This article is also published as a part of Fightback’s special Pasefika magazine issue.
When the first European ships travelled through the Pacific, their sails cut into the clouds of the skies. Papalagi, ‘cloud breaker’. In the lands of Samoa, our people prayed to these sailing gods, that they may not enter our shores. We prayed for them to pass us over, because they would bring death and disease. These papalagi would bring the death of our people and the death of our ways. And so it was foretold.
A couple hundred years later, we live across the world, within and away from the homeland – our languages, our systems, lost and polluted. We no longer need well-meaning missionaries to instill shame in our people. It is built into society. The savagery and simplicity of the ignorant, the illogical, the delusional, the uneducated heathen. This image, this idea is sewn into every institution, every system, every tool and every product of colonisation. As we come to confront the great power that is colonisation, we need to understand that it is a process. A process that has spanned countless generations, a process that we often blind ourselves to in our struggle to overcome its institutions. Without recognising and holding ourselves accountable for the ways in which we participate in the colonisation of tangata whenua, we cannot begin to overcome or deconstruct colonisation – we can only change our roles and relationships within the model of oppression. And so, because we all have a role in this system, we must first understand two things: first, the goal of colonisation (of any form), and second, the accountability of we, the settlers.
We have all, at some stage, lived in complicity. We have all participated and harboured attitudes and behaviours that continue and uphold the colonisation of tangata whenua. We are made aware of our own oppression, and the forced assimilation of our communities instills a very specific anger. We learn, through institutions of the coloniser, about our oppression. Hurt, we come to blame his systems for withholding what we should be entitled to. While fighting him, we employ his methodologies, prioritise his systems, his frameworks – and still carry with us, the image of the uneducated savage. This is how the process works. These ideas, attitudes, behaviours, value systems – this culture of complacency, complicity and removal of accountability (sometimes referred to as ‘settler colonialism’) becomes natural to us, because we, like the missionaries, have found bibles in academia. We have been enlightened, we are the product of advancement. We understand and will bring to pass the greater good. We refuse to ‘look back’ because we think they are gone. They do not exist anymore. Assimilation succeeds, colonisation prevails because his knowledge is higher than the savage’s.
Whether we do this to survive, whether we do it to maintain the comforts settlership offers us, our assimilation brings us in closer proximity to the coloniser. We may not have the power he has over us, but our willingness to compromise the welfare of indigenous people and systems places us in his role. We are his products, we are his tools. But, we get to choose. All things are imposed on us, but once we are made aware, we must understand that an ability to choose our attitudes, our behaviours means we can choose to resist white culture. We can decentre white structures and cultures, prioritising the knowledges and systems of indigenous peoples. We can also choose accountability. Our belonging to oppressed communities does not remove our ability to oppress. Convincing ourselves otherwise is an attempt to distance ourselves from the nasty connotation of ‘oppressor’, from accountability.
fa’apalagi. In the way of the palagi. In the way of the cloud breaker. In the way of the white man. whiteness.
In the context of stolen land and settled colonisers, whiteness pertains to the adoption of the colonisers’ worldview. In the context of colonised indigeneity, white is the other. The other is white. fa’apalagi. Culture is complex, but what is very simple is that we choose the ways in which we fight or uphold colonisation. When we are made aware of our assimilation, our internalised whiteness, we have a choice to make. What we choose is up to us, but we must be honest about it. Because when you claim to fight against racism, against colonisation, while refusing to hold yourself and your white colonial ideologies accountable, you are manipulating the oppressed. You offer false notions of trust and solidarity, placing these ideas in the hearts of the vulnerable, whose power and mana have been taken from them. They will entrust you with their hearts, their souls, their spirits and your dishonest solidarity will break them. Your dismissal of accountability will shield you from critique, from reflection and you will never know, simply because you do not care, that you will replace the well-intentioned, unaccountable coloniser – you will become the missionary who violated and destroyed the mana of the people. The arrogance of whiteness, of colonisation, lies in the fundamental belief that your white frameworks and methodologies can more successfully overcome colonisation than systems that predate it.
In the beginning, there was the word.
And the word was with We, the Settlers.