Waikato Journal of Education
Journal cover


Pacific literature


In the course of research involving the experiences of teachers of Pacific ancestry in New Zealand public schools, I became interested in the ways in which teachers were represented in Pacific thinking. Published works give relatively easy access to at least some of the patterns of thought evoked by the term teacher. In this paper I shall look at the kinds of teacher and teaching shown by Ruparuke Petaia, Albert Wendt and Sia Figiel. These authors, all confidently Samoan, portray some of the complexities of learning and teaching from within Samoan sensibilities. 'Life', 'the Crocodile', 'the Pisikoa' and 'the Wind' are all the names of teachers in this literature. My discussion of Kidnapped by Petaia (1974), Ola by Wendt (1991) and Where we once belonged by Figiel (1996) is not chronologically ordered so much as thematically arranged. The three themes are: decolonisation of education, the European teacher of Pasifika students and the Samoan teacher of Samoan students. Petaia presents a decolonising stance: the teacher as instrument of colonisation or enslavement. This perception is followed through by a discussion of Figiel's character, Siniva, who likewise rejects European knowledge as a form of darkness, and a brief reference to this idea by Wendt. Both Wendt and Figiel portray European teachers as arrogant in their assumptions about the universal nature of their knowledge, and as comic figures of enlightenment colonisation, somehow cut off from embodied human experience. Wendt sees the Samoan teacher as ineffectual, an instrument of a kind of hopeless enlightenment, frustrated by regulations and village traditions, while Figiel sees her as a real presence in village life but a tragic figure of local ignorance.

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