Evelyn Marsters: My post-hui blues

On Sunday I reached a milestone in my career. I was on the closing panel at the European Society for Oceanists conference in Munich, and I spoke alongside the much-admired Māori academic Associate Professor Mānuka Hēnare and emerging Micronesian scholar Myjolynne Marie Kim. Before speaking I was proud, worried, excited, and shaken. I had a sense of academic “arriving” and I was shit-scared.

My contribution was really well-received, and I was elated. But we all know that what goes up must come down. And now I have the Post-Hui Blues.

This notion of the Post-Hui Blues was shared with me by climate change activist and artist Huhana Smith. These powerful feelings of disorientation, intellectual confusion, new relationships and fatigue have left me feeling depressed and longing for a quiet moment to reorganise my brain, and strategise new research opportunities. This is my first experience of these Post-Hui Blues, because even though the conference was situated in Germany, this had been my first hui. I was welcomed, embraced and included by the Māori academics from Aotearoa. Together we celebrated our shared Polynesian cultural norms of eating, talking, tracing lineages and creating a pastoral space for scholars who often remain on the fringe.

So how did I come to be positioned within the cradle of this hui?

We were connected through shared institutional training and stories of experiencing the same landscapes. It was a significant moment to sit alongside scholars who had been my teachers, and to do this on common ground. Our shared lineages also played a central role in these new relationships.

I was also incredibly excited by the Māori research design. The academics from Aotearoa were showcasing their innovative research design, powerful applications of emerging theories, and the collective understanding that big ideas need to be actualised to preserve our Pacific environments. I proactively sought membership to this group, because the synergies between my own research were so strong. I wanted to be a part of the kōrero.

While there were a few Pacific scholars at the conference, we were not organised in the same way, and our research sat inside of our disciplinary silos. We, the Pacific scholars, lacked the critical mass to tip the conversation in our direction and provide the legitimate voice about our Pacific environments. I was so inspired by the Māori use of collective assemblage at this conference, and I want to extend this new understanding and experience into more work on the idea of collective imagination.

Read Evelyn’s chapter “Shifting Borders”, as published in Fair Borders? Migration Policy in the Twenty-First Century, via E-Tangata.

During the conference, my frustration at our ongoing struggle to prioritise, fund and arrange more Pacific scholars at these events led me to reflect on the framing of the conference. Pacific environments were presented at this conference in traditional western scientific and anthropological discourse. Pacific environments were described in singular, researchable, and publishable ways.

After two days, my disillusionment that these framings still exist in 2017 led me to write a poem. I worked with simple English and Cook Islands Māori words to try to describe the multiple meanings we attribute to our environments. I wanted the European scholars to think more critically about their own positionality in the research of Pacific environments, in the hope that they will seek to reach beyond their own institutional space to find new ways to weave more of a Pacific voice into the discussion.

And so, this is the poem I used to open my panel discussion. In it I try to describe the pain of being both subject and scholar, of being present but also objectified.

My name is Evelyn Marsters
I am a woman, a daughter, a wife, a mother, an aunty and a friend
I am the ocean, a coconut tree and a curious black-eyed moko
I am the grit of sand scratching the inside of your toes

My name is Porutu
I am the dense wet mist that stretches from the reef to the mountain
I am a tiare and a ‘eke
I am the slippery hot black rock that dries your pāreu while you swim

My name is doctor
I am words on page and voice on a stage
I am concrete and windows and roads
I am thunder, rain and drought

My name is va’ine
I am a sexualised, exocitised, commodified body
I am a kiko broom, and a tīvaevae
I am chop suey and ika mata

My name is health risk
I am diabetic, amputuated and blind
I am cardiovascular disease and dengue
I am illiterate, poor and disempowered

My name is dependency
I am colonised, and I am the coloniser
I am PACER Plus, trade agreements and backroom deals
I am a Pacific Environment

Evelyn Marsters has a PhD in Development Studies from the University of Auckland (NZ) and is currently based in Berlin. Her focus is global health and migration, and she is Deputy Editor at Impolitikal. Read more by Evelyn.