Grace’s interstitial Oceanic memory in Alan Duff’s Once were warriors
An exercise in symptomatic reading, this paper studies Alan Duff’s Once Were Warriors (1990) from a postcolonial perspective. It claims that the novel invokes Oceanic memory more than its author is willing to admit. Against the author’s intention and ideology, a close examination of the narrative’s turning point presents Grace’s suicide as an occasion to revisit the history of Aotearoa/New Zealand from times prior to contact with Europeans – including times of so-called Māori ‘slavery’ – down to the 19th-century British settlement. The novel’s pivotal passage is also seen as a piece of Māori cosmogony revisited: Grace may be said to reenact the founding myth of Hine-Tītama/Hine-nui-te-pō’s flight from her incestuous father into the night. In addition, by encroaching upon the Pakeha owner’s land, she can be said to create a terrain of difference where the cultural and political values of Aotearoa/New Zealand might be negotiated anew. Like the novel’s multiple shifting narrators, and like Duff himself, she constructs ‘interstitial intimacy’ where readers get glimpses of an ‘insider’s outsidedness’, to use Homi Bhabha’s phraseology. This paper suggests that a productive and creative memory of the Maori minority as a social agent may be seen at work throughout Once Were Warriors.
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