The Empire Bites Back? Translating Oceanian Fictional Food

Jean Anderson


Abstract

Pioneering Maori writer Patricia Grace set out to combat literary stereotypes of her people, with the aim of showing ‘who we are’: in her first novel, Mutuwhenua (1978), food is used as a marker of that indigenous difference. Taking Grace’s references as a point of departure, I extend my analysis of the treatment of food to works by other Oceanian writers, principally Chantal Spitz, Moetai Brotherson, Rai Chaze and Jimmy Ly (French Polynesia) and Déwé Gorodé and Claudine Jacques (New Caledonia). I explore ways in which the affective and cultural associations of foods are exploited in the texts in order to signal difference. How far, and to what end, do the similarities between Oceanian cultures reveal themselves through contextual readings of these references, and to what extent is it possible also to assert cultural commonalities, as they are expressed through food? I argue that the chief purpose of these strategies is political, although this is made explicit to varying degrees by the authors studied.

Keywords

Food; Cultural Identity; Oceania; Indigenous Cultures; Postcolonial; Translation; Patricia Grace; Maori culture; Maori literature

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