Scholars in Pacific history and culture met to share their knowledge on the use and economies of the coconut in a symposium on Monday and Tuesday this week in Dunedin, the first event in what looks like a busy year for the Centre. Professor Judy Bennett organised and hosted the Valued Coconuts: Hear Our Voices symposium and workshop as part of her Marsden project, Constant Coconuts: A History of a Versatile Commodity in the Pacific, and with support from CROCC.
Valued Coconuts was a pre-read workshop featuring six papers. April Henderson and Toaga Alefosio’s (Victoria University of Wellington), On Skin and Bone: Samoan Coconut Oil in Indigenous Practice discussed how coconut oil is used in the continuing Samoan practices of fofō (healing massage), samaga (tattooing) and liutofaga (cleaning of ancestors’ bones) and the meaning for people today. This paper comes of out of summer scholarship for Toanga (who will be an Honours student this year) and April’s current research on virgin coconut oil use, “Kernals of Hope: Following Coconut Commodities from the Pacific to the West” supported by a Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden grant. In the second paper, Wasting coconuts? Consumption versus commerce in Wallis and Futuna, Kate Stevens discussed how French colonisers’ desire for scientific production of copra clashed with the Indigenous people’s views on the value of coconuts. Kate is a postdoc in Otago’s Department of History and Art History, working with Judy on their Marsden project.
Josh Levy is a PhD student at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, who is researching the successive colonial regimes on Pohnpei through food history. His paper, Ideal coconut country: Persuasive coconuts and the scientific plantation in Pohnpei, Micronesia, looked at the German colonial period and the effects of copra production on the Pohnpeian population. Steve Talley, an Otago PhD student’s paper set to Defining indigenous entrepreneurship in the New Hebrides copra trade, and how the opportunities and constraints of the French and British rule moderated the Indigenous peoples’ engagement in the coconut trade.
Holger Droessler‘s Coconuts in Samoa explored how the cultivation of coconuts and production of copra mediated the German colonisers’ attitudes to Samoans, and how Samoans were able to maintain a subsistence economy despite the German desire for greater productivity. Holger is a Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Bard College in New York state. In the last paper, Judy Bennett’s Voices of Rotuma: Enduring Refrain examined the copra trade of Rotuma both in the colonial and post-colonial eras and tensions brought about through the necessity of having to ship its copra through Fiji.
Centre members, Angela Wanhalla and Lachy Paterson, acted as commentators for these papers alongside Adrian Muckle from Victoria University of Wellington. The format of the symposium allowed for extensive discussion of the papers; the plan at this stage is for all the papers to be incorporated into a special journal issue. Thanks to the Hocken Collections for providing the venue for the event, and for the tour of some of their Pacific material. Thanks also to the Otago Museum for a tour of some of its coconut-related holdings.