‘We are the Ocean: Selected Works’ is a collection of narratives written by a famous Fijian/Tongan author and anthropologist, Epeli Hau’ofa, during his long and successful career.
The book is a unique compilation of the author’s essays, public lectures, poems, and chapters from his earlier novel, ‘Kisses in the Nederends’. In his writings Epeli Hau’ofa tries to highlight some of the major problems of Oceania. He raises the issue of aid dependency and the lack of economic freedom, which is – according to him – one of the main obstacles to the region’s development. He shares his personal opinions on the state of the islands and encourages people to do whatever they can to preserve the wonderful culture of Pasifika. He also gives some ideas that could help not only the countries, but most of all its inhabitants avert the effects of globalization.
I must be honest, this book is not an easy read. Unless you are an anthropologist or a person genuinely interested in the Pacific Islands, you probably won’t find it very engaging.
In most parts the author uses quite official, I would even say academic language. This makes the whole compilation very college-like. It is not something you’d like to read for pleasure. It is, however, something you’d like to study carefully, if you are passionate about the Blue Continent. For that reason, the book could be taken into account as learning material for the students of Oceania. Analyzing Epeli Hau’ofa’s views, opinions, and concepts could be an extremely valuable lesson, as his insightful words really make you think.
Of course, the compilation has also its funny side. Two chapters from the author’s earlier novel, ‘Kisses in the Nederends’, are simply hilarious. A person not familiar with that story may be a little surprised at first – well it’s a tale of an anus – but will surely end up laughing out loud. Hau’ofa’s sense of humour is great; even if it’s considered somewhat unconventional and a bit warped. Mind you, writing about such intimate part of the human body without crossing the line is quite an art; an impressive achievement. But, this is Epeli Hau’ofa we’re talking about here. And he was a true master of words.
Apart from the ‘academic’ essays and short pieces from the novel, the book also contains some very personal poems (I especially recommend ‘Blood in the Kava Bowl’), an eulogy to His Majesty King Taufa‘ahau Tupou IV, and an immensely interesting interview with the author himself that was conducted by Subramani – a University of the South Pacific lecturer. These fragments definitely lighten the tone of the whole collection, making it slightly less serious and more pleasant to read.
So, is this book worthy of your attention? It is; absolutely and without the slightest doubt. But you must like this particular kind of literature. If you do, go for it. You won’t be disappointed. If you don’t, try Epeli Hau’ofa’s other works. I’m sure you will like them.