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An Indigenous Ocean by Damon Salesa – new understandings of the Pacific in new publication

Histories of our Pacific world are richly rendered in a new landmark publication from scholar Damon Salesa.

An Indigenous Ocean: Pacific Essays brings together two decades of award-winning scholarship in a book that is set to become an international resource for those seeking to understand this vast ocean territory, Moana-nui-a-Kiwa. From the first Indigenous civilisations that flourished in Oceania to the colonial encounters of the nineteenth century, and onto the complex contemporary relationships between Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific, this is history on a large scale.

At the same time, Salesa locates Pacific peoples at the centre of their stories, grounding these histories in the detail and experiences of Indigenous life. The outcome is a book that transforms some of the central narratives through which the Pacific has been understood.

‘I humbly offer some seaways across this predicament of a place considered by outsiders somehow both too big and too small,’ Salesa writes in the introduction. ‘My purpose is not to reconcile the many voices in the Ocean of a Thousand Languages, but to provoke some thinking about how the Indigenous can be at a planetary scale, how archipelagoes can be related but different, and how there is not a cacophony but a range of harmonies playing across the waves of their Native Seas.’

Through its sheer scale, the Pacific is the setting for a multitude of local, regional and international challenges and encounters. These surface, in the pages of An Indigenous Ocean, across a wide range of topics such as sea voyaging and migration, ancestral spirituality and Christianity, race, empire and decolonisation. For Salesa, these are histories that actively shape the present, and inform the precarious geopolitical context of the Pacific today.

An Indigenous Ocean emphasises that histories of the Pacific are not just smaller sections of larger narratives, nor merely accounts of people passing through, but are dimensions of their own. This book makes a significant contribution to new understandings of the Pacific, its past, present and future.


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