Tropical politics and chilly Norway: A new collaboration

By Tarcisius Tara Kabutaulaka
tarasagoWhat in the world was this Solomon island village boy doing half a world away, in a tidy Norwegian city just south of the Arctic Circle?

Besides the obvious (shivering) and the unthinkable to many (eating whale meat, which tastes like beef) I was part of a team from the East-West Center and the University of Hawai‘i who were hashing out the details of a significant island-based research proposal with colleagues from the University of Bergen.

The proposal, Pacific Alternatives: Cultural Heritage and Political Innovation in Oceania, was received positively by the Research Council of Norway . So now, we’re beginning to implement the ideas that we first spoke about in Norway during those cold summer days. It shows how far those of us at the East-West Center are willing to go to connect with like minded people whose interests, concern for the Asia Pacific region, and funding sources (if not their culinary habits) fit nicely with our own.

The project is administered by the Pacific Studies Group in the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Bergen and will bring together scholars, students, research groups, and institutions in Europe, North America, Australia, and the Pacific islands in a collaborative effort to explore “cultural heritage” and “political innovation” in the Pacific islands. We’ll look at contemporary connections between cultural heritage – including objects, visual representations and ‘intangible cultural heritage’ and grassroots ‘culturalist’ social movements – and the emergence of new political forms in the Pacific islands as a response to globalization.

Our multi-faceted project includes collaborative research work, scholarships for students from the Pacific islands and Norway, scholarly and financial support for cultural centers and museums in the Pacific islands (building on established cooperation with UNESCO), conferences, a wide-ranging publication and dissemination program that includes a “virtual museum,” and the provision of a range of educational materials for use in schools and distance learning in the Pacific islands (carried out in cooperation with national and regional educational institutions).

The East-West Center will be involved through its research scholars from the Pacific Islands Development Program, and in the administration of a “Norwegian-Pacific Islands Scholarship.” The scholarship will fund two Pacific island students to do graduate studies at the University of Hawai‘i and connect these students to the project as young scholars.

Apart from “Norwegian-Pacific Islands Scholarship,” the project will fund 2 scholarships for MA students and 1 doctoral fellowship, to be recruited by the University of Bergen who will focus on the Pacific islands. In addition the project will cater for 1 postdoctoral fellowship and shorter fellowships for senior scholars and visiting researchers.

While the project currently focuses on the Melanesian countries of Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, it will expand to include other Pacific island countries, especially those in Polynesia and Micronesia.

In addition to the University of Bergen and the East-West Center, the other institutions involved are the University of Hawai‘i (Center for Pacific Islands Studies and Department of Anthropology), Solomon Islands National Museum, Vanuatu Cultural Centre, the British Museum, James Cook University (Department of Anthropology, Archaeology and Sociology), and Brigham Young University in Hawai‘i.

Pacific Alternatives provides the East-West Center the opportunity to strengthen on-going collaborative work with institutions and scholars in Europe, Australia, North America, and the Pacific Islands.

Tarcisius Tara Kabutaulaka is a Research Fellow in the EWC Pacific Islands Development Program.