Pacific Connections Seminar: Alice Te Punga Somerville

The below is quoted from an email circulated by the Center for Biographical Research:

“Who Am I to Extol Tupaia?” Tahitian Voices in a Māori Project about the Pacific

Alice Te Punga Somerville, Department of English, UH Mānoa

Thursday, March 7 • 12 noon – 1:15 pm
John A. Burns Hall Room 3121/3125 (Third Floor) • East-West Center • 1601 East-West Road
When Cook and his crew visited Aotearoa in 1769, Tupaia from Raʻiatea not only acted as translator between Europeans and Māori but also recorded first exchanges in a painting. Reflecting on the role of Maʻohi people during these encounters, Māori poet Robert Sullivan asks “who am I to extol Tupaia . . . who am I to say these things?” How, indeed, do we write about connections between Pacific people? In the Pacific, how can we tell stories of ourselves without telling stories of each other, and yet how do we avoid—as Sullivan puts it—“tak[ing] the middle of your throat[s]”? Dr Te Punga Somerville will consider the contributions of Tupaia’s painting and Chantal Spitz’s writing to her book Once Were Pacific: Māori connections to Oceania, which explores Māori/Pacific connections at the regional and national levels. We are used to talking about the problem of disconnections between Pacific people at the regional level, often for contemporary linguistic and political reasons; what risks and possibilities emerge when we attempt to work around and beyond them?

Alice Te Punga Somerville (Māori - Te Ātiawa) is an Associate Professor in English, specializing in Pacific Literatures. After receiving her PhD from Cornell University, she taught for seven years at Victoria University of Wellington. Her first book, Once Were Pacific (University of Minnesota Press 2012), explores Māori/ Pacific connections. She also writes the occasional poem.

Please note that this special seminar, part of the Pacific Connections Seminar Series of live, videoconferenced presentations from Hawai‘i and Tahiti, is sponsored by the Center for Pacific Islands Studies and the East-West Center, and will be held in Burns Hall 3121/3125, not in Henke Hall 325. For more information, please contact Katherine Higgins, of the Center for Pacific Island Studies, at or 956-2658, or the Center for Biographical Research at or 956-3774.


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