Reppin’: Pacific Islander Youth and Native Justice, edited by Keith L. Camacho, University of Washington Press, 2021.
Pacific Youth have been visible in global discourse as ‘natives’ ‘sport athletes’ and ‘criminals’. Sadly, many of these narratives have been imposed on this group by the media and ill-informed academics. As a result, there has been an invasion of scholarly literature which frames Pacific youth through a deficit lens. Not only is deficit theorising inappropriate, it is also dehumanising. Reppin’: Pacific Islander Youth and Native Justice aims to counter these narratives by privileging the ‘lived experiences’ and resilience of Pacific youth from a transnational standpoint.
This anthology opens with a comprehensive introduction by Keith L. Camacho, himself a passionate and well known scholar of Pacific studies. Camacho challenges the problematic nature of current literature on Pacific youth. He believes that stories of Pacific youth should allow for this cohort to maintain their “dignity”. In doing so, he shows the corrective and scholarly contribution of this anthology, which is to provide an avenue to show the stories of Pacific youth both in the Island nations and diaspora, with respect and humanity.
Through this work, he showcases how Pacific Islander youth address global issues, advocate for change and create their own narratives, ‘reppin island style’.
Chapter 1, titled ‘Koti Rangatahi: Whanaungatanga Justice and the “Magnificence of the Connectedness”’, by Stella Jacquie Kidd and Katey Thom, is about culturally appropriate ways to engage Maori families and youth. This chapter calls for “whanaungatanga justice”, which is a collectively Maori approach which incorporates many aspects of te Ao Māori (Maori worldview) such as the elders, speeches, meetinghouses and carvings present in Koti Rangatahi (Youth Court), it is envisioned that this process can be implemented in every legal process in New Zealand.
Chapter 2 is titled ‘“Raise Your Pen”: A Critical Race Essay on Truth and Justice’, and is written by Kepa ‘okusitino maumau, Moana ‘ulu’ Ave-Hafoka, and Lea Lani Kinikini. This chapter speaks of an extraordinary journey of Kepa Okusitino Maumau and how he was able to navigate the legal system in Salt Lake Ciy, Utah. Through a high school acquaintance, the fusion of Tongan culture and Critical race theory, Kepa was able to be released from prison, as an empowered man.
Chapter 3, titled ‘Pasifika Lens: An analysis of Samoan student experiences in Australian High Schools’, written by Vaoiva Ponton, speaks of youth homework study groups for Samoan students in Melbourne, Australia. As a Samoan, and qualified teacher, she draws upon the cultural capital of the students as a way of improving academic achievement. Her research with the students and their families, shows the Melbourne education system to not nurture their cultural capital, but add to their racial degradation.
Chapter 4, titled ‘Screen Sovereignty: Urban youth and community media in Vanuatu’, by Thomas Dick and Sarah Doyle, explores ni-Vanuatu youth and how they have navigated spaces between community, institutional, and professional obligations to produce media that was reflective of their own narratives and ‘lived experiences’. Through this chapter, we are able to see how the ni-Vanuatu youth assert their ‘screen sovereignty’ and ‘visual sovereignty’ through production and partial ownership of their own stories.
Chapter 5, titled ‘“Holla mai! Tongan 4 Life!”: Transnational Citizenship, youth style, and mediated interaction through online social networking communities’ by Mary K Good, explores how youth in Tonga negotiate transnational identity and citizenship through Bebo (a social media outlet). This chapter showed how youth from a highly stratified society of hierarchy could gain transnational influence and political power through their engagement in the digital space. In an increasingly connected world, through the internet, these youth are influenced and influence spaces beyond their island shores.
Chapter 6, titled ‘Making waves: Marshallese Youth Culture, “minor songs,” and Major challenges’ by Jessica A Schwartz, speaks of Marshallese youth, their culture and its influence on females. As a result, there are new ways Marshallese youth musicians and poets are emerging. Through the use of modern technology and the power of their culture, these youth are able to (re)negotiate their relation to the transnational world through sound.
Chapter 7, titled ‘Kanaka Waikiki: The stonewall Gang and Beachboys of O’ahu 1916-1954’ by Alika Bourgette, is an analysis of two Hawaiian guys from childhood to young adulthood. Despite the feminised narrative of these men in the media, Alika shows how there were cultural and sexual liaisons, and how they were connected to wealthy tourists. The Native Hawaiian guys in this chapter show resistance to colonial heteropatriarchy through their staunch Hawaiian brotherhood. Of main interest in this story was how this group were able to navigate and explore spaces that were generally only for Caucasian elites in Hawaii or off island.
Chapter 8, titled ‘“Still feeling it”: Addressing the Unresolved Grief among the Samoan ‘Bloods of Aotearoa New Zealand’ by Moses Ma’alo Faleolo, shows how Samoan members of the Bloods gang in New Zealand address issues of unresolved grief from losing a loved one. A Samoan, social worker and academic by profession, the author Moses has been able to gain insider access into these gang members’ lives. He shows the resilience and strength of these youth in how they build resilience through the grieving process. He also refuses to call them ‘deviant delinquents’, instead, he refers to them as survivors.
Chapter 9, titled ‘Faikava: A Philosophy of Diasporic Tongan Youth, Hip Hop, and Urban kava circles’ by Arcia Tecun, Edmond Fehoko, and Inoke Hafoka, explores Tongan faikava (kava drinking) circles in Aotearoa New Zealand and Utah, America and how young men navigate these spaces. Through this chapter, the authors showed how young Tongan males in diaspora were able to culturally and spiritually connect to their (Mother)land through faikava. Those in attendance at faikava sessions were able to share personal experiences and negotiate collective identity and ancestral connection. Through Faikava, these young Tongan men in diaspora were able to heal both philosophically and spiritually.
Chapter 10, titled ‘The “Young Kings of Kalihi”: Boys and Bikes in Hawai’i’s Urban Ahupua’a’, by Demiliza Saramosing, speaks of a group of Native Hawaiian, Filipino and Micronesian boys in Hawaii in 2018 and how they remember the unjust killing of Uncle Joe Kahahawai in 1932. Through this Chapter, the reader is able to see how these young men in 2018 were able to correlate the racial profiling they received with that of Uncle Joe. Through ‘remembering’ the unfair circumstances of Uncle Joe’s death, they were able to reflect and see the connection between their own similar narratives.
All the stories in this anthology humanise the Pacific youth and challenge the reader to look beyond deficit theorising that is sometimes imposed on this group. With many of the authors also being Pacific and coming from these communities, as readers, we are provided insider access to many stories that otherwise may be left untold (Enari & Matapo, 2020; 2021). What is of particular interest throughout this anthology is the use of their own cultural capital in moving forward. The cultural pride and push to ensure initiatives are culturally appropriate and sustainable can be seen in all the stories. Another common theme throughout all the narratives is the sovereignty Pacific youth have to (re)define their livelihoods and futures. This is a recommended read for practitioners, educators and policy makers who have influence in the lives of Pacific youth. It shows the challenges, integrity and resilience of this group. May this work be used to push the good work forward.
Enari, D., & Matapo, J. (2020). Pasifika education innovation during the COVID-19 pandemic. MAI Journal, 9(4).
Enari, D., & Matapo, J. (2021). Negotiating the relational vā in the University: A transnational Pasifika standpoint during the Covid-19 pandemic. Journal of Global Indigeneity.
Marshall, T. (2016). [Untitled photograph of silhouetted people at the beach]. Unsplash. https://unsplash.com/photos/Wa-gS5R58gA
Notes on contributor
Dion Enari is a PhD Candidate at the Faculty of Society and Design, Bond University, Gold Coast. He holds a Master of International Relations and Ali’i Tulafale Matai (high talking Chief) title Lefaoali’i from Lepa, Samoa. His research interests include mental health, ethnography, Pacific language, cultural sustainability, Indigenous studies, and trans-nationalism.
Bond University, Gold Coast, Australia