonia / Kanaky is more complex. Although the estimated number of Indigenous languages varies from source to source, depending perhaps on whether dialects are included in the count, the most frequent number given is twenty-eight. Of these, Drehu (the language of the island of Drehu, also known as Lifou), Nengone (island of Maré), Xârâcùù (southwest region), Paicî (northeast), Pwapwâ (northwest) and Ajië (central east coast) are the most thriving. Unlike the situation in Mā’ohi nui, these languages differ considerably from one another. French has thus served and continues to serve here as a unifying vehicular language.

The eighty or so islands that make up the Republic of Vanuatu (formerly known as the New Hebrides), inhabited by around 320,000 people, extend over some 4,700 square miles. There are over a hundred Indigenous languages, but only three official ones, none of them Indigenous: English, French, and Bislama, an English-based creole. Following on from its status as an English-French condominium from 1906 until independence in 1960, Vanuatu provides education in both languages. French is estimated to be the first language of only 1% of the population.

The islands of Wallis (‘Uvea in Wallisian) and Futuna are a French Overseas Collectivity (formerly Territory), having voted in a 1959 referendum to become a part of France under an arrangement that made room for existing Indigenous structures of chieftainship. The language of instruction in schools is French, the official language, but there is a daily news program in Faka’uvea (Wallisian), Te Tagalogo.

The term “French Pacific” or “Francophone Pacific” is thus a shorthand reference to a range of populated islands in Oceania that have very different backgrounds and cultural traditions.   

 

Writing (in) the Pacific

What publication opportunities exist for these authors? That depends on which French-speaking Pacific country they live in. To sum up briefly, the Association des Éditeurs de Tahiti et ses Îles (AETI) lists eight members; the New Caledonian publishing scene is in a state of flux, with a number of dormant enterprises, and just five literary publishers currently in production. (We should note, however, that Gilbert Bladinières of Madrépores Press in New Caledonia estimates a total of fifty to seventy books produced annually across a full range of genres). In Vanuatu, two French-language writers, Marcel Melthérorong and Paul Tavo, had their first books published under the auspices of the local Alliance française. To the best of my knowledge, there are no French-language publishers in Wallis and Futuna.

There are a couple of literary magazines appearing annually that cover French-speaking and wider Oceania: Littérama’ohi. Ramées de littérature polynésienne was founded in 2002 by a group of writers and is still going strong, with its 28th issue underway. There is the anthology Sillages d’Océanie, published since 2007 by the Association des Écrivains de la Nouvelle-Calédonie and containing around thirty texts of various genres by authors from French-speaking Oceanian countries, many of whom have participated in SILO, the Salon International du Livre Océanien. This New Caledonian book fair was founded in 2003 by the then Minister of Culture, writer Déwé Gorodé, running at first biennially, then annually, under the auspices of the Bibliothèque Bernheim until 2017; more recently, it has been organized by the Maison du Livre de Nouvelle-Calédonie. The literary festival in Tahiti (Lire en Polynésie) was founded in 2001 and is run annually by AETI. A “follow-up” smaller festival was launched recently on the nearby islands of Huahine and Rai’atea, and an immensely popular performance combining dance, music, theater, and poetry called Pina’ina’i is a sell-out as part of the Tahiti book fair every year (some brief clips can be found on YouTube). It has evolved over time out of literary readings given by writers at local markets in Tahiti and the islands.

But what of the “other” francophone countries of the Pacific, namely Vanuatu and ‘Uvea mo Futuna (Wallis and Futuna)? While writers from these countries may be invited to the book fairs in Tahiti and New Caledonia, it is publication that takes them that first step to wider recognition. Despite the impressive number of books for children and adolescents (albums, first readers, illustrated stories and chapter books) that are produced and feature strongly at these fairs, literary authors and poets in particular have only limited access to print outlets, other than Littérama’ohi and Sillages. Some have featured on the list of poetry specialist publisher Bruno Doucey (Paris). A small number of novelists have had their work published, exceptionally, in France (eg. Frédéric Ohlen, Quintet, Gallimard), and an equally small number of Oceanian novels have been translated into English and published in the US (Titaua Peu, Pina, tr. Jeffrey Zuckerman, Restless Books) or New Zealand (Chantal Spitz, Island of Shattered Dreams, tr. Jean Anderson, Huia Books; Déwé Gorodé, The Wreck, tr. Raylene Ramsay and Deborah Walker-Morrison, and Moetai Brotherson, The Missing King, tr. Jean Anderson, both Little Island Press). Some writers are turning to self-publication through online specialist platforms, and this may well prove to be a developing avenue for quality work to appear, although these works may sometimes be published with limited editorial oversight or guidance.

AETI has recently (2022) launched a Pacific Writers’ Residence, open to Oceanian authors who have published in English or French, which will allow them to spend two to three months working on a project and visiting schools with the aim of inspiring future generations of readers. This is also an important objective of the book fairs, with large numbers of schoolchildren attending over the weekdays. If literature and literary reading are to survive in francophone Oceania, they must overcome huge challenges, including attracting new readers. There are obvious difficulties relating to book distribution—distances between islands, small populations, tight margins for production for the French-language originals, and a lack of translations for the global market. In addition, the impact of Covid on economies reliant to a large extent on tourism has been considerable: Alice Pierre of the Maison du livre in New Caledonia remarked in March 2024 that the number of writers’ associations there had more than halved, and that book sales had drastically decreased. As I write, I can only assume that the current political unrest and social violence on the main island will only exacerbate an already precarious situation.

 

Introducing Seven Writers of the Francophone Pacific

The selection featured here could not hope to showcase the vast range of writing that is happening in the Francophone Pacific. An initial call for contributions met with almost 300 responses. Of these, fewer than five were in Indigenous languages, although these were explicitly invited. In making a final selection of texts to be translated, I have attempted to choose a range of subjects and genres, and to include both established and younger writers, as well as a diversity of countries: Wallis (‘Uvea) and Futuna; Vanuatu; Kanaky-New Caledonia; and Mā’ohi nui-French Polynesia. Readers will note, however, a common theme in several pieces: countering the blue-sky-and-ocean-tropical-paradise stereotype, while not an inevitable preoccupation, is often a focus of local writing that seeks to explore social issues such as violence, addiction, and oppression.

The first piece is by Flora Aurima Devatine (b. 1942), a well-established Tahitian poet who writes in both French and reo Tahiti. One of the founders of the review Littérama’ohi, she has been instrumental in the development of a literary culture in French Polynesia, and her contribution is widely recognized. She was awarded the Prix Heredia of the Académie française in 2017. Her transgeneric text featured here, “The Lagoon of Languages,” which mingles poetry and critical theory, celebrates linguistic creativity, collapsing the debate over language choice in colonized contexts into a celebration of the writer’s ability to find pleasure in molding words to his or her expressive needs. Strong rhythms mark much of her work, in an echo of the drumbeats and flourishes of traditional cultural and rhetorical forms.

A contemporary of Devatine, New Caledonian political leader Déwé Gorodey or Gorodé (1949–2022) was the first Kanak woman writer to publish poems, short stories, and novels, at the same time as she devoted her life to political activism. An early member of the “foulards rouges” (red scarves), she also helped found PALIKA (Party for Kanak Liberation) and served several prison terms for her political activism. From 2001 to 2009, she served almost continuously as vice president of the government of New Caledonia. She was also active in women’s causes, and many of her works, like the one featured here, “Behind Closed Doors,” highlight the oppression of Kanak women, as the young heroine tries to choose between furthering her education and giving in to lustful temptation.

Paul Tavo (b. 1983) is one of only two ni-Vanuatu writers to have published works in French. His 2015 novel, Quand le cannibale ricane, is in part a homage to William Shakespeare; the short story included here, “Clodo” (Deadbeat), is distinguished by the multiple references to French poetry that accompany realistic social elements. He is currently living in Kanaky-New Caledonia, where his story is set. Nouméa’s central square, the Place des cocotiers, and its surrounding streets are hangouts for apparently homeless and predominantly Kanak men.

Olivia Duchesne was born in New Caledonia in 1979 and is an actress and playwright. After studying theater and performing for some years in France, she founded the company “Cris pour habiter exils” with Laurent Rossini before returning to New Caledonia in 2008. After Sauve-toi Pinocchio! in 2010, J’habiterai la nuit, from which the translated extract is drawn, followed in 2011. This play also highlights domestic violence and social issues that contrast with the postcard images of exotic Pacific island life. Duchesne continues to create works that cross generic boundaries, performing and running theater workshops around the country.

Chantal Spitz (b. 1954) is a leading Mā’ohi writer and activist who lives on an atoll near the island of Huahine. Her L’Île des rêves écrasés (1991; Island of Shattered Dreams, 2006) was the first novel by a Mā’ohi author to be published. One of the founders of Littéramā’ohi in 2002, she has published Hombo. Transcription d’une biographie (2002), numerous essays, including Pensées insolentes et inutiles (2006), a novel and two volumes of short stories, Cartes postales (2015) and et la mer pour demeure (2022), from which “j’eus un pays” is taken. Her often poetic prose style reinvents French syntax and punctuation to give expression to a distinctively individual voice. Her story here is especially poignant given the current violence in Kanaky-New Caledonia.

Paul Wamo was born on the island of Drehu (Lifou, Loyalty Islands) in 1981. Initially establishing himself as a slam poet, he currently performs texts that combine poetry, music, and social observation. Some of his work is available on his 2008 CD, J’aime les mots, or on YouTube. He has also authored short stories (eg. in Nouvelles de Nouvelle-Calédonie, Magellan, 2017). The short poems translated here were published in Littéramā’ohi 25 (2021), and are largely a reflection of the years when he lived in France.

Virginie Hoifua Te Matagi Tafilagi (b. 1965) is a teacher, essayist, and poet from Ouvea (‘Uvea, Wallis) who is passionate in her promotion of the Indigenous language faka’uvea. She has published work in that language and in French. Her long poem “Regeneration: The Seeds of Life” is a celebration of Pacific peoples and their age-old history of transoceanic voyaging. Hōkūle’a, the dedicatee of the poem, is the name given to a traditionally constructed and navigated canoe that traveled from Hawai’i to Tahiti under the auspices of the Polynesian Voyaging Society in 1976, thereby demonstrating the feasibility of ancient connections across Oceania.  

As Chantal Spitz has recognized in a number of her essays and interviews, citing the advice of Tahitian poet, playwright, and filmmaker Henri Hiro (1944–1990), the language in which you write, how you write, is not important. What matters is that you write: or as Spitz puts it, “J’écris, point.” (I write, period). Writing, even in what she refers to as the language of the Conqueror (“la langue du Vainqueur”), is both a means of expressing and de-exoticizing local and personal specificities, and a source of absolute creative delight, as Aurima Devatine’s piece underlines. Despite limited publication opportunities, and thanks to the impetus provided particularly by local book fairs, these talented authors, and many others who could not be included here, continue to produce literary works that clearly merit a wider readership, both in the original and in translation.       

 

Where to Find Books (in French) from Francophone Oceania

Many books are available through Amazon, if you know the author or title. To support local suppliers, try contacting the publishers directly, or source through Book’in (a bookstore in New Caledonia that supplies titles from French Oceania generally). Note that postage costs can be very high and that some publishers do not mail books. There are some ebooks available, but check the location restrictions as copyright reasons can block availability.

 Bookstores:

  • New Caledonia: Book’in
    Due to the unrest in New Caledonia at present, Calédolivres is unable to receive or send any books. Please try again later.
  • Tahiti: Odyssey
     

Selected publishers in New Caledonia:

Selected publishers in Tahiti (all have Facebook pages as well):

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Picture of Moorea's mountains and sea.