The Power of Patonga

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Art, Ethnicity & Otherness in Oceania

By David Rose

Red sunset over the ocean with palm trees in the foreground and the words The Power of Patonga


When researching how places have been peopled, one thing is becoming increasingly clear: for a time a group of people might live in isolation (sometimes for a very long time), but eventually by land or water travellers will come, alternatively they themselves will travel and will come to meet the Other. There is something incredibly beautiful and liberating about the following insight by renowned geneticist Professor David Reich, mixing is in human nature, and no one population is - or could be - "pure".[1] Therefore, if racial purity exists at all, it is in Humanity as a whole.

Otherness depends on identity - it relates to belonging (or not belonging) to a particular People and/or a particular Place.

Where do I belong? What am I? And who are my people?

On Earth. Human. Everyone.

Is this a white perspective? Is it too abstract and radical? Is it true?


This essay is the personal story of an artist and a writer coming to terms with their responsibility to consult with communities who they represent in a published creative work. It is also an endeavour to reach out to Pacific Islander communities, and unpack the reasons why I want to include their broader culture(s) in this work, and how I intend to fictionally represent them as a group of groups. I also write this essay in order to encourage people with Pacific Islander heritage to critique and participate in the Art in the Sky international community arts project - to use it as an opportunity express themselves to a world-wide audience, to share their world views about how it has been and how it can be.

The Power of Words: Empathy

Video mashup by self-proclaimed digital DIY Maori @lurkster. Click the pic to watch.
Prof. Arvin is a Native Hawaiian feminist scholar of race, gender, science, & colonialism. Click pic to watch.

There is power in art, power in words - power to move, inspire and sublimate.

I was teased awfully as a child and I would hear other children say "sticks and stones may break my bones, but calling names won't hurt me". It didn't seem to matter how often (or how loud) I recited that chant, the pain would not go away - eventually I learnt that it wasn't so much the words that were said, but the feelings behind them. It was the emotion with which they were expressed that gave them power to hurt- I was and am sensitive to both language and the emotions of others.

My intention with creating a fictional contact community in Oceania is not to hurt, but quite the opposite. I hope to use words to ultimately inspire and uplift, but also to challenge. Art, especially street art (my kind of art), can often be challenging and risky. I intend to tread carefully, aware that sometimes on my journey I might nevertheless stumble, or accidently tread on someone's toes.

We all have different degrees of sensitivity to different influences. In crime, "intent" matters. I think the same is true in life and in artistic endeavour. The point is I am also sensitive to the feelings and reactions of others. Though I have learnt over 63 years that I am not responsible for other peoples feelings, I am required to take notice of them and respect them. I am responsible for what I think, say and do.

I would also add that as a writer I am challenged to be courageous - and write!

Learning from Experience

Vanautu dancer in ceremonial dress dancing with spear and body paint
Legends of the South Pacific, an interesting snapshot of several different islands & cultures. Click on the picture above to watch the video

The last time I undertook a major creative project is was a screen play for a feature drama that ended up with a working title "Turkey Terror and the Warriors of Love". The work involved .....

[to be continued]

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  1. Prof David Reich, 2018 , Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past, YouTube video lecture from the Harvard Museum of Natural History sourced 29th Mar, 2022